In my last blog post, I wrote about ways to approach teaching in outdoor classrooms, touching upon the need to shift ingrained mindsets concerning when and where learning can take place, and providing a variety of teaching tips. Many of the strategies I included are practices I’ve used and continue to use when working with youth outside. These days, this means a school garden, but in the past I’ve spent time utilizing everything from haylofts and dairy barns to sugarbushes and heavily wooded trails as classrooms.
I’ve been teaching youth about food since 2010. In college, I spent two summers working at a Farm Camp in the lower Hudson River Valley ten minutes away from the suburban town where I grew up, and thirty-five minutes away from New York City. Campers collected eggs, weeded in the greenhouse, harvested vegetables from the fields, helped move sheep from pasture to pasture, and prepared everything from small snacks to full meals. Many of these youth were from surrounding towns, but some kids ventured up from the city—many of them had never played in the dirt or conceived of food as coming from somewhere other than the grocery store.
Somewhere between arriving at the farm for staff orientation and handing out freshly harvested celebratory carrots on the last day of camp I fell in love with agriculture and education. Not only did I find the farm, with its versatile and ever-changing landscape, an engaging and inspiration arena for teaching, but there was something magically universal about discussing food with youth.
And so, I decided to move to Vermont to spend six months living on top of a mountain in a small off-grid cabin. I believed that in order to teach youth about food and agriculture, I needed to better understand it myself. I spent my days tending a forty-head sheep flock, cultivating fields using antique plows and two rambunctious draft horses, picking berries, and delighting in haying season. I felled trees, participated in farmer’s markets, bottled maple syrup and drove stick shift for the first time while on a mission to pick up five Tamworth piglets (I stalled once on a dirt road three minutes from my destination). Over the course of these six months I only occasionally worked with youth, facilitating service learning projects or leading wide-eyed school groups around the farm to meet the animals.
Following this growing season, I took a small step backwards from farm work and a big step forward in field of education. I spent the next four years teaching in a variety of different settings: daily field trips on another farm in Vermont, enrichment classes in the gardens and cafeterias of a rural school district in Maine, a self-designed summer camp program, after-school cooking clubs. I did a little bit of everything, but always about food – broadening comfort zones, expanding tasting horizons, connecting youth to the land, candidly exploring eating habits, and fostering cultures where agriculture and discussions about food were normalized, commonplace and seamlessly integrated into everyday life.
Much of the future content in my blog posts will be drawn from my personal experiences as an educator. I hope to share teaching tips, helpful resources and ideas for garden-based projects. All of these blog posts will also be featured on my Pinterest board, Garden Education with Christine, where you can find everything from creative crafts and gardening advice to educational videos and my favorite food-based books to read with youth.