Oregons Terra Nova School Farm Project to be Shared in Vermont

Oregon’s Terra Nova School Farm Project To Be Shared in Vermont

by Paul Hudak of Portland, OR

Paul is the director of the Terra Nova School Farm and working with Small Farms Conservancy on education issues.

The Farm Based Education Association (FBEA) will be hosting it’s biennial conference at Shelburne Farms outside of Burlington Vermont on November 3-5, 2011. The fifth Farm-Based Education Conference will bring together nearly 200 farm-based education practitioners, partners, and community leaders including farmers, teachers, non-formal educators, philanthropists, chefs, historians, land conservationists, journalists, health care specialists, and food system and farm advocates. The Small Farmers Journal will have a booth at the conference distributing back issues and information about the Small Farms Conservancy for those interested.

Attendees can expect to spend the three days attending field trips, workshops, and panel discussions. There will be plenty of time for networking during the conference as well as at evening entertainment and while sharing meals of local food.

As stated the conference will be held at Shelburne Farms. This is the perfect setting for such a conference. Shelburne Farms is a nonprofit education center, 1,400-acre working farm, and National Historic Landmark located on the banks of Lake Champlain in Vermont. The mission of Shelburne Farms is to cultivate a conservation ethic by teaching and demonstrating the stewardship of natural and agricultural resources.

School field trips, summer camps, educator workshops and many other programs allow children, educators, and families to learn in a place of natural and architectural beauty. Incubated on the property, the farm’s programs are then shared with educators through national and international partnerships to inspire stewardship and a global commitment to sustainability. The FBEA is managed by Shelburne Farms with support from a Working Group of volunteers.

Chief among the farm’s professional development programs are the ABC’s of Farm-Based Education Workshops hosted on the farm and in partnership with other farms in the United States and Canada. At the root of these workshops is Project Seasons, a collection of hands-on education activities developed by Shelburne Farms for classroom educators, pre-school & after-school teachers, camp instructors and parents working to cultivate an awareness and appreciation of agriculture and natural resources.

Shelburne Farms was created as a model agricultural estate in 1886 by William Seward and Lila Vanderbilt Webb. In 1972, it became an educational nonprofit. The nearly 400 acres of woodlands are Green Certified from the American Tree Farm System. Their grass-based dairy has 125 purebred, registered Brown Swiss cows. Their milk is transformed into an award-winning farmhouse cheddar cheese on the property and is available all over the world including in many New England Whole Foods Markets. You can learn more about Shelburne Farms by visiting their website.

I (Paul Hudak) will be attending and presenting at the conference representing both the Terra Nova Community Farm program and the Small Farms Conservancy. At Terra Nova we have worked with a group of high school students to convert a one and a half acre ball field into a working farm with a fully functioning CSA. Over the course of three years 25 students have worked on the farm taking ownership over the program and driving the goals of the farm. We have expanded the CSA to 30 shares, currently grow produce for our school district, and have partnered with a local community college. The work on the farm is closely tied to the students’ education. It has given many youth the opportunity to pursue individual interests and passions pertaining to the farm all while earning credit towards their high school education.

The FBEA invited me to the conference to share information about our experiences with Terra Nova. I will have the honor of sharing a three hour time slot with Liz Kenton, the Youth Agriculture Project Coordinator from the University of Vermont Extension 4-H program. Our programs have many similarities and share goals and philosophies. Together we are planning what we hope to be an engaging, stimulating and educational presentation. We will be discussing our successes and struggles, fund raising strategies, day to day growing operations, and most importantly, youth engagement and benefit. Attendees will hopefully leave inspired and armed with tools and information they can use to enhance or begin similar programs.

For the last eight months I have had the true privilege of working with the Small Farms Conservancy in the educational realm. Working closely with Susan Richman, Laura Masterson and Larry Brewer we have outlined ways to assist schools nationwide who are interested in incorporating agriculture more practically into the classroom. It should be noted that we are viewing our approach through a sustainable lens. Being that this work is a huge passion of mine it has been incredible to already connect with schools across the country through the Conservancy and offer practical advice. It is our hope to be able to offer a multitude of resources that will make growing at schools, whether it is in just one raised bed or on ten acres, an approachable effort that will ultimately serve the youth of our country. I will be happy to also represent the Small Farms Conservancy at this conference and most sincerely welcome the opportunity to meet with anyone who can benefit from or contribute to the goals of the Conservancy.