It had been a while since I spent a morning with a bunch of second graders. There were 66 of them, but I was only responsible for keeping track of thirteen. They all wore nametags, so I could more easily say “Joleen, be careful you don’t step on the tomato plants” or “Carlos, get your radish out of that tub of spinach.”
Thanks to the planning of an innovative teacher at Glacier Edge Elementary School in Verona, Wisconsin, these second graders are learning about botany, nutrition, agriculture, and their local community.
The countertops of their classroom are lined with healthy-looking bean plants, sprouted from seed and tended by the young gardeners. The students are learning when fruits and vegetables are ripe in Wisconsin, how to make and use compost from volunteers from the Home Grown Lunch program, and will even make a special weekend visit to Madison’s South Side Farmers Market to talk directly with the farmers about what they are growing and selling.
Gathered around Farmer Bill at Snug Haven Farm in a former dairy barn, now used for washing fresh cut spinach, my group of thirteen asked hard-hitting questions they had prepared and written out on index cards: Where do the chickens go in the winter? Which vegetables are the hardest to grow? Who does the planting on the farm?
None of the children in my group had been to a farm before. They went eagerly from hoop house to hoop house, sampling arugula and other lettuces, pulling radishes from the ground and nibbling tentatively through the red into spicy white flesh, and then planting a small tomato sprout to take home. They chased chickens hoping to “pet” one, and lined up to drink water from the pump.
Back at school, it was lunch time and I barely had the chance to say goodbye to my brood. Chicken nuggets, peaches, carrot sticks and milk were gobbled down in mere minutes and they were gone to the playground. But I was content. Rarely, in representing the Wisconsin Humanities Council or in attending programs the WHC has funded do I get to hold hands with the recipients, bundle them against a chilly wind, or giggle with each bounce in the back of a school bus. It was not my first time on a farm, but it was fun to see a farm through the eyes of a child again!
Jessica Becker, Director of Public Programs, Wisconsin Humanities Council