Terra Nova School Farm
Terra Nova School Farm

Terra Nova School Farm

photographs by Paul Hunter, Paul Hudak and others.
transcription by Shannon Berteau

Over a two year span, SFJ subscriber Paul Hudak has sent information our way on his farming and educational efforts throughout Oregon. He let us know early of his enthusiasm for The Small Farms Conservancy. But it took an on the ground contact with SFC PNW Chapter co-chair Susan Richman resulting in a push for us to pull together materials for an article on Paul’s important efforts. Paul Hunter and I went to visit the school and interview Paul Hudak and two of his students and we were thoroughly enchanted and impressed. What follows is a transcript, only slightly edited, of our conversations. We are most excited to have Paul Hudak formally joining the Conservancy to help spearhead our educational outreach. LRM

Paul Hudak: To understand how it works here you need to really understand the school too. We are part of a world wide network of schools called Big Picture Schools, there’s about 75 of them around the world and its traditionally smaller schools that are focused on … the buzz words are “one student at a time” so its identifying what the students interests and passions are and almost custom tailoring their education based around their interests and passions. There is an internship component to the school so every student who goes here is out in the community doing some sort of internship. And the farm program is set up as an onsite internship. Through their work on the farm, students are getting credit in PE, science, math, language arts, health, and nutrition. We’re working with other teachers in the school to figure out how to get those into lesson plans but then also developing curriculum and tweaking existing curriculum from Oregon State University and UC Santa Cruz to make it site specific for what we are doing here.

(This is) a public high school. It is part of the Beaverton School District. Technically we are an options program for the Beaverton School District. So it’s that the students have gone to other high schools and it hasn’t worked out for them for a multitude of reasons. And so they will end up coming here by choice.

Paul Hunter: They select this school, because of the curriculum here, they select this school?

Hudak: You can ask these guys here why they chose to come, but in my experience it’s been the students that come here, come mainly because of the structure, the way the day is structured. And because of the social structure as well. It’s a smaller school. For the students who come here it’s a lot more appealing than going to a school that’s one or two thousand students. And then also, like I was saying before, there is an internship component to the school that appeals to a lot of students. And the project based work, the more we talk about it the more we can tell you how that works, but the majority of the learning that happens here is based around hands-on projects that the students are working with their teachers to come up with, that are based around what their interests and what their passions are.

Terra Nova School Farm

Lynn Miller: Are the students here being addressed or focused upon because of some special concerns in terms of physical ability or social ability?

Hudak: No, that’s not so much the case. There is a small percentage of the school that have learning disabilities but I would say it’s not common.

Miller: And is the school set up with curriculum leaning heavily towards say fine arts or towards vocational training in a particular direction?

Hudak: The way the curriculum and the school is structured is based around individual students interests and learning. So for instance Jenny, she has an interest in being a nurse when she grows up so she’s currently doing multiple projects based around medicine and natural medicine. She has a project going on right now where we’re growing a bunch of medicinal herbs out in the garden and so she’s researching the medicinal properties of those herbs. But then also she’s making tinctures for these and working with her teacher to look at her learning plan This is something that each student has, so they’ll sit down at the beginning of the year and come up with a learning plan for the year. Saying, okay, I need to hit these state standards, I need credit in these areas. Instead of sitting in a class for an hour at a time, 40 minutes at a time for six courses, or classes a day, we are going to do this work based around projects of the student’s interest. So for Jenny, in this case, it was medicinal herbs, Chinese medicine, and Eastern medicine. She sat down with her teacher and figured out how she can get these credits that she needs based around that project. I would say that definitely, even though we are by no means an agricultural school, there is a natural, environmental emphasis here. A lot of the students that go here are interested in the environment in one way or another. Frequently projects will be based around something having to do with the environment

Terra Nova School Farm

Miller: Jenny, when you came here were you thinking about the connection between some farm project and your interest in, if you’ll forgive the phrase, alternative medicine?

Jennifer Carmona: Well when I first came here the Terra Nova farm wasn’t even talked about, it wasn’t here yet. The reasons I came here were the small community, small school, internships, and I can do like my own school projects that I want to learn.

Miller: And Mike, what was the reason you came?

Mike Morton: I went to (another) High School for two years before I came here and I just didn’t like the environment there. I didn’t like that there were 3,000 kids at (that school) and I didn’t like the relationships I had with my teachers. And my counselor at (that other school) told me about Terra Nova High School and they said that there were internships. I wasn’t aware that there was a farm here at the time but it was really appealing to me that there were internships and you could learn about what you wanted to because that was one of the reasons I didn’t like about (the other school). I didn’t find that what we were learning was pertinent to what I wanted to do after high school. So here I can learn about what I feel is necessary to continue the rest of my life

Terra Nova School Farm

Miller: Is Terra Nova set up with less of a concern for whether or not you want to go on to a college situation as opposed to just a vocational transition?

