Cornwall kids learn about life on the farm

CORNWALL — Children attending Cornwall’s Bingham Memorial School are surrounded by some of the county’s most successful and renowned farms. But in this age of digital distractions and other competing interests, most of the kids hadn’t given much thought to what the farms are producing — even though they and their families are likely regular consumers of the milk, cheese, apples and syrup made a veritable stone’s throw away.

Well, Bingham School students in grades 3 to 6 are now well informed about local agriculture, thanks to a recent program that saw the children spend time among a half-dozen area farms learning about where their food is made and the hard work that goes into its production. It was all part of an integrated studies program through which students were asked to ponder, “How do we shape the land?” and “How does the land shape us?”

“A lot of what we are trying to do in integrated studies is do a lot of ‘place-based focus,’ so students are really understanding their local community and extrapolating those ideas to the larger world and seeing whether that makes sense,” Bingham School Principal Jen Kravitz said of the fall semester project. “We are such an agricultural community and to have that history, the farms seemed like a really natural fit.”

Cornwall teachers Emily Hoyler, Mindy Harvey and Andrew Hirsch spearheaded the program. They enlisted the participation of local farms, including Sunrise Orchards in Cornwall, Mountain Meadows Farm in Bristol, Monument Farms in Weybridge, Twig Farm in West Cornwall, Elmer Farm in Middlebury and the Williams Maple Farm in Cornwall.

Students were divided into six groups of around eight each. Each group visited a farm for an afternoon just prior to the Thanksgiving vacation. Folks from the Vermont Folklife Center in Middlebury taught students how to capture still images and audio recordings to document their farm visits, Kravitz noted.

And the farm operators were very gracious in opening their doors to the inquisitive kids, who asked questions ranging from the amount of milk produced by cows, to the amount of feed needed to sustain the farm animals.

It didn’t hurt that the operators of Twig Farm and Mountain Meadows already had family connections to some of the Cornwall students, Kravitz noted. The school had worked with Sunrise Orchards in the past. And the Bingham School gets food from all six of the participating farms, which provided yet another connection.

Teachers were excited that the project provided students with a hands-on atmosphere in which to apply science, social studies, reading and math skills, as well as the arts.

“This approach lends itself to interdisciplinary learning, because questions, problems, themes, topics tend to cross subject boundaries,” Kravitz said.

Students on Dec. 17 unveiled the fruits of their labor to community members, parents and the farmers who helped them.

CORNWALL ELEMENTARY SCHOOL students talk about a local farm during a school-wide presentation this month. Bingham Memorial School students spent time on several area farms for the project.

Independent photo/Trent Campbell

They linked the farms’ activities to the soil and the broader picture of how that resource was molded over the millennia by geological shifts in the Champlain Valley. The students themselves will become a part of local history, as their presentations were recorded by Folklife Center officials.

Students gleefully shared some of the following facts:

•  Sunrise Orchards produces an average of 179,000 bushels of apples annually. That translates to 22,554,000 apples.

•  Mountain Meadows is an organic beef farm that sells to whole food stores in New York and Boston. The farm did $1.2 million in gross sales last year.

•  The 1,300 cows at Monument Farms produce a combined total of 4,000 gallons of milk per day. Each cow eats 80 to 100 pounds of food and roughly 30 gallons of water each day. Each cow produces about 60 gallons of manure each day, which is used to generate electricity through a methane digester (cow power) system.

•  Williams Farm produces maple syrup and high quality lumber for furnishings. It takes 40 gallons of maple sap to make one gallon of syrup.

•  The Elmer Farm produces 40 different varieties of vegetables, including beets, kale, carrots, pumpkins and tomatoes.

•  Each of the 50 goats at the Twig Farm eat 8 pounds of food each day. The farm also has chickens and ducks.

Following their presentation, students invited their guests to taste some of the dishes using cheese, veggies, beef, apples and milk made on the farms they had showcased.

Mike Lee is owner-operator of Twig Farm. He was among those present for the Dec. 17 presentation and said he enjoyed the students’ visit to the farm. Mike’s son was among the students who toured the farm.

“Some (students) were very familiar with what went on at the farm, and some had no idea what was going on,” Lee said. “But my overall impression was it was wonderful to have the kids be in a place and see where something is made, rather than just see a picture or read about it.

“The connections they could make from that, I think, were really worthwhile.”

Dadne Fuentes is a student in the group that visited the Williams Farm. She said her favorite parts of the visit involved “hearing about when the glaciers were formed and how when they left, they left Lake Champlain.”

Fuentes also liked learning about the network of tubing on the farm that collects sap from the trees. It was her first trip to a sugar works.

“The sap comes to this little cottage where there’s a big tank, and they make the syrup,” she said.

Kravitz believes the project will leave a lasting impression with the students.

“I think (the students) were amazed with how many apples were produced, or how many carrots were produced — and also with how the farm works,” Kravitz said. “We are trying to get kids to understand farms and issues associated with them.”

Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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