School field trips — literally

Farm hands: Debbi Madill and class watch as Farmer Dan, Danny Barrett, pulls up an onion to put on display. Barrett’s Ten Acre Garden grows a wide variety of produce and will be a stop on this year’s Family Farm Tour, June 25 and 26. Photos courtesy of ASAP

Out of the whispers on a recent bus field trip, one student from Debbi Madill’s kindergarten class at Cullowhee Valley School could be heard exclaiming, “Oh, Ms. Madill, look! We’re in farm valley!” The hay, horses and tractors spotted out the windows were sure signs they were nearing their destination: Ten Acre Garden in Canton.

The farm field trip was made possible by a mini-grant from Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project. ASAP’s Growing Minds Farm to School Program awarded grants to nine classrooms at the end of 2010 for the 2011 school year. Grantees are required to integrate the trip into a unit of study, which worked well for Madill, who planned a springtime farming unit to tie into other components of the kindergarten curriculum: climate and nutrition.

“Visiting the farm when we did was a culmination of everything we’ve done in the classroom,” Madill says. “The students had a lot of background. They knew about seeds. They knew they wouldn’t be able to see root vegetables because they were under the ground. They knew why we can’t grow certain fruits and vegetables here and the difference between fruits and vegetables.”

To reinforce what they had learned, Danny Barrett, aka Farmer Dan, who owns and operates the farm with his family, pulled up a few carrots not quite ready for harvest. He pointed out the beans that would be ready soon. And he took them through the rows of what was ready for harvest and thus eating: strawberries.

“They got to look for ones that were ripe, pick them, and eat them standing right there in the field,” Madill says. “You should have seen their faces — getting that concept of this is where our food comes from — it’s real food.”

The in-season, super-sweet berries really stuck with the students. As a follow-up back in the classroom, they talked about what they predicted they would see on the farm and then sent Farmer Dan drawings of the things they did see. “Most drew my strawberries,” Barrett says, adding that one student sent him a nice portrait of his coonhound. “I thought that was really neat to see the things that caught their interest.”

Madill’s students also sent drawings and letters to Jim Hill, the child nutrition director for Jackson County Schools. “Every child had strawberries in their picture; they asked for fresh strawberries, fresh corn on the cob and fresh carrots from the ground,” says Madill. Hill has been featuring strawberries on school menus as part of ASAP’s Get Local Schools initiative, which puts the focus on one local ingredient each month. Students are excited about the local items they’ll see the rest of the season. They signed their letter: “Thank you for using farm food when you can. It’s so good!”

2 days, 41 farms, countless possibilities

Barrett, who runs a CSA farm share program and also sells his produce at Haywood’s Historic Farmers Market in Waynesville, enjoys having visitors to his Century Farm, a farm that has been continuously owed by one family for 100 years or more. Ten Acre Garden is one of 41 farms — some Century, some new — participating in ASAP’s Family Farm Tour, the largest number in its history. Participating farms stretch across four counties: Buncombe, Haywood, Jackson and Yancey.

The annual event, held on the weekend of June 25 and 26 from 1 until 6 p.m., is one giant field trip — a chance to learn how food grows, taste farm-fresh treats, interact with farm animals and meet the community’s food producers.

Admission buttons are $25 in advance and can be purchased at select area business and tailgate markets, or online at familyfarmtour.com. One button admits an entire carload. Guides with tour tips and directions can also be found at button vendors and online.

This year, your admission button also gets you into the Polk Fresh Agri-Tour, a one-day tour from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. on Saturday, June 25. Details can be found at polkcountyfarms.org. ASAP’s Family Farm Tour is sponsored by Biltmore and Greenlife Grocery; WNC Magazine is the media sponsor.

For more information, including a list of button vendors and details on volunteering and attending the tour for free, visit familyfarmtour.com or call 236-1282 ext. 114. Follow ASAP on Facebook and Twitter (@asapconnections) for more details prior to the event and to share your experience as you’re taking the tour.

Ten Acre Garden can be reached at 235-9667; on Facebook and in ASAP’s 2011
Local Food Guide, along with the other Family Farm Tour participants. The guide is on stands now or at buyappalachian.org.

— — Maggie Cramer is the communications coordinator at Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (asapconnections.org). Contact her at maggie@asapconnections.org.

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