Morton: No, I wouldn’t say that. I would say it’s customized to each student. So if the student wants to go to a college they definitely support you in doing that. But if a student didn’t want to, you wanted to do something else, they would also support you in that.

Miller: Same thing for you Jenny?

Carmona: Yes

Miller: What can (efforts such as the Small Farms Conservancy) do to suggest and help existing school curriculum making changes and make these kinds of programs available other places: to figure out how an exciting project like this might succeed and / or fail if it is taken as a concept and plugged into another school. Obviously you’ve got some nice ground (soil) right here and a growing season.

Hudak: It’s turned into nice ground. It was solid as a rock when we started. I can tell you some stories that would make you laugh.

Miller: That’s a story in itself, right there.

Hudak: We broke a sub-soiler, and bent a piece of a three-point hitch trying to get through it. We do have a good climate.

Terra Nova School Farm

Miller: What I would like to understand Paul, taking a risk that I might embarrass Jenny and Mike. Why would you want to do this in a school setting? I mean I know that you have a history of farming organically. Why are you doing this? What’s the hook? Where’s the attraction?

Hudak: Well, the answer for that starts for me back when I was in high school. I grew up in upstate New York and I worked on a truck farm back there. And it became a passion of mine and it was an after school job and a summer job and I loved it. I loved being outside and doing that work. And I went off to college after high school for education. I wanted to be an elementary school teacher. And after doing that for awhile I realized my passion was in agriculture. And then as it all evolved I went on to manage organic farms and pretty large farms and before I moved to Portland I had the good fortune of working down in Southern Oregon hosting youth through the WOOF program and during that time I realized how much I really enjoyed transferring the knowledge that I had learned and inspiring youth. I was mainly working with people who were just graduating from college, anywhere from just graduating high school through just graduating from college, who were interested in agriculture in some realm. I noticed from them coming to me that I had the opportunity to inspire them. And I’ve really, really enjoyed that. I’ve enjoyed inspiring them, but then keeping in touch and watching how they were taking that knowledge and transferring it to other youth and other people around the country and then as the events of life transpired I found myself in Portland and I had received a job, a temporary job at this high school doing some crew leading work. I was taking a group of students out doing environmental restoration type of work, building trails, removing invasive species, planting native plants, that sort of thing. But from the first day that I worked here I saw that field and I thought, “Hey, I would love to see us growing food here and I would love to do this with students” and so just the way it unfolded I was able to work with the principal at the time and pitch my idea for this and it seemed like a natural melding here from my experience even though it was only less than six months at that time of my experience working with the Terra Nova students. I saw that so many of them learned best and were inspired most by doing hands on work. This environment isn’t a classroom type setting it’s a going and doing setting and so I thought it would be a great opportunity to combine my two passions and even more poignantly, I wanted to try and inspire you guys, even if you weren’t going to grow up to become farmers to think about what goes into producing the food that you’re consuming. And I’ve seen it with these guys, they’ve both been with us since the beginning, which is two short years. They were with us when we broke ground and two years of growing vegetables now. I mean what I was hoping to see I really saw this last summer. We had the opportunity to host a couple of pretty big public events and we spent a lot of time talking about food and health and we had the opportunity to prepare food together. At our school we don’t have facilities for preparing food so we are limited by what we can do with our food here so there is obviously that unfortunate disconnect because the students have grown the food but then it’s up to them to take it home to consume it which doesn’t always happen. So this last summer we had the opportunity to actually prepare large quantities of food for big events and for me a big piece of the puzzle went into place when I saw, I mean we were actually cooking at my house, these guys and a handful of other students were over. We were having conversations about cooking food and eating it and talking about health. And those are all conversations we’ve had in the classroom before and that was all very important but now we were actually putting it into place. That was exciting and then another reason I really wanted to do it, aside from transferring some knowledge and hopefully some inspiration about growing food for yourselves in the future, was also to build community around what we’re doing by having a CSA component of this. We have essentially invited 30 families, so up to 100 people if you are counting families with children.

Terra Nova School Farm

Hunter: I have a question for everybody. Should every farmer be a cook? I remember Wendell Berry saying someplace recently, “I only have two cooking modes: boil and burn.” But he says, “But I’m trying.” So I ask you guys, should every farmer be a cook?

Carmona: Well it’s definitely a good skill to have so you can eat the food that you’ve grown for all these weeks. When I was cooking for the symposium over the summer, I’m not much of a cooker, I burned a few stuff, but I’m not that bad sometimes. But I definitely enjoyed cooking all of our vegetables, all of our produce that we’ve made, grown.

