Spring is a very busy time on a farm. This is especially true at the
educational farm in New Haven at the West Rock Nature Center. It's not big as
farms go, a barnyard - with a goat and a sheep, four ducks, a gentle bantam
rooster, four hens, and some rabbits - a pig pen, a half dozen garden beds, a
good-sized compost system (to process the animal wastes) and a few grape vines,
blueberry bushes and raspberry plants. But, you'd be amazed at the number of
students and adults who visit and study there on a spring day.
The farm was started 13 years ago to help high school students learn ecology.
The cycles of the farm- the soil, sun, plants and animals-as well as the
meadows, forest and stream at the Nature Center, provide everyday examples of
ecological principles and a meaningful context for learning. The realities of
growth and weather, of the animals, the smells and even the mud get through to
urban teenagers who are oftentimes numbed by our TV/consumer culture.
A former maintenance shed and a cabin we renovated, heated only by wood stoves,
provide classroom space. Important biogeochemical cycles of this planet can be
studied just by caring for a wood stove. The farm's resources and the park's
wild areas are great assets in the learning process.
Students must learn how to dress for cold or inclement weather. The animals
need to be fed, even if the weather is awful. Many of these teenagers get to use
a hammer and a shovel for the very first time. They begin to realize that food
comes from plants that can be grown in a garden, and from barnyard animals, too.
They gain self-confidence and learn to work together. The farm helps some
reconnect with their rural roots and others to connect with a future career, or
with the natural world for the first time. All of the students have terrific
After seeing this type of hands-on, outdoor ecology education, grounded in the
reality of plants and animals, work so well for seven years, educators, farmers
and community members began a non-profit organization, the New Haven Ecology
Project, to increase the availability of this kind of education. With the help
of individuals, foundations, and the New Haven Board of Education and the
Department of Parks and Recreation, the Ecology Project began running more
programs at the farm. The Common Ground summer program for teenagers is in its
fourth year. Here, students hone their writing skills and expand their science
knowledge, while learning to work together cooperatively. Cooking lunch from the
garden, caring for animals, and a camping trip in the park are big hits.
Teenagers who initially say they'd rather be home playing video games or
watching TV soon discover the joy of being outside as the beauties of New
Haven's wild areas unfold.
The Barnyard program is now in its second year. Four or five times a week, New
Haven elementary classes visit for a hands-on tour of the barnyard and gardens.
Another class of high school students visits once a week to help with
maintenance. Students from nearby universities, from Wallingford's and New
Haven's vocational agriculture programs and from a private school in Branford
also studied and worked on the farm this week. Home-schooled children and their
parents come to learn there, too.
Because the gardening areas are very limited at the Nature Center, the city of
New Haven has agreed to allow the Ecology Project to turn an abandoned 20-acre
piece of land near West Rock into the Springside Community Farm, which will
serve as a regional educational resource. Community members have been cleaning
up years of accumulated trash, removing overgrown brush to create garden beds,
and patching eroded roads.
The New Haven Ecology Project shares its vision for the new educational farm and
the excitement of active ecology education at the Springside Farm Festival, one
week from tomorrow, from 10 a.m. to 4 pm at the Eli Whitney Barn on Whitney
Avenue near the Hamden/New Haven line. There'll be animals, demonstrations like
sheep shearing and spinning and lots of good food, of course. And, I'll be
giving a short talk at two in the afternoon.
For more information, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to Farm Festival,
WSHU, 5151 Park Avenue, Fairfield, CT 06432, or call the farm at (203) 946-8017.
See you there!
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth
C1996, Bill Duesing, Solar Farm Education, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491