children · culture · education · environment · learning · Nature · school

Students Go Whole Hog with Farm-to-Cafeteria Cooking | Civil Eats

A few schools are adopting a more hands-on way of teaching about food, animal care, and science, which is actually an older technique: farm animals.

Most recently, slow roasting pork tenderloin was part of a homework assignment for a Bend, OR, high school culinary class. And the source of their pork? Mountain View High School, less than a mile away, where FFA formerly known as Future Farmers of America students are raising pigs.

These classes are complementary components of an integrated farm to school program at Bend-LaPine School District, where 29 schools serve more than 16,000 students. Bend-LaPine has students raising animals, butchering animals, and feeding a school meal program. Neatly wrapped packages of pork move from classroom to school kitchen, where they are cooked into succulent carnitas for all 29 school cafeterias.

The program breaks the normal bounds of food in school and has created a whole new arena for students to learn. “It’s a full circle agriculture education experience,” says Katrina Wiest, the manager for the Bend farmers’ market and wellness specialist for the school district.

“Agriculture is a big part of my life,” says Wiest, who was raised on a wheat farm and is married to a farmer. “I feel it’s important that kids know where their food comes from.”

For close to ten years, Wiest has been pioneering the farm to school movement in the high desert of central Oregon: sourcing local food for schools and providing agriculture, health, and nutrition education opportunities in the cafeteria, classroom, and community.

more via Students Go Whole Hog with Farm-to-Cafeteria Cooking | Civil Eats.

I think this is an awesome idea! It’s a great hands-on learning opportunity for kids. A lot of schools have shied away from having animals on or near campus, or having kids even deal with animals, due to safety and health concerns. But how else and where else are kids going to learn about being safe around animals, or safety and caring for the animals themselves, unless they get somewhat structured guidance like this? Most kids don’t have a friendly farmer they can go visit and mess with their livestock on a regular basis.

But more importantly, it is a very hands-on, real-time way of letting kids work on something and seeing the results of their labor, whether it’s a happy pig or a delicious plate of carnitas, while also letting them experience delayed gratification (it takes hard work and a long time to grow a pig). It teaches kids how food is made, which is important when making food decisions. Plus, it can be very therapeutic to pet a pig.

Where I grew up was fairly rural, and yet the 4H/FFA program was still seen as a weird club that involved a lot of horse-showing. I am glad to see it getting integrated more into school programs.

behavior · happiness · health · mental health

Playing with the piggies

Pigs are incredibly intelligent creatures that need enrichment and play just like we do. This is a great story about providing enriching environments and play to livestock, similar to what Temple Grandin advocates here in the U.S.

“[R]esearchers at Wageningen University [in the Netherlands], in the course of their research on ethical livestock farming, noticed that pigs like to play with dancing lights…European regulations currently require that pig farmers provide mentally-stimulating activity for their pigs in order to reduce boredom…” (via mother jones)

The coolest part is, HUMANS would get to interact and play with pigs:

“As a farmer, you’d get to play video games with your hogs, and the gameplay might actually have the added benefit of making the animal’s life happier and healthier.

The system includes a giant screen that broadcasts a swirl of glittering colors and lights next to the pigpen. The human participant controls the wall-sized screen remotely with an iPad, and the pigs react by touching and following the light designs with their snouts. Clement notes that researchers hope that this will all “open up new questions in debates about animal farming and welfare in the digital age…”  (via mother jones)

Check out the video:

The Playing with Pigs project is researching the complex relationship we have with domesticated pigs by designing a game. Designing new forms of human-pig interaction can create the opportunity for consumers and pigs to forge new relations as well as to experience the cognitive capabilities of each other. The game is called Pig Chase.

For additional background, visit the Playing with Pigs project website:

Pretty cool idea to let humans and livestock interact with each other in different ways.

behavior · community · environment


Promoting backyard farms, (or even large scale farms and modern-day homesteading), has a new term: "Ag"tivism. From the young and idealistic to the old and curmudgeonly, many people are finding time, space, and energy to grow their own tomatoes.

From The New Agtivist: Edith Floyd is making a Detroit urban farm, empty lot by empty lot:

Edith Floyd is the real deal. With little in the way of funding or organizational infrastructure, she runs Growing Joy Community Garden on the northeast side of Detroit. Not many folks bother to venture out to her neighborhood, but Edith has been inspiring me for years. I caught up with her on a cold, rainy November afternoon. While we talked in the dining room, her husband Henry watched their grandkids. Q. What neighborhood are we in? What is it like?

A. This is the northeast side — near the city airport. It’s surrounded by graveyards on three sides and then the other barrier is the railroad track; we are surrounded by railroad tracks, and sometimes those trains stay for like 30 minutes, so you are trapped; ain’t no way out.

Q. So you’ve seen a lot of changes.

A. Yeah, when I came it was beautiful — there were grocery stores in the center, like in the middle of the neighborhood, but … There was like 66 houses on this block, and now [there are] about six that people live in, and three need to be torn down, and the rest of it is empty. That’s where I’m putting my farm on, all the lots. [Editor's note: some are calling this practice "blotting." Here's a recent NPR story on blotting in Detroit.] …

Q. What are you growing on those lots?

A: Across the street I have my strawberry lot. I try to plant by lot. I have a collard green lot, a kale lot, an okra lot, an eggplant lot, green bean lot. I had a corn lot, but it didn’t work so well. Right now I have a garlic lot, I had a tomato lot, cucumber lot, squash, cabbage, broccoli, watermelon, cantaloupe. I like flowers, so I planted some of them. I had potatoes, mustard greens, turnip greens.