Morton: Yes, I think it’s important I mean what are you going to do with the food after you grow it? You cook it. So I think it just comes naturally over time if you grow a variety of vegetables like we do. I mean obviously if you just grow potatoes you’re probably going to be really good at cooking potatoes. But we have a whole bunch of different kinds of foods.

Miller: Well, there is a chef for a famous restaurant that had decided he couldn’t get what he wanted, fresh enough to prepare. So the restaurant set up a small farm and they were growing most of the vegetables that they were preparing right there for people who were coming to the restaurant. It has become so popular that it takes three to four months to get a reservation, just to eat at this restaurant. One of the things that came to my mind when I was thinking about your interest (Jenny) in alternative medicine and working with herbs is the concept of an herb farm hospital.

Carmona: Wow, I never really thought about that. I would definitely work there. Let’s just say that I think natural medicines the best way to go there’s some medicine out there that you can’t really trust, that have bad side effects for your body. I prefer to go natural medicine. If there was an herb hospital type of thing I would definitely love to work there.

Terra Nova School Farm

Miller: Well Paul Hunter and I believe that farming belongs in everything, in all aspects of our lives. And I have long been fighting this notion that you can’t do more than one thing if you’re going to do any one thing well. I really believe that diversification in the human existence is critically important. That if you want to play rock and roll and grow herbs and help people with alternative medicine there is no reason you can’t do all of them exceedingly well. Mike, besides what we suspect because you are involved in this farming program, is there something else that you find sexy? Besides farming?

Morton: Well, you mean my other interests? Well, my other major interest is fire fighting. And I want to be a fire fighter after high school so I guess that would be the answer.

Miller: Well I helped set up a volunteer fire department in a small community where I used to live and you spend a lot of time playing cards, polishing the pole, waiting for a fire. And you hope that it’s a fire that nobody’s at risk and that you can have fun, that it ends up being a kind of exercise. You know I’m thinking about this. It wouldn’t bother me at all to turn the sprinklers off before I got in the fire truck if the fire hall had a vegetable garden.

Morton: What do you mean?

Miller: That you could be the chef for the fire department, that it could have its own garden producing food that went into its own kitchen.

Morton: There’s actually a station in Portland that does that, has their own farm on the station.

Miller: Very cool. Had you made that connection yourself? Have you thought about that?

Morton: No I just saw it on the news. I was interested in maybe going down there and checking it out but I haven’t followed through yet.

Miller: What part of Portland is that fire department?

Morton: I’m not sure. I know its downtown Portland. I’m not sure exactly which station. There’s definitely many down there.

Terra Nova School Farm

Hunter: At the Tunbridge Fair (Vermont), I was there in September. They had a set of teams of oxen and the guy who won the competition was a fire fighter. It’s for training oxen and they had to go through a bunch of tasks that they had to do and they were judged. And there was this guy and I couldn’t get him to say three words to me but he was the best and he had the best team.

Miller: Paul (Hudak), with farming, you know this, I know this, at some point it’s so apparent that what you’re involved in goes way back and way forward in time. As a teacher you have months, a year, two years, three years, four years whatever the amount of time is, with individuals and you’re involved in this process and they get a taste for it. Even in a market garden situation you get a sense, “oh, okay I know what I would do different next year. I’m not going to plant that next to that next year. I’m going to do this next year.” What about the finality in the sense of this, that it’s just going to happen for whatever the term is? When they leave here do they have to find a fire hall that has a garden? Do they have to find a hospital that has a garden? What happens with what they’ve learned?

Terra Nova School Farm

Hudak: I think that would be different for each student. I hope that what they take with them is the knowledge, obviously the know-how, to grow the food. Whatever context that might be in whether its in a giant garden outside a hospital or in the back of the fire department but at least to know how to produce food for themselves and their families and then to spread that knowledge. But also to take with them the understanding of why they would want to do that for themselves and their health but also for the broader social implications of why we do what we do, in building community and trying to heal the earth, and to prepare for a more healthy way for the future. And one other piece that’s not necessarily focused around the farming but that what I’m really excited about is what I’m seeing the students take with them is the experience of working as part of a team, as part of a group. Over the years so often we’ve had students say, not you guys but, “I don’t get along with so-and-so. I’m done with this.” And I always tell people that that’s fine you can do that but when you leave this high school you’ve got the rest of your life and you hardly ever get to choose who you work with. If you can start learning now how to get along with people, and work as a team that’s going to be a very valuable lesson to take with you in the future. And I’ve seen it with these two in particular, they are so patient and so willing to listen and work as part of a team that no matter what they do in their professional and personal futures having practiced, and in your guys’ case, perfecting that skill is going to open a lot of doors and make life a lot easier for you guys in your future. Sorry I kind of went off your topic a little bit.

