When I Grow Up…

When I was in elementary school, my dream jobs oscillated seamlessly and indiscriminately between fiction and reality. One day, being a professional mermaid was the obvious answer, because being able to breathe under water and swim like a fish were definitely admirable skills. Other days, I was an explorer, an astronaut, or a teacher. Or I was everything all at once- and that was the best.

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Today, I have a clearer vision of what I want to do when I grow up (even though some days being a mermaid still seems pretty awesome) because I’m doing it. Luckily, some of my childhood dreams are woven into my FoodCorps service, from feeling like an explorer, discovering my path and place in the Farm to School movement, to stepping in as a teacher and bringing students on a farm adventure for hands-on Montana agricultural education.

So, when I was in the dusty Glory Farm goat barn with a group of squirrely third grade students and overheard a “When I grow up…” conversation my ears perked up:

“When I grow up I’m going to be a goat farmer!”

“Well, when I grow up I’m going to be a farmer right here on this farm!”

“Well, I’m gonna be a goat farmer on this farm too!”

These two third grade girls were discussing their future farming careers after Gay Eyman, vegetable grower, chicken and goat raiser, and farmer extraordinaire of Glory Farm in Helena, MT taught them how to milk her sweet goat, Cinnamon.

A far cry from the clean, structured class time that these ladies are used to, the farm is a beautiful, refreshing mess of chickens happily sprinting around their run, curious goats snuffling third grade fingers, and the distinct, wonderful fragrance of garden soil in the spring. And if you’ve ever met a guinea hen, you’ll understand the students’ glee at watching this expressive animal act as a watch dog over the other chickens!

During the month of April, students in Kindergarten through third grade excitedly trekked forty minutes to spend an afternoon at Glory Farm. Here they had the opportunity to plant their own pumpkin to take back to the school greenhouse, visit the chickens and chicks, and meet (and if they were brave enough milk) the friendly goats.

Prior to the farm field trip, Farmer Eyman, along with her two interns, came to each classroom to talk to the students about what farming is like, and taught them about different plants she grows and animals she raises. Having the farmer visit prior to our field trip proved to be a great idea, not only to give students an introduction to her farm, but to illustrate to them that farmers are not the same! Most notably, a first grade student announced to his class that he “Didn’t know there could be LADY farmers!!” Good thing Farmer Eyman was there to correct his misperception!

Planting Pumpkins

I had wanted to take students to a local farm since I began my service in August 2012, but things hadn’t fallen into place until this spring, after Farmer Eyman and I had connected about our passions for giving children hands-on educational food and farming experiences. My original goal for the field trip had been to give students a firsthand experience with farming, connecting the dots between what we talk about in class and what it looks like in real life. Then, by taking a little piece of the farm with them, in the form of both pumpkin seeds and those intangible memories, students could feel empowered to continue their learning experience back at home and in the classroom.

What I hadn’t anticipated was that I was planting the seeds for future dream jobs as well. Perhaps this farm field trip was more than just an educational experience; maybe I opened new doors of possibility and hopefully inspired students to realize that farming is not only something they can do when they grow up, but a passion they can participate in today. Farming, ranching, gardening- these are more than dream jobs, they are real jobs that need more “When I grow up…” support.

So many children are far removed from the soil, the animals and the plants that nourish their bodies. By letting students explore and participate in the food system, we are allowing them to form knowledgeable opinions and ask smart, critical questions about today’s food and agricultural system. And, maybe, we will even support the dreams of the future goat farmers out there, too!