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The farm to school movement is taking root all across the US. From simple beginnings with just a dozen or so programs in the early 90’s, there are now farm to school programs in almost 10,000 schools in 48 states – with new efforts sprouting up each month.  These programs take different forms in different places. Some focus on sourcing local farm food for the school cafeteria, some on nutrition, garden and food education, and others on building strong community connections between local farmers and producers and the school community. However, all aim to re-connect school kids with healthy local food to improve their diets, strengthen their understanding of where their food comes from, and support local agriculture.

Vermont has been a farm to school pioneer, with a long history of engagement and partnership by farmers, school leaders, non-profit organizations, state agencies and local businesses. Farm to school in Vermont often advances a comprehensive agenda, working to integrate local food and farms into the cafeteria, classroom and community – or the “three C’s.” Around Vermont, various regional groups have emerged to work together around these goals and support the more than 200 schools (out of 320 in the state) with farm to school efforts.

Following is a series of three articles that describe farm to school efforts from different vantage points. All three authors live in Hartland, Vermont.

 

PARTNERING KIDS WITH HORSES

By Stephen Leslie—Horse-powered market gardener and dairy farmer from Hartland, Vermont

At Cedar Mountain Farm we have been hosting school groups for more than a decade. In recent years many of these visits have been under the auspices of the Farm to School Program. As a farm that utilizes work horses we have the opportunity to bring a unique aspect to these visits. Over the years we have come up with a list of practical tasks suitable for third grade students. Several of the projects we have developed are centered on the theme of partnering the kids with our work horses. We feel that the students will have a meaningful and memorable experience on the farm if they are engaged in getting a real job done and especially so when horses are involved. We have created a few scenarios in which the kids and the work horses each carry a piece of the same task.

 

We begin by introducing the children to the horses and letting them have an opportunity to help groom them and pick out their feet. We then answer questions and discuss the reasons we have work horses on our farm to do jobs that are normally done these days with a tractor. Often these discussions touch on such issues as the growing scarcity of oil and the environmental costs of relying on fossil fuel powered farm machinery. We present our use of horses in positive terms as an enjoyable alternative to farming with tractors, but I am often surprised at how remarkably conscious even the third graders already are of the challenges we face to live more sustainably on the planet.

In the fall the children help us to harvest and box up the winter squash. We talk beforehand about how long the squash will need to keep and the importance of handling it gently (no tossing) and carefully sorting it into the wax boxes according to kind. The teachers and volunteer parents and the farmers all handle the nippers and the children shuttle the fruits. They seem to delight in the hide and seek game of finding the squash amid all the foliage and they are amazed at the quantity of boxed fruits we have at the end of the morning’s session. Estimating the number of pieces and weight for each and all the boxes makes for some fine honing of math skills in the field.

On the next visit we have the kids help to broadcast winter rye over the now empty squash field. Each child receives a 2 gallon pail full of seed. A farm worker shows them how to throw out the seed in a wide swath. They start in a line at one end and work their way down the field. Next the kids return their buckets to the barn and gather round to watch the work horses getting harnessed and hitched to the disc harrows. Everyone then proceeds back to the field, where the children stand with the adults in a designated area and watch as the horses pull the disc to cover the seed that they have sown. Often, many of the students will have taken riding lessons, and some even have saddle horses at home, most of the kids will have been to a fair or farm that offers wagon rides. But for the majority of these kids this will be the first time they will have seen horses doing real work on a farm. When the students return for a farm visit in the spring we show them the verdant stand of rye that they helped to grow with the work horses.

As spring time rolls around we get the children involved in planting the market garden. When it is a question of having a school bus full of eight year olds helping to plant—a seed potato proves to be just about the right size.  For the past several years the two third grade classes from our local elementary school have helped us to plant potatoes. Keeping the kids focused and engaged is always the challenge and a big part of that is giving them a job that is fun. It is also important that the task be something they can reasonably handle and see through to completion.

Before the school bus arrives we already have the rows marked out; 18 rows at 200’ with 32” spacing between the rows. As the kids watch from a safe distance, we hitch our trusty old mare to an antique single horse plow with a 10” bottom and we open up the furrows. Once we have the first several furrows established we set the kids up with planting. Each child is given a 1’ measure stick and a 2 gallon pail full of seed potatoes. Then all are instructed on how to set the seed in a straight line in the bottom of the furrow so that the stick fits in between each spud. An adult stands ready at the end of the rows with the sacks of seed potatoes ready to give the kids refills as needed. Other adults work alongside the children. Once all the seed potatoes are set out, the kids, the farmers, the teachers, and the attendant parents, all pitch in with rakes and hoes to make sure all the seed gets covered with soil.

Once the potatoes are up a good six to eight inches the kids come back to help with the first hilling. We start out by hitching up the mare to a single-horse cultivator to loosen up the soil in the rows. As soon as we have a few rows worked up, the kids come in with the hoes and begin to draw the dirt in towards the bases of the plants. This is a big job. A few of these children are farm kids and no strangers to hard work, but most others of them may never have been asked to do a tough physical job before in their young lives. By pulling together in partnership; the kids and the horses, the teachers, parents and farmers, we all get the task done.