Terra Nova School Farm

Miller: No, that’s perfect. What you have here that we’ve seen deals with what we might loosely term a market garden type situation. Is there much discussion with regard to a livestock component? Is there much discussion in regard to other things that might be a more extensive aspect to farming?

Hudak: Well, we’ve taken this district by storm in that, I won’t say it was a hard sell, we pushed to sell the program, and now that we’ve established it they are very supportive. Now any big changes we make we have to go through a lot of the red tape, through the motions.

Miller: When you say that you’ve taken the district by storm, you’re speaking of the hierarchy, the school board, not the physical neighborhood.

Hudak: Right, the school district and now that they are onboard they are so supportive of what we do. We have the superintendent and the school board’s utmost support for what we do which is really fabulous. But getting back to your question, from the beginning the students wanted to keep chickens out here and that’s not something we can just do. Most of what we do we can’t just do without asking. Like we’re going to put up greenhouses and we are going through the county and the city (for permits). But with the chickens, we pushed it to the district and we got approval to have a few chickens. So this winter we got a student who is designing a chicken tractor that he’s done research on and in the spring we’re going to get three chickens and that’s a good step. I think eventually some day we’ll have multiple animals out here. Its just baby steps in that direction.

Terra Nova School Farm

Hunter: I was taking notes here and you guys used the word choice, and then in about a heartbeat and a half you used the word commitment. And then there was the design of a curriculum to fit your particular needs. And this is all together. You get sucked in by what I want to try to do or what I want to do but somehow the teaching mode is to get you to commit and say, “Yes, that’s what I want to do”. Win or lose, sink or swim, that’s what I want to do. And then, it looked to me like, they must suck you in to working in the summer too, right? Because that’s the growing season. That’s been the hitch. You know twenty years ago, thirty years ago in my world, I always wanted farming to be a part of environmental thinking and environmental issues but it was always this sort of dichotomy, there was this separation. I live in the suburbs and I climb in the mountains and never the twain shall meet. I dash off and do my commune with nature in a supposed wilderness situation and I learn the flowers and the animals and the world there and it’s not where I live. I don’t live with it. I got seashells on my windowsill but I don’t live with it. I don’t really live with it. Like farming, you have to live with it. So how do they con you guys into using your summers too?

Terra Nova School Farm

Morton: Well they pay us pretty well.

Hunter: What’s wrong with that?

Morton: Nothing’s wrong with that. You believe in what we’re doing before you get hired on in the summer. So money is a good plus to it but you also believe in what we’re doing is actually helping the community.

Miller: So I think you answered the question I was going to ask; that what you are doing is helping the community.

Morton: Yes, it’s helping the surrounding community, it’s solving multiple problems having it local and organic

Miller: Has there been much interaction with the community here? Has anybody walked down from their house to see what’s going on?

Morton: Yes, people when they are driving by all the time will stop by and say, “Hey what’s going on?” And we’ve had multiple people stop by and say, “Hey, I’ve got extra land you can use my land if you want it.” And unfortunately we’ve had to decline a couple of times. There’s just too much work and not enough people and then the CSA customers that we have, we have 30 CSA shares and the families come down and are always interested because we have once a week pick up and we always give them tours, tell them updates and things like that.

Terra Nova School Farm

Miller: Jenny, have you had any interaction with the neighborhood coming down asking questions?

Carmona: Yes, definitely. Over the summer people would definitely just come over here on their motorcycles and say, “Hey what’s this?” and, “Can I take pictures?” and I say “Yes, sure go ahead.” And I tell them a little bit about what we do and who we are and they are very interested in it. It blows their mind.

Hudak: I was just remembering when we were just about to take lunch this past summer, that one day and there were those two women. One woman was from Brazil or somewhere, she didn’t speak much English but she was head over heels for it, just taking pictures and translating through her friend and the four of us were talking about it. That was pretty neat.

Miller: You were talking Mike, about how what you’re doing is to help the community. Are you comfortable with telling me how you see this helping the community?

Morton: Yes, I see it helping them in the health issues. Like you go to the store and you buy fruits that are just packed with chemicals that are not good for your health and that local and organic obviously there’s no chemicals in organic and local, I think it kind of ties back to like your driving distances. You say you drive all the way to the mountain to hike and stuff like that. And if you have a local farm it’s really cutting back on how many times they have to ship it back and forth across the country, so it’s reducing the emissions cars give out.