Q. That’s a lot of food!

A. Well, if it comes up it’s a lot, but I give some to the Capuchin Soup Kitchen. I sell some at Eastern Market, and Wayne State Market, but the cabbage does not sell so I don’t take cabbage there. (I still have about two of 300 pounds of cabbage I need to harvest.)

More at The New Agtivist: Edith Floyd is making a Detroit urban farm, empty lot by empty lot

NPR recently had an article about how people of my generation are also taking up organic farming with a passion:

…there’s a new surge of youthful vigor into American agriculture — at least in the corner of it devoted to organic, local food. Thousands of young people who’ve never farmed before are trying it out.

Some 250 of them gathered recently at a gorgeous estate in the Hudson River valley of New York: the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Tarrytown.

Some of these young farmers already have their own farms. Some are apprentices, working on more established farms for a year or two. And others are still just thinking about it. But the overwhelming majority of farmers here at this conference want to farm without chemical fertilizers or pesticides.

They were there to learn skills — from seminars on soil fertility, handling sheep, and how to find affordable land — and just as importantly, to meet each other. In the evening, they played music and danced.

They represent a new breed of farmer. Very few of them grew up on farms. Most of them went to college. And now, they want to grow vegetables, or feed pigs.

More at Who Are The Young Farmers Of ‘Generation Organic’?

The biggest question interviewers often ask is "why?" Why farm? Why go "backwards" to a life of farming.
For many people, it’s economical (see an earlier blog post about young entrepreneurs making a living farming, growing eggs and herding sheep). But an even bigger driver for most is the desire to feel connected to their environment, to enrich their surroundings with greenery and healthy food.

From Grist:

Q. You haven’t always been an urban farmer. What did you do before this?

A. I worked at Detroit Public Schools. I started out with the Head Start Center and then I went to the middle school, to the Ed Tech, [which is] now the Computer Lab. I started farming because they laid me off and didn’t call me back. Farming is not making a living, it’s just keeping food in my freezer. I try to sell some so I can get some more equipment, so it will be easier for me to farm.

Q. So how much money are you making in a season?

A. I was trying to reach for 3,000, but I only made it to two something. I have to add up the last bit; I haven’t got my last check. Every year I try to up it; the first year I made 1,000. The second year I went 2,000; this year I was trying to go for $3,000.

From NPR:

"It was born out of a concern for the environment," says Brian Bates, who plans to work at a farm in northern Michigan after he graduates from Penn State. "I spent the first two years of college with one question in mind – basically, how can I have the greatest impact in my life in the world. And the thing that I kept coming back to, that everyone connected to, was food."

Others say that they simply enjoy the work, the style of agrarian life, and the connection to food.

"I feel lost when I’m not farming, when I’m not out in the field. It’s where I find the most peace and harmony in my life," says Liz Moran, who helps manage Quail Hill Farm in the eastern end of Long Island, New York.

"When I look around, and you’re amongst the plants and the sunshine – that’s my office, that’s where I want to be," said Rodger Phillips, who grows food on an urban farm in Hartford, Conn.

Others talk about the satisfaction of doing something practical, creating something valuable. "Having a skill was really important to me. Having studied political science, I wanted to do something that was productive, that was real. To have a real skill, and be able to provide my family, my community, a vital element," says Kristin Carbone, who runs Radix Farm in Upper Marlboro, Maryland.

And then there was Lindsey Shute. "How did I get into farming? Because I started dating a farmer!" she says with a laugh. [blogger's note: check out a similar story in the book "xx"]

It seems that people are looking for more control over their wallets, their lives, and what they put in their stomachs, and are doing it through farming.

I know a lot of medical and researched reasons why playing in the dirt is good for you, but I’m curious about anecdotal reasons. Leave your experiences with gardening and farming in the comments.

behavior · children · community · environment · family · learning · Nature

7 Creative Ways to Experience your Local Farm this Spring | Inhabitots

A pastoral farm scene near Traverse City, Mich...
Image via Wikipedia

Where I grew up and where I live now, though focusing on very different kinds of agriculture, were both very farm-focused communities, and I always encourage people to  go out and see what a working farm is all about. It is a great way to learn about where your food comes from, different jobs, and all about nature.

Beyond simply stopping by to view the animals at your local farm, there are many other hands-on and creative activities you can do with your family — and the spring is a great time to go. Visiting your local farm during the spring comes complete with baby animals, plus the weather is warming up and it’s the perfect opportunity for outdoor learning time with your children. To get the most out of your springtime visit to the farm, you’ll want to explore it with a different lens and look at your local farm as more than just a place that keeps animals and agriculture. Read on to learn seven creative ways to experience your local farm this spring with your family.

more via 7 Creative Ways to Experience your Local Farm this Spring | Inhabitots.