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Spotlight On: Livestock

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Feeding Elk: Winter Work for the Belgians

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Doug Strike of rural Sublette County is spending his second winter feeding wild elk in nearby Bondurant, Wyoming. Strike is supplementing his logging income as well as helping his team of Belgian draft horses to keep in shape for the coming season. From May to the end of November he uses his horses to skid logs out of the mountains of western Wyoming. I found the use of Doug’s beautiful Belgian team an exciting example of appropriate technology.

Calves that Don't Breathe at Birth

Calves that Don’t Breathe at Birth

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Heart rate is one way to tell if the calf is in respiratory distress, since it drops as the body is deprived of oxygen. Normal heart rate in a newborn calf is 100 to 120 beats per minute. Place your hand over the lower left side of the ribcage, just behind and above the elbow of his front leg. If heart rate has dropped as low as 40, the calf ’s condition is critical; he needs to start breathing immediately.

A Year of Contract Grazing

A Year of Contract Grazing

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Contract grazing involves the use of livestock to control specific undesirable plants, primarily for ecological restoration and wildfire prevention purposes. The landowners we worked for saw grazing as an ecologically friendly alternative to mowing, mechanical brush removal, and herbicide application.

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When my friend and mentor, the late Addie Funk, first started helping me with my horses, he suggested that we get rid of my halter ropes with snaps and braid lead ropes on to all the halters permanently. Actually as I think about it, it was more than a suggestion. Knowing him, he probably just braided the new ropes on, confident that anyone with any sense would be pleased with the improvement. In any case, when the task was completed I clearly remember him saying to me, “Now nobody will turn a horse loose around here with a halter on.”

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The Brabants’ Farm

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Hay Making with a Single Horse Part 3

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In parallel with making hay on the ground, nearly every year I have also made some hay on tripods. The attraction of this method is that it only needs one day of good weather to dry the grass sufficiently before it is put on the tripods, and then the hay takes very little harm no matter what the weather, usually coming out green, dry and smelling of hay two weeks later when it can be baled or stacked.

Hay Making with a Single Horse Part 4

Hay Making with a Single Horse Part 4

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Over the last few years of making hay, the mowing, turning and making tripods has settled into a fairly comfortable pattern, but the process of getting it all together for the winter is still developing. In the beginning I did what everyone else around here does and got it baled, but one year I decided to try one small stack. The success of this first stack encouraged me to do more, and now most of my hay is stacked loose.

Ask A Teamster Tongue Length

Ask A Teamster: Tongue Length

My forecart pole is set up for draft horses. My husband thinks we should cut the pole off to permanently make it fit better to these smaller horses. What would be your opinion? Like your husband, my preference would be a shorter tongue for a small team like your Fjords. The dynamics and efficiency of draft are better if we have our horse(s) close to the load. A shorter tongue will also reduce the overall length of your outfit, thereby giving you better maneuverability and turning dynamics.

Black Pigs and Speckled Beans

Black Pigs & Speckled Beans

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As country pigs go the Large Blacks are superb. They are true grazing pigs, thriving on grass and respectful of fences. Protected from sunburn by their dark skin and hair they are tolerant of heat and cold and do well even in rugged conditions. Having retained valuable instincts, the sows are naturally careful, dedicated, and able mothers. The boars I’ve seen are friendly and docile.

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The Milk and Human Kindness: Caring for the Pregnant Cow

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Good cheese comes from happy milk and happy milk comes from contented cows. So for goodness sake, for the sake of goodness in our farming ways we need to keep contentment, happiness and harmony as primary principles of animal husbandry. The practical manifestations of our love and appreciation are what make a small farm. Above and beyond the significant requirements of housing, feed and water is the care of your cow’s emotional life, provide for her own fulfillment. Let her raise her calf!

The Milk and Human Kindness Stanchion Floor

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So let’s just say this is your first experience with cows, you’ve gone to your local dairy farm, purchased a beautiful bred heifer who is very skittish, has never had a rope on her, or been handled or led, and you’re making arrangements to bring her home. It ought to be dawning on you at this point that you need to safely and securely convey this heifer to your farm and then you need to keep her confined until she begins to calm down enough that she knows she’s home, and she knows where she gets fed.

Fjordworks Zen and the Art of Training the Novice Teamster Part 3

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By waking up so fully to the tasks at hand we are empowered to be more present, more available, and thus able to offer a compassionate and skillful response to the needs of our horses even as we ask them to accomplish heavy work on the farm. It is not up to the horses to trust us; it is up to us to prove ourselves worthy of their trust. What the horses can offer to us are new avenues to freedom and resilience, sustainability and hope.

Horse Breeding

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Ask A Teamster Horse Don't Won't Can't Turn

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My First Team of Workhorses

My First Team of Workhorses

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In A Greenhorn Tries Draft Horses, a greenhorn (myself) tried a single work horse named Lady for farm and woods work. It was probably natural that, having acquired some experience with one horse, I should want to see what it was like to use two. Perhaps it is more exciting to see a good team pull together, and there is the added challenge to the teamster of making certain that the horses pull smoothly rather than seesaw.

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Oxen Experiences

Oxen Experiences

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Some things I have learned about working with oxen as with any other living thing is to treat them with some respect. Especially hump-backed cattle which I prefer. Be firm and gentle, but consistent, realizing you could be seriously injured if they chose. Be patient while teaching them what you want them to do, and then insisting every time that they do what you want them to do every time.

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