Growing a new generation of farmers
February 11, 2014
Two and a half years ago, Raelynn Noel had a vision to launch a farm-study program for home-school students attending Yuba River Charter School.
Today, her idea is going strong.
"I feel very grateful that I got my dream job of getting children outside in the garden and eating healthy, farm-fresh food," said Noel, a teacher and education specialist of the program.
Influenced by Waldorf Methods, 20 students in grades one to five enrolled in the Yuba River Charter School home-study farm program and meet twice a week at the 263-acre Sierra Friends Center, a nonprofit educational community originally founded in 1963 as a Quaker high school.
Developed by Rudolf Steiner in 1919, Waldorf education is based on an understanding of human development phases and the use of age appropriate learning through art, music and creative experiences ,with the aim of benefiting the whole child.
Last fall, Eugene Schwartz, a fellow of the Research Institute for Waldorf Education and a national mentor of Waldorf teachers, visited the farm at Sierra Friends Center.
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"The home-school program that has been pioneered by Yuba River should be a template for all schools wishing to help those intrepid parents who wish to take on their children's education," Schwartz said.
Noel, a mother of two children ages 9 and 15, has studied biodynamic farming at Rudolf Steiner College in Fair Oaks. When her oldest son was younger, she home-schooled him for three years using the Waldorf methods while she was attending school herself to become a teacher.
"I have seen the benefits of growing a garden with my own children. I have noticed that it feeds their desire to be active. They eat more fruits and vegetables, and it helps them to feel a sense of importance in knowing that they make a difference for their family," Noel said.
Noel is currently working to create a Waldorf home-study program for her curriculum project at Rudolf Steiner College to serve as a model for other schools.
Noel says the Waldorf science curriculum blends well with the farm environment.
Children spend their time in the classroom and outdoors participating in every stage of farming, from compost building to seed collecting. The youngest students witness the seasons of the farm while third-grade students experience farming firsthand and fourth-grade students study animals such as cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and chickens. Fifth-grade students study botany.
"The farm is an ideal outdoor classroom where children can be active and learn by experience," said Noel.
These winter days, children are working to prepare garden beds in the hoop house, where food is grown all year long.
They have also planted trays of vegetable starts that will be sold at auction during their school's big Moondance, Feb. 22. In the classroom, younger students are focusing on seasonal stories while grades three, four and five are learning about the history of agriculture.
"I love when our son comes home and teaches us something new he has learned at the farm program," said parent Amanda Noakes.
In just a few short years, these young people have been exposed to farming skills that many modern adults lack.
To date, they have prepared garden beds for planting, planted seeds, made potting soil, transplanted starts into garden beds, weeded, amended soil, mulched, harvested, weighed and logged produce data, chaffed grains and legumes, removed harlequin beetles, prepared compost tea, made a biodynamic cow pat pit, started a permaculture garden and harvested apples and pressed them into cider.
"They want to work and they want to do a good job. Usually we are not stopping because they are tired. We are stopping, because we are out of time," said teacher's aide Brendan Banister.
Recently, the students were featured on the cover of Peaceful Valley Farm Supply's catalogue. Peaceful Valley and Sierra Seeds have donated hundreds of seed packets to the school's farm program.
Children from YRCS help generate the food required to feed 50 to 75 people participating in the Woolman high school semester program. Children also harvest food for the charter school's main campus garden cart.
Noel is also YRCS's Farm-to-School liaison for Sierra Harvest, a local food and farm education nonprofit group (formerly Live Healthy Nevada County and Living Lands Agrarian Network). Sierra Harvest partners with 11 area schools and is working with YRCS to develop an educational farm at the proposed new school site and future two-acre "New Generation Farm" on Rough and Ready Highway in Grass Valley.
A former YRCS home study teacher's aide and now Food Corps member is working with Sierra Harvest to develop the farm, provide nutrition education and someday improve area school lunches.
"Once the new school site is approved at the county, (we) will begin developing the farm and bringing groups of students to this new site to breathe life into this exciting new endeavor," said Malaika Bishop, Sierra Harvest Farm-to-School Program Director.
The YRCS home-study farm program is currently enrolling students. The enrollment coordinator can be reached at 265-6060, ext. 102.
Contact Freelance Writer Laura Brown at email@example.com or 530-913-3067.