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Farm-fresh perspective: new England kids get back to the roots of their food.

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Thirteen-year-old Ella MacVeagh grabs a shovel. The bleating of sheep isn't all that fills the air. There's also the pungent smell rising from the barn she's about to muck out. But Ella isn't a farm kid doing her family's chores. She's a teen from the city, attending a program at The Farm School in Massachusetts.

Each year, 1,500 kids spend three to five days at this 130-acre working farm. The students, who usually come with school groups, get a first-hand taste of agricultural life and new insight into where their food comes from. Despite the hard work, many, including Ella, have so much fun that they return. What's so special about this school?

BACK IN TOUCH

Many kids arrive at The Farm School with only a hazy idea of what happens to their food before it hits the grocery-store shelves. But as soon as they file off the buses and stow their gear in the bunkhouse, they get back in touch with their diet. Reid Bryant, program director at The Farm School, says, "Whether it's milking cows, picking up hay bales, pruning apple trees, or picking carrots, we get kids here, we give them a quick introduction to what's needing to be done, and then we get them right out there doing it."

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Students rotate through different chores on this diversified farm. In the gardens and orchards, they grow fruits and vegetables that are organic (produced without the aid of synthetic, or human-made chemicals). They feed and milk cows in the dairy, gather eggs from free-range chickens, and build pens for pigs. The schedule also includes plenty of free time to explore the fields and forests, or just shoot hoops.

The projects change with the seasons. Kids arriving in spring collect sap for maple syrup. Winter groups bake bread and pickle vegetables from the recent harvest. Taking care of the animals is a year-round job. Ella has worked with every animal at The Farm School. "For the horses, I built this electrical fence and changed their pasture area, so they could have another place to graze." Her favorite part, however, was interacting with the calves and piglets.

At mealtime, the students chow down on food they helped harvest and prepare. This gave Ella a fresh perspective. "I ate more organic, and thought about where my food was coming from a little bit more."

KNOW YOUR FOOD

If you can't spend time on a farm, you can still keep tabs on your food by buying from local sources. Paying attention to food miles, or how far food has traveled, not only helps you buy fresher products but it can also help protect the environment. The farther items are shipped, the more pollution is created by burning fuel. Bryant says, "There's a big difference in the impact you make when you're shipping something two miles versus shipping something 2,000 miles."

Just as important as food miles are sound farming practices. Bryant points out that when food comes from distant places, it's harder to know if it was produced under healthful and environmentally friendly conditions. He says, "I think it's important to be acquainted with the food you're eating, and that's most easily accomplished if that food is coming from a local source." So don't take your grub for granted.

LIFE: Farms

Farm-Fresh Perspective

PRE-READING PROMPTS:

* Where does your food come from and what happens to it before it ends up on your grocery-store shelf?.

* Would you want to go to school on a farm and learn how to care for animals, grow vegetables, or gather maple syrup?

* What do you think "organic" means and how is organic food different from other food sold in our grocery stores?

DID YOU KNOW?

* According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the total number of certified organic farms in the country has more than doubled from 3,587 in 1992 to 8,493 in 2005.

* On average, the produce you eat in the U.S. travels approximately 2,100 kilometers to 3,200 kilometers (1,304 miles to 1,988 miles) from where it is grown to your house.

* According to the National Sustainable Agricultural Information Service, a nonprofit organization, approximately 80 percent of energy used in the U.S. food system goes to processing, packaging, transporting, storing, and preparing food. Only 20 percent of the total energy consumed is used to grow the food.

CRITICAL THINKING:

* Over the past few years, people have become more interested in where their food comes from. Some people believe that eating locally-produced food is better for them and for the environment. Can you think of some advantages and disadvantages of becoming a "locavore" (a person who is committed to eating local food as much as possible)? Would you like to become a locavore? Why or why not?

CROSS-CURRICULAR CONNECTIONS:

ART: Some organic farms use a method called companion planting, where they plant certain plants near each other to control pests or improve yield. For example, many gardeners plant marigolds near their tomato plants so that the pests will be attracted to the bright flowers instead of the tomato plant. Using the chart of companion plants at this Web site:. http://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/complant.html, have students draw a plan for an organic garden at school that abides by these companion planting principles.

RESOURCES

* Find out ten ways to become a locavore and watch a video about growing local and eating local on this PBS Web site: www.pbs.org/now/shows/344/locavore.html.

* How far has your food traveled? Check out this food miles calculator: www.organiclinker.com/food-miles.cfm.

* Read all about Michael Pollan's quest to find out where his food comes from in his book The Omnivore's Dilemma (Penguin, 2007).

HANDS-ON ACTIVITY

Name: --

Make Your Own Compost!

In "Farm-Fresh Perspective" (p. 12) you learned about The Farm School in Massachusetts where kids visit a farm and produce their own organic food. In order to grow organic fruits and vegetables, a farmer does not use synthetic fertilizer or pesticides. Instead, the farmer uses composted fertilizer made from decayed organic material like plant-based food scraps.

Predict

How long does it take food scraps to turn into compost?

Materials

large flowerpot * enough dirt to fill the pot halfway * food scraps * large trash bag * spoon or fork * water

Procedure

1. Using the dirt, fill the flowerpot so it is approximately 1/4 full.

2. Add some leftover food scraps from lunch, such as bread crusts, apple cores, banana peels, and leftover salad. IMPORTANT: Do not add meat, dairy products, or fatty foods because they will smell bad and may attract pests

3. Cover the mixture with a thin layer of soil. This will keep the compost from smelling.

4. Put the pot outside in a spot where no one will disturb it.

5. Cover the pot with the trash bag.

6. Stir your compost mixture every few days with the spoon or fork.

7. Keep your compost damp by adding a little water to it every few days.

8. Repeat steps 6 and 7 until your food scraps turn into compost.

9. Put a flower or vegetable plant in your flowerpot and watch it grow!

Conclusions

1. How long did it take for your food and dirt mixture to turn into compost?

2. What do you think helped break down the food?

3. What variables could you change to make the process take more or less time?

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ANSWER

1. Answers will vary.

2. Answers will vary, but should include: Microbes. bacteria, fungi, insects and other decomposers helped break down the food.

3. Answers will vary, but should include: Some variables that could make the process faster or slower are adding more or less water, frequency of watering and stirring of the compost, putting the flowerpot in the sun or shade, changing the ratio of soil and food scraps, and changing the type of food scraps added to the mixture.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:LIFE: FARMS; The Farm School
Author:Adams, Jacqueline
Publication:Science World
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 20, 2009
Words:1330
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