Terra Nova School Farm

Miller: Is there any aspect to what you’ve experienced with this program that you feel has affected your sense of what it might mean to be a farmer, to do this sort of work not only as a life calling but as a source of income? Let me ask in a different way, before you came into this program had you ever thought at all about what it would be like to be a farmer in the way that you think of “I want to be involved in alternative medicine, a nurse, a doctor”, or whatever, but to be a farmer. Had you thought about that before this program?

Carmona: Not really. I mean I thought they just grow vegetables, and pick their produce, and sell it at markets. But now that I’ve been here to the program, I have much more respect for farmers because I know how much the work is. I know the summers can be pretty torturing and also how much fun it can be too. I love working here. I love it in the summer. I love interacting with our CSA customers. I love hanging out with the students that are here. And it’s so much easier when you have someone like Paul who is very positive and loves farming.

Terra Nova School Farm

Miller: Mike, how did you think about farmers before you started this program?

Morton: Well I had kind of two biased opinions about two different styles of farming. I knew that there was organic farming and I thought that the organic farming was just a bunch of “hippie bull-crap” and there was no real purpose to it because I had never been educated on the positive benefits of organic farming.

Miller: I need to know if you can identify for me where the bunch of “hippie bull-crap” came from?

Morton: My guess is TV. I don’t know where it was.

Miller: But it was there, just kind of in the air?

Morton: Yes

Miller: And that other thing that you identified with? The hippie end of it, but then there was the other part that you identified with farming?

Morton: Well you were suggesting earlier that you sectioned it off, that you thought of agriculture as big farming. I think of it as in the Midwest. I just thought of that style of farming as you don’t really have anything else to do; and that’s what you do out there, and that’s what your family did before that, and their family, and their family.

Miller: Locked into it – you had no choice?

Morton: Right

Miller: So for both of you, before this class, what sort of person was a farmer? How would you describe them in a class sense? In an intelligence sense? In a physical sense? Before the class?

Morton: Before the class, organic farmers were probably real laid back, easy going. That’s about it. I didn’t really give it too much thought before that. It wasn’t a big part of my life or anything. And then in agriculture, they were rednecks. You know, tough, and work long hours and that’s about it.

Miller: Okay, Jenny did you have any perception? Before this class, what kind of people would you have imagined would choose to be a farmer of any kind?

Terra Nova School Farm

Carmona: Kind of like what Mike said, rednecks, hippies. That’s pretty much it just also like what Mike said about it being passed down, being forced to be a farmer.

Miller: Like somebody saying when you’re eight years old that you’re going to marry the cousin of somebody’s son.

Carmona: Not quite like that, but sure. That’s basically it. I didn’t think much of it. I thought of farming as just really hard work, something very dirty, very messy. So much wrong with it I guess.

Miller: But you’ve already given us a picture of how you feel about it now. This class has, is it fair to say, completely changed your outlook of that?

Carmona: Yes, definitely. When I was little I didn’t care for nature. I didn’t care for it. I would grab a stick and on my way I would cut down things. But now I regret that so much. And I see so much beauty in nature now. It’s something that’s going to be with me forever.

Miller: Mike, how would you describe the change in your perception?

Morton: I would describe it as being much more aware of what I’m putting in my body. Before when I had those stereotypical outlooks on farming I didn’t think about McDonald’s is bad for you or how much sugar and how much salt is in their French fries and stuff like that. I just didn’t think about it. It didn’t cross my mind. But now I consciously think about it as I consciously pick the food off the shelf. And that is the biggest change that the farm has done for me and I won’t ever forget it. It’s not something that I’ll forget.

Miller: (to Paul Hudak) You had a perception of the kind of people, the young people that would be available to you at this school to work on this kind of a project. Were there any surprises when they lined up?

Terra Nova School Farm

Hudak: No, because I knew who they were. I don’t think there were any surprises. I think what surprised me was how well everybody came together. We didn’t start the program with a common interest in agriculture. It wasn’t like I was starting with ten students who knew that they wanted to farm and came in with a bunch of knowledge. Everyone came in with a broad scope of interests and baggage and attitude. I mean myself included. I’m not saying just you guys. But everyone was coming from different perspectives. And so what surprised me was how willing for the most part everyone was to work with each other despite personality differences I guess. That was the biggest surprise.

Miller: I have, as a former teacher, have had many experiences where I’ve wished I had students of a certain mindset, a certain appetite, a certain interest. So, I’m imagining that if I were in your shoes Paul and doing this I would say, “Gosh, I wish I had students here who were really interested in growing crops instead of maybe taking a class that’s going to be a heck of a lot easier than physics or geometry or anything else that might be required that as an elective. Hey let’s goof off, and grow some stuff, and count the ladybugs.

