A Farmer-in-Residence Makes Farming Come Alive at Watkins Elementary
by Kealy Rudersdorf, FoodPrints Lead Teacher at Watkins Elementary, and Becky Seward, Farmer and Manager of Prickly Pear Produce
What inspires farmers to farm? What does a small farm look like? What is the difference between a small, organic farm and large, industrial farm? How is farming a business?
Fourth graders at Watkins Elementary School this year explored these questions and more while working with Farmer Becky Seward, who runs a two-acre farm and Prickly Pear Produce in Southern Maryland.
Farmer Becky Visits Watkins Elementary
Farmer Becky visited the 4th grade FoodPrints classes twice this year. On her first visit, she talked to the students about being a farmer and the elements that make her farm run: cover crops, compost, produce she grows, and how she makes money on that produce. On her second visit, Farmer Becky worked with the students to understand the difference between conventional and organic farming, why it’s important to buy and eat local foods, and the differences between eating food from a farmers market and a big grocery store.
Because her farm is just one-half mile from the Potomac River, she was also able to give the students examples of how her farming methods protect the watershed -- and the importance of surrounding areas taking care of the watershed so farms like hers can grow healthy produce. The students also made seed tapes for her farm by measuring the appropriate distance between seeds and carefully gluing individual seeds.
4th Graders Visit Becky's Farm
In late May, each of the four 4th grade classes took a field trip to Becky’s farm. Becky is in her third year of managing her farm business, Prickly Pear Farm. She rents the land from the owner of the neighboring Centro Ashé, a herbal education business and sells her produce at local farmers markets and through her own CSA (community supported agriculture) farm share.
It was an eye-opening experience for many! One student -- who had been wary of getting dirt, bugs and worms on her in the school garden -- overcame her fear of trying new things at Becky’s farm. She spent her day investigating ants, holding worms, and digging in the soil. She had the brightest smile on her face, and remarked, “It’s not so scary!”
During the field trip, students rotated through four stations:
Farm Tour. Students saw first-hand what Becky had described when she was at Watkins: cover crops, water well, tractors, greenhouse, mulching and organic farming methods.
Soil Exploration. Students dug in the soil where there were cover crops and looked for different elements (leaves, roots, bugs), sorting and collecting their findings into empty egg cartons.
Seed Planting. When Farmer Becky visited Watkins, students made seed tape. At the farm, students planted these,and also saw what these same plants looked like after two weeks and four weeks of growth.
Chicken Observations. Becky has more than 20 hens, and the students were fascinated with them! They spent lots of time observing their behavior, drawing them in their journals, and writing about what they “see, think, and wonder” about the chickens. Students had lots of questions about their diet, how they live, how they lay eggs, why the eggs are different colors, and more.
The field trip, combined with Becky’s visits to the school, were a powerful way for students to see farming in action, understand it as a viable business, and meet someone who is successfully living her dream after more than a decade as a farmer.
Farmer Becky Reflects on Her Role Farmer-in-Residence
It has been so inspiring to be a part of Foodprints' Farmer-in-Residence program this year! The fourth grade at Watkins Elementary has clearly had a few years of food education under their belt, and it made for some very fun and engaging discussions around organic farming. That we were able to provide some lessons in the classroom and then further apply them on the farm crafted for the kids a truly meaningful experience. It was also clear that we changed a lot of perceptions as to what farming is and what a farmer looks like, especially after we got over, "why don't you have horses and cows?"
Through careful planning (thanks FoodPrints staff and Watkins teachers!), we were able to bring all of the kids to the farm here in Southern Maryland to get deep about the farming history of the area, land stewardship, watersheds, healthy soil, and everyone's favorite: the fine points of chicken husbandry.
Even the kids that were swatting away bugs and uncertain out on the farm were by the end of the trip asking to touch worms and beetles, and naming the chickens. Everyone had different creative names for our two roosters!
It was also special for me to witness the wonder that kids experience when they are out in nature. It is my sense that most of the students in the fourth grade walked away with an experience of connectedness, wonder, and hopefully some facts about sustainable farming. I certainly had a lot of fun and am so thankful to have had the honor to be Watkins farmer-in-residence!