How do you get eggs from a chicken if they don’t want to give them to you? Is it hot working on a farm? Are cucumbers fruits or vegetables? Do you have to catch the animals to get them on the farm? Does chocolate milk come from brown cows? Can we grow bananas in Somerville? Strawberries?
I am always in awe at the enthusiastic curiosity of elementary students. I had the pleasure of answering questions like these, and many more, during an event I recently coordinated entitled “Meet Your Farmer.”
In a team with Farm School Farmer David Graham, we visited six classrooms over the course of the day. David contributed stories and experiences from working on a farm and I offered my expertise gained from working in city gardens during each classroom visit. With each group, we helped students develop a more concrete and respectful vision of the farming occupation. Our goal was to increase their appreciation for the work it takes to produce food. One of my main roles was to make sure to connect our learning to actions we can all take in Somerville in the likely case that families can’t bring students out to farms in the suburbs.
What can we do in a city as densely populated as Somerville? First, we need to figure out where one could even find space to safely grow vegetables. As a group, the students brainstormed ideas ranging from backyards, to community gardens, to pots in a window, to their school garden. (For adults considering backyard gardening, make sure to test your soil for heavy metals first!). We then learned that organic gardening is especially important in our community because it offers much needed habitat for important living things including decomposers, pollinators, predatory insects and birds. There’s very little space in Somerville for these critters to find food, shelter, water, and friends, making urban gardening’s impacts greater than often is expected.
Next we brainstormed a list of fruits and vegetables that we would like to grow in our school garden. We learned that many tropical plants can’t grow in Somerville. We even might have to rule out space hogs like pumpkins and zucchinis if growing in small back yards. Luckily, we learned that we can grow almost all of the favorite fruits and vegetables brainstormed at the beginning of the lesson. At the end of the program, we all got to sample several slices of MA-grown Macintosh apples. We liked how they were crunchy, sweet, and sour at the same time. It was also cool that they were grown at a farm in our own state.
It’s that time adults! Do you want to grow for yourself this season? No matter where you live, you can grow food. And if you find yourself brimming with questions, feel free to post them below and I’ll see if I can answer them for you! You may also find the series of “Backyard Gardening” posts I made last year helpful if starting a garden for the first time.
Check out the groups that made this event possible! “Meet Your Farmer” was coordinated by Groundwork Somerville and funded by Massachusetts Agriculture in the Classroom. Additional partnering with Somerville Food Services, UMass Extension Nutrition Education Program, and East Somerville Community School made everything possible. Also check out the press the program got in the Somerville News and the Somerville Patch!
Answers to introductory questions: -Chickens rarely fight you for their eggs, though if a hen is broody (if she wants to hatch her eggs into chicks), you may have to reach under her with thick leather gloves. -It’s often hot in the summer, but it’s cold in the winter. We dress for the seasons, like you do when you play outside. -The animals on the farm were born there; they’re the babies of cows and chickens we already had. -Brown cows make normal white milk. If you add chocolate and sugar, you get chocolate milk. -Bananas don’t grow in Somerville because they die in the winter, but strawberries do!