Hudak: I’m excited to speak about this because really if I could choose, if you guys graduate and I can choose my next ten students, instead of choosing ten students who had an experience in agriculture and wanted to come in and show what they knew. I wouldn’t choose them. I would choose ten students who had a broad range of life experiences and interests to come in because one of the coolest things for me within the context of this program has been working with you guys. Like Kia comes to mind instantly. She had gardens growing up and she loved art. And we found a way to tie her interests with art into the farm and the farm evolves when they bring in their interests because we nurture that. Like Jenny’s interest in medicine and her kind, gentle way with youth. I mean when members bring out kids or when we host school groups with elementary school students. That interest and that passion comes through and then the program grows. And Mike, he brings in so much knowledge with mechanics and just a genius mind for building things and coming up with systems. I consider myself to be blessed to have them creating systems within our micro farm here that I haven’t seen on larger farms. When you walk out the door you’ll see something that Mike created this past fall for winding up and collecting our drip irrigation. Last year was our first year of gathering that. We had no system in place and it was a mess, and it was a mess through the winter and it was a mess in the spring when we tried to lay it back out. And Mike came up with a system and implemented what he designed. It was a breeze to put it together this year and when we lay it out next spring it’s going to be a million times easier than it was. So I guess to wrap it up. I’m excited to have had the chance to work with these guys and for any future students who come in to find out what their interests are and figure out how we can plug those into this thing we call the farm and nurture them while we nurture the program at the same time.

Hunter: I was thinking about this joke about watching a baseball game. I like baseball. It’s really invisible and insidious what happened to farming in the United States. Here it’s one guy talking to the other and he says, “How’s the game going?” And he says, “Well, if it was any slower they’d have to call it farming.” And they are talking about a pitcher’s duel. It’s really interesting. “But if it was any slower they’d have to call it farming.” So he tagged two of my favorite things at the same time. What a put down. So we don’t even know how those put downs effect us but we say, “Oh yes, he just stayed at home on the farm because he couldn’t do anything else.” You think how dismissive that is.

Hudak: Yes, that’s a stereotype about farming. And I think with the kind of farming that we do, and that other market farmers do, when it’s broadly diversified, there are days that you hate the physical labor that we’re doing, I mean we’re doing so much that its seldom boring because there are so many different things that we’re working on.

Miller: And that’s without livestock, because there is an aspect to the livestock that is different. I mean there is the obvious with birth and death and all that but other things that you never expect. Like when you get pinned in the corner by a bull, or when a pet turkey decides to go rabid and attacks you, that’s not a slow pitching I don’t think. Is there anything about the experience of this program Jenny that you found yourself saying, “Gosh I wish we could spend more time doing that?” Or, “This really doesn’t make any sense. This is a waste of time.”

Carmona: Well, one thing that I really like is, I love harvesting. That’s definitely one of my favorite things about the farm; just picking it. I saw it when it was very little. I even planted the seed. And just watching it grow is so rewarding to me. I could pick 100s of kale, 100s of tomatoes, just the whole day. I could spend the whole day just harvesting all the vegetables and just packing it up and giving it to our customers.

Miller: That process, that experience, does it make you feel better?

Carmona: Well, I guess so. It does make me feel better. It’s just rewarding. I haven’t really done anything at this kind of scale, from farming and how big we are and how many people thank us for just being out here.

Miller: Can you imagine that you might be trying to help someone who was ill and that you would consider the possibility of taking them out to a garden to help you pick the tomatoes.

Carmona: Definitely, I think everyone should experience farming any aspect of it. Just to have that experience and to have that visual in your head and something that can be around you and you will have it with you when your old and you can pass it down and say this is what I did on the farm, and this is one thing that was really amazing about it.

Miller: Mike? Anything that fits into that category? Anything that you would like to see different about the program? Or anything you’d like to see more of or feel more of?

Morton: The only thing that I could say for probably both of those things is things that I’d like to feel more of are the things that I like to do like building and designing or problem solving. I really like to do that, like with the drip tape winder upper thing, I really enjoyed building that and finding the materials for that. The only thing I could think of as improving the farm is really just opening people’s minds up to the idea of organic and local farming. That’s the only thing I can think of.

Carmona: Definitely bringing awareness to people. Once you open that awareness door to so many people, they know and they experience it outside in the real world and they take it with them. Just one little thing can trigger that.

Hunter: Are you guys seniors, or are you graduating this year? Or where are you at?

Carmona: I’m done by the end of January, so I’m going to graduate half a semester early thanks to being on this farm and being at this school.

Morton: I’m in my last year here.

