Notes from the Field: Managing Field Trips on the Farm

 

Massaro Community Farm
The Massaro Community Farm 2014 carrot harvest did not, in fact, require the labor of the two sixth grade classes precisely pulling carrot after carrot from the soil (pre-loosened by our accommodating farmhands, Alyssa and Ethan). However, the 40 enthusiastic albeit amateur farmhands made quick work of the task, and while the day’s farm tour and soil pH activity were also deemed a success, carrot-pulling exacted the most enthusiasm from our visiting tweens— once, that is, they came to terms with the fact that carrots came from the dirt!

We chuckle at their sweet naiveté but they’re not wrong— pulling carrots out of the ground is amazing. While visiting the farm, our students engage all of their senses in invigorating outdoor classes and activities. Whether harvesting carrots or visiting the chickens they connect, not just to nature, but to a working agricultural landscape that while once commonplace, is now a rarity in Connecticut.

Massaro Community Farm sits on the crest of a hill and is visible from the road as a cluster of three buildings framing a gravel lot; an old but upright farmhouse, a stone barn containing tools and farming machinery— some functional and others defunct, from the property’s original iteration as a dairy farm— and lastly the attendant dairy barn, where today, CSA subscribers pick up their shares and visiting students do arts and crafts or attend cooking classes.

Field trips are a primary outreach tool to connect Massaro to the greater community— primarily Woodbridge, a pleasant, wooded, and wealthy town rising out of New Haven, and Ansonia, an old mill town in the lower Naugatuck Valley, one of the most important industrial communities in the state.

As a FoodCorps service member, I work with the Ansonia public schools in the classroom and as much as possible, on the farm. In past years, field trip programming hadn’t rarely been recorded or passed on, so this fall, I set to work developing a system to keep track of our new and old lesson plans, logistical information, and best practices for future field trips.

When they come, we hear the students from Ansonia’s Prendergast Elementary before we see them— two lines of 40 powder blue polos, emblazoned with a navy Ansonia Charger at the breast, bobbing over the hill and into sight. The students are thrilled to be at the farm, but particularly thrilled to be anywhere beyond the scope of their everyday. The Valley public transportation leaves much to be desired and many of our students do not have easy access to transportation at home. Visits to nearby New Haven, or the beaches along the Long Island Sound in the summertime, or to New York City are not a matter-of-course, consequently field trips are a valuable opportunity for students to engage in hands-on learning in a new, outdoor space.

So the 40 eleven year olds flooded along the length of the rows, carefully taking hold before yanking out and brandishing their vegetal treasures— everything from straight as an arrow, supermarket specimens to the favored, gnarled octopi carrots sporting multiple offshoots— calling for our farmhands and their teachers to admire their treasures. Many asked if they could take their carrots home with them— we settled on one precious carrot per class, entrusted to their homeroom teachers for the walk back to school.

Our work this fall developing and recording hands-on lessons— like testing soil pH in the garden with baking soda and vinegar or a farm scavenger hunt— resulted in 16 successful field trips and will mean less work for educators next fall. The lessons we learned— that sometimes the simplest activities provide a welcome break from educator lecturing and a special time for students to engage freely, rather in response to an educator’s prompts— will help hone these field trips so they can continue to inspire and connect Ansonia students to their environment and their food.