Getting Their Hands Dirty
Crotched Mountain's Farm School program cultivates a love of earthy learning for students of all ages.
The girl surveyed the terrain.
Like any Yankee barn floor, the topography promised adventure. The aged wooden slats and the clumps of mud combined to create a gauntlet of toe-stubbing treachery. For the girl, traversal wasn’t the easiest. She had experienced a traumatic brain injury almost two years ago, which played havoc with her mobility. Her motor skills had improved greatly since then, but assistance-free walking continued to prove challenging; growth, after all, takes time.
But she had come this far, traveling to a real, working farm and was quivering with excitement. So she took a step. And another. And another. She held her arms wide to improve her balance. Meanwhile, her staff and teachers were within striking distance to give support if she needed it. She didn’t need it. She made it to the horse stalls, all on her own, drawn by the clarion call of honest farm work. Because there were horse stalls to muck out. And she was the right girl for the job.
Welcome to Farm School. Established in the fall of 2008, this unique vocational technical program gives Crotched Mountain students the opportunity to experience an environmental program the way it was mean to: with dirt caked up under the fingernails. That can take the form of trips to nearby farms in bucolic rural New Hampshire, or digging into the programming the Farm School offers right on the Crotched Mountain campus.
“We want to establish that connection between the students and nature,” said Sarah Tracey, one of the Farm School teachers.
The connection is apparent as soon as you walk through the classroom door. To the right is the microscope, where students can peer at the magnified hustle and bustle taking place on a plant stem; to the left, a worm composting tank (which is exactly what it sounds like: a place for red wiggler worms to transform old leaves, scraps of food and newspaper into reusable compost); and, through the door straight ahead, is the crown jewel of Farm School—the greenhouse.
It’s in there that the magic happens. Students learn the ins and outs of the sustainable agro game. It’s experiential learning in all its grimy glory, as they seed, water, and eventually harvest their own crops. The science of growing governs the curriculum and the learning is 100% intentional - but if you ask the teachers, they’ll confess that there’s a little something metaphysical happening as well.
“You see it right away, that smile on their faces, the light in their eyes,” says Beth Simpson, the Farm School Coordinator. “We’ll have students come in who are nonverbal or medically fragile and they’re so excited, straining against their wheelchairs, whole body vibrating.” “They feel it,” says Sarah. “They sense they’re part of something bigger.”
Farm School follows the seasonal path that nature lays out. Today it might be about gathering seeds and preparing compost, but just around the corner, sugaring time will kick off as the weather warms and the sap flows; and before you know it, the lambs are ready to be shorn, fleece sold, chickens hatched and raised, turkeys fed; and always there’s the greenhouse, always there are plants and that earthy aroma of life and decay and restoration, a never-ending celebration of what the soil has to offer all of us - growth.
For more information on Brain Injury Rehabilitation, please visit www.crotchedmountain/hospital or the Farm school at www.crotchedmountain/school