Hunter: I was suddenly thinking, oh, are these guys planting stuff that they are going to have to sneak back to get a taste of. Now with the cycle of school it’s a different thing, it’s the dance of the seasons.

Hudak: In regards to that about this program, when we started I would never have imagined that’s been really beautiful since we’ve been doing it in regards to the cycle, just how Jenny and Mike are gone after this year. Even though I’m going to try to create positions to keep them around and keep them coming back. They’ve been with it a couple years and they’ve gained this knowledge and then we have new younger students coming in and there’s definitely a big difference between a fifteen year old freshman and a seventeen or eighteen year old senior as far as maturity goes and knowledge and so within the context of the farm program here these guys are transferring their knowledge down to, even though I’m guiding the program, they are transferring their knowledge to the younger students and then acting as mentors too. I can remember back when I was a freshman in high school I looked up so much to the seniors. I would never tell them that, but I really looked up to them quite a bit. So it’s been cool to watch them mentor the younger students.

Miller: Context. You made a point, and this comes from what you just said, you had referred to the fact that that ground was hard as nails when you came here, that for the two years that you’ve worked on this program you’ve built a soil out there. That’s not going to happen next year, or the next year. I mean you maybe continue to improve it but that’s a context that they have learned from. Next year, who knows, you could have a dump truck load of grasshoppers show up and wipe everything out and it’s different and every year potentially is a different context. You could have no sun for a year, now who knows what might happen. And I have no doubt that you are up to the challenge of saying okay we’ve got to deal with what we’ve got here. But what do you think that does to the experience for them? Especially when at some point there’s going to be bureaucrats paying attention to this as having satisfied a particular forecast for its curriculum saying, “this is what they are going to learn here.” We couldn’t do these things because of these natural disasters or whatever. Do you see that as an issue or a challenge?

Hudak: Well, I guess in the context of the bureaucracy we could teach these guys everything that we know about farming without stepping foot outside of this door. They could still gain that knowledge. So if we had that natural disaster in a year or two they could learn it. I think they could learn it and pass a test to do it so to meet bureaucracy’s needs I think we could be okay with that, maybe not, I don’t know. But I think with those challenges, those natural challenges that we’re going to face every year that are going to be different, they enrich the experience. I mean the first year we had ideal weather. We had an early spring, a hot summer, things grew like crazy. It was a great climate for our first season. And then last year it didn’t stop raining until solstice. I mean it didn’t feel like we started farming until solstice and that was a far cry from the prior year. And it was a cooler summer, but you know we didn’t have quite the abundance or the desirable timing of crops coming on but they had the experience of having seen it the first year when it was almost ideal and then having worked through it the second year and I really think that that enriches the experience because that’s the reality of what this is and what food production is. Every year there’s going to be a different challenge. So they’ve had the experience of seeing two seasons that were pretty different from each other but with a similar end result in that we produced the food, our customers were happy and you guys learned a bunch about producing food.

Hunter: Did you get to make the point that subsistence farmers always know that you have to plant a whole bunch of different stuff at different times, just in case something like that happens and you have a terrible year? If you’re only growing corn, you’re lost. If you only grow one crop, your dependent on one crop, you’re done. But here you are you’ve got all different types of gourds and herbs and everything.

Miller: So this whole experience with the class for you, Jenny and Mike, was brand new, right?

Morton and Carmona: Yes

Miller: You didn’t have anything like this before. Were there moments in this when you felt like, “I’ve been here before.” Like a smell triggered something, and you couldn’t remember it, you’d never been there actually or the experience what it physically felt like to pick the crop or the smell of the dirt on a particular day. Is there anything about that, that ever seemed to you in a kind of haunting way, familiar?

Carmona: For me everything was brand new. I grew up not knowing as much as vegetables as I know now. I’ve never seen eggplant. I’ve never touched eggplant. I’ve never seen Kale or Mizuna. So it was definitely a brand new experience picking them, growing them and seeing how they grow, from the start to the end.

Miller: No moment where anything was strangely familiar but you’d never done before?

Carmona: No, definitely not. Not for me.

Miller: For you Mike?

Morton: I’d probably have to say the same, except for probably building. There were a few things.

Miller: You felt like, “I have to figure this out.” This engineering process and the energy that went into it just felt familiar to you?

