Reflection written by Abby Bradley-Gilbert and Molly Aronson.
Field trips are an essential component of a child’s education. They offer students the opportunity to step out of the classroom and into the world around them, where they can engage with subject matter in a hands-on and immersive way. Third, fourth and fifth graders in all of the Northampton Public Schools – Leeds, Ryan Road, Jackson Street, and Bridge Street – visited the GFN Community Farm this October. Their enriching experience combined education, fun, and an understanding of sustainable agriculture in the time of climate crisis. In total, more than 600 students visited the Community Farm this fall!
Each of the twelve field trips began with an introduction to the community garden. Students walked through the garden talking about what they noticed and chatted with the field trip leaders, learning the difference between farms and community gardens, and thinking about why some people might want to grow their own food instead of buying it from a store. Each class consisted of around twenty-five students along with their teachers, one-on-ones and chaperones.
Next, students split into two groups and played a game of Plants and Resources. Students who were the plants had to find the resource they needed to grow and bring them to their side.
Resources included sunlight, water and soil. But, if a plant didn’t find what they needed, we showed what happens when plants die…they decompose, come back to the earth, and become part of the resources! The game helped to teach what happens when there is a flood and plants get too much water, or when too much sunlight and not enough water causes drought.
Molly Aronson, GFN’s Education Manager, says, “Plants and Resources allowed us a window into talking about the flooding that happened this summer. In the game, they see that when there is too much water, plants die. Students were asked to think and feel what that might have been like for farmers and gardeners, and the activities that followed helped us make the land more resilient. That, really, was our angle for the trip. If the flood hadn’t happened, we may have been harvesting veggies. But, it did happen, and so we wanted to tell the truth about that and use our time
together to bring in some of these tools we have to make the land more resilient, and talk about what it means for land, or a certain plant, to be resilient.”
Students were asked about what the word “resilient” meant to them. Common answers included, “strong,” “tough,” and “able to withstand change.” Many students noted how resilient sounded like the word “resistant,” and were able to draw connections between those two concepts.
One of the highlights of the trip was the opportunity for students to get involved in the Giving Garden, where they planted garlic. We talked about how garlic has many layers of protection, and is able to survive underground all winter long before being harvested the next summer. They also spent time weeding knotweed which is not native to the area, and clearing out patches of mint to make room for new pollinators and trees. These activities helped students to answer the question, “How can we make the garden more resilient?”
At snack time, students and leaders talked about the various stages of food production, from planting and harvesting to packaging and distribution while they snacked on carrots from farms around the valley. Snacking on locally grown carrots emphasized the importance of consuming local and sustainably grown produce, which has a positive impact on the environment and the community. Many students exclaimed, “These carrots are so good! They taste sweet!” Some students brought their own snacks along. One of the field trip leaders asked them to look at the labels of their snacks and see where they came from. This helped them to understand the difference between fresh produce which is grown and consumed locally, versus store-bought packaged snacks which are processed in order to stay fresh for a long time.
The hands-on experience of planting and eating fresh, local carrots allowed students to see and touch some of the crops grown at Grow Food Northampton, helping them understand the journey from the soil to their plates.
Near the end of the field trip, students gathered herbs including sage, lemon balm, thyme and mint at Sawmill Herb Farm and created bundles to be dried and donated to the Star Light Center in Northampton. We talked about how that particular farm was not flooded, and one of the ways we can be resilient as a community is by helping each other out when someone faces something hard.
The 2023 fall field trips to the Grow Food Northampton Community Farm were a holistic educational experience that combined environmental and climate change awareness, sustainable practices, and a connection to the local community. This outing offered a glimpse into the world of agriculture and the importance of supporting local, sustainable food systems. Telling stories to a younger audience about an important subject like resiliency is what helps to move us forward as a community. Know a Northampton third, fourth or fifth grader? Ask them about their trip to the farm!