Local Farm Combines Sustainable Agriculture with Education
For home schoolers at Many Hands Farm the day starts not by responding to the call of the school bell, but by answering the snorts of hungry pigs, the baaa of sheep, the cluck of chickens and the schmooze of nanny goats. To this group of home schoolers the way to start a day is tending to the morning farm chores. Students shod in barn yard boots take the morning walk through the dew soaked pasture to move the pasture ranging meat chicken pens ahead to new forage and insects. Canadian geese fly overhead honking as if to flaunt their nimble aerodynamics over their chubby chicken cousins. Other students learn the intricacies of trying to get milk out of a goat and into a bucket. One student exclaims that milking a goat is a good way to get their hands warm. Another group has the unpleasant task of waking up all the pigs, getting them to the breakfast trough, and then trying to get them to eat with some semblance of manners. Yet another group looks after the laying hens making sure the ladies have all they need for their morning gossip.
And so begins the mornings with students learning hands-on things like where the calcium in the milk ultimately comes from, why goats and sheep have multiple stomachs and their eyes positioned on the sides of their heads, why it makes ecological, economical and health sense to raise chickens on pasture as opposed to the corporate farm confinement method. From their hands-on experience raising livestock and tending crops, which they process and market to the local community, students are better able to understand the issues and consequences entailed in making their food choices. For example, we discuss the benefits and drawbacks of being vegetarian and of being a meat eater. Through such discussions students consider animal rights, soil nutrient cycling, the problems of tilling the land and planting cereal grains or vegetables, how to best respect all living things, Native American spirituality, the dilemma of Western grazing lands and their similarities with the desertification of Africa, and the array of connections and consequences that such discussions open up. This basis in practical, common sense learning provides a greater medium to learn about the larger world in terms of resource management using sustainable decision making, the evolution of animals to fit their surroundings, using the ancient prairie ecosystem as a model for grazing farm animals, and the use of math in everyday work to establish rates of gain, feed efficiency, feed rations, and profit and loss.
Yet our profit is seen not only in terms of financial profit, but is done in a way that considers environmental and social profit, too. In this way we believe we are best preparing our children to be problem solvers for the future as well as realizing the characteristics that go into creating quality work.
As a home schooling community we have evolved as a cooperative of family members. Decisions are being made through a consensus building process at both student and parent meetings. Our mission statement reads: "Many Hands Farm is an inclusive, participatory community of learners that recognizes and celebrates the uniqueness of individuals and emphasizes practical, experiential learning on an earth-friendly farm."
If you have an interest in the learning community we are creating or in any of our all-natural meats or sauerkraut please feel free to call or come visit us. The following teachers are involved in the cooperative: Mary Clark 946-2178, Mike Gill 938-3274 and Steve Lawless 946-6035.
Return to the Index of Synapse 43, Spring 1998