Morton: Yes

Terra Nova School Farm

Coaching a Farm Team

by Paul Hunter

Too often there is an element of luck in how the next generation of farmers finds its footing on the land, especially these days when family connections are increasingly rare, when the link with the past has been broken. But some lucky students make use of the skill and drive of teachers like Paul Hudak, ever on the lookout to recruit farming talent. At the Terra Nova High School in the Beaverton, Oregon School District, he has stirred what he likes to call the “passion” of students, and finds in each young farmer’s particular awakening a vital link to the land. One student with an interest in herbal medicines from Asia gets to research, plant and harvest an herb garden on the school’s farm. Another student who hearkens to mechanical and technical problems on the school’s farm gets to design and build irrigation solutions. And students with an interest in business and math get to experience a full-blown working CSA in operation. The school’s program under Paul Hudak’s direction discovers hidden talents and energies, to build bridges back to the land and its age-old culture of cultivation, its cycles of challenge and reward.

According to Hudak, the key to success for students is ownership: they have to buy into the program and the rhythms and cycles of its work. To that end, each student’s program is tailored and focused on his or her needs. There has to be something in the everyday that is attractive, challenging, and fulfilling. And how does Hudak measure success? He says, “At the end of the season, I got what I wanted out of it, and they got what they needed.” He clearly likes the changes he sees in the students, how charged and interested they are. They want to be here, and can hardly wait for the next season to begin. It’s no slip of the tongue that Paul Hudak says he is looking for passion in them—it is a vital measure. He shows them his own commitment in action, while encouraging them to find a personal passion that connects with the soil. If a good teacher functions as both model and catalyst, Hudak has what it takes, especially in a discipline which includes both planning and an eye to timing the seasonal variables as the plan grows to fruition. His students learn to value farming not as an all-consuming focus to the exclusion of other pursuits, but as the vital central part of a varied and busy life.

There is an added benefit—or drawback, depending on how you see it— in the fact that the farm doesn’t obey the calendar of the normal school year. The bulk of the produce for the CSA is harvested over the summer, where some students can be paid for their work. And the students who have spent the summer on the farm have increased confidence; they know what they’re doing, having seen the farm from planning and soil preparation to planting, thinning, weeding, watering, all the way to the staggered harvest for customers through summer into fall.

Because of their CSA component, the program has had no problems with outreach. CSA members and families are outspoken in their praise and support. And the farm attracts curious neighbors to drop by with questions, that the students are ready to answer. The school makes a good neighbor with its open, cultivated rows and hoop houses, its transparency. In a world of anxiety about which sources of food can be trusted, here is a solution in their midst, where young people are eager to explain the differences between their organic squash and carrots and beans, and those sold in the local supermarket. Sustainable and local, and clearly aimed at the future, Terra Nova’s farm is a source of community pride and accomplishment, and a model for other school districts looking to engage and develop the next generation of skilled and committed farmers.


Experiential Education

by Paul Hunter

In his Republic Plato decided that young people should mostly practice gymnastics, athletics and other physical pursuits in their teens, graduating to cerebral studies in their twenties, till by the age of forty they should be ready to tackle philosophy and statesmanship. His perception that young people learn with and through their bodies is well taken. And all that energy needs to be channeled or burned off somehow. One of the often-neglected elements of secondary education is engaging the student’s sense of hope for the future, which can take an almost visceral form. One educator pointed out that even today the concepts and rote material the average student masters in four years could be learned in about three months. So what is it they learn in the other three and two-thirds years? How to work with others, wait their turn and get along, how to step into the social dance without too many collisions, how to find productive ways to shine.

So what do highschool students need to be doing, to learn the dance? There used to be a distinction between technical high schools that taught the trades—such as wiring, carpentry, plumbing, cooking, mechanics—and those whose thrust was to prepare students for college, which often carefully avoided developing physical skills or a work ethic apart from study itself. Curiously, the hands-on “apprenticeship” of many professions happened only at the end—in the last year of medical school, during one’s residency as part of training in a specialty, or with the first job at the Public Defender’s Office, where the teaching method was sink-or-swim.

But that class-driven distinction has proven artificial, and not age-appropriate for many teenagers. As Plato’s star student Aristotle said, “For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.” Even students with strong math and language skills, who excel at abstract concepts, need to learn to use their hands. And more, they need to find their feelings and ethics—their whole selves—in the work. How is this done? Teachers can create learning situations in traditional courses, but some of the constraints are all but insurmountable. How can the project or assignment pass the earnestness test—that it not feel trivial, too much like a game?

Given the energies, needs and potential idealism of highschool students, a school farm has advantages in spades. There is no more practical or grounded knowledge that will give a young person the confidence of being able to feed himself and others. Vital contact with the round of the seasons through farm work can stir a lifelong appreciation of nature’s basic cycle of rest, growth, fruition, decay and return. And the historical origins of schooling for children as it is still mostly practiced, with winter devoted more to the mind, and summer more to the body, gains renewed meaning and currency, if at its center the school includes a farm. Many a school parking lot could be excavated and returned to fields that feed the student body, heart and mind.