Expanding Education and Outreach at the UW Farm
The UW Farm is an educational farm with the mission of being "the campus center for the practice and study of urban agriculture and sustainability, and an educational, community-oriented resource for people who want to learn about building productive and sustainable urban landscapes.” Increased demand for field trips on the Farm drives the need for a formal education and outreach program. The proposed project's goal is to create an education program for elementary school children to tour the Farm and learn about sustainable agriculture and healthy food choices. The proposed project requests funding for two main components: 1) the creation of a physical space on the Farm where children can explore and garden and 2) the acquisition of educational materials and supplies needed to run an educational outreach program that provides rigorous, curriculum-driven field trips with engaging and interactive educational activities.
Creation of Physical Space on the Farm:
Expanding the education program entails building a Children's Garden adjacent to the production beds of the UW Farm located at the Center for Urban Horticulture. Currently field trips are carried out in the garden beds that are devoted to food production. While the interactive component of field trips is vital to student engagement and essential for assimilation of new skills and knowledge, it is not sustainable to have large numbers of children sowing and harvesting in the Farm’s production beds without adversely impacting food production. The Children's Garden will consist of raised beds where children can implement the sustainable farming practices they observe on the Farm. Perennial herbs, edible flowers, fruit bushes and dwarf fruit trees, delightful for the senses, will surround the periphery of the Garden. The idea is to grow taller plants around the edge of the Garden to physically contain the children and create the feel of an outdoor classroom. The UW Farm will soon have honeybees, creating the added need to carefully manage the flow of children through the farm; the garden design will help regulate their movements with natural garden barriers, clear paths and an inviting garden entrance.
Since submitting the LOI, the design for the raised beds has changed from four rectangular beds to two C shaped beds that face each other with the intention of creating a physical space in the middle of the beds for the children to gather while also creating more space for the children to work in the beds. Another change is to have the peripheral garden of perennials, fruit trees and bushes also planted in raised beds made from metal water troughs. The designated site for the Children’s Garden on the southern edge of the UW Farm was once a landfill in the 1920’s before the University of Washington was gifted the land. The UW has done a laudable job restoring the wetland ecosystem including capping and safely contained the landfill but raised garden beds seems advisable on the site nonetheless.
Acquisition of Educational Materials and Supplies to Run an Education Program:
A formal education and outreach program will be developed which will include creating logistical and administrative systems for organizing field trips, developing curriculum, and purchasing necessary supplies for educational activities. The UW Farm field trips are an opportunity for children to reconnect with the land, learn where food comes from and how it is grown. The details of this program will be discussed at length in other sections of the proposal.
Involved People and Departments
The UW Farm has a rich history of student involvement; in keeping with this history, the Farm education program will rely heavily on UW student volunteers to lead field trips and run the education program. The belief is that by teaching children UW students will learn leadership skills and develop a deeper understanding of sustainable agriculture and ecology, thereby furthering their own educational goals. In tandem, school children will flourish under the gaze of informed and passionate UW field trip guides.
The proposed project is the collaborative effort of the UW Farm and the education department of the UW Botanic Gardens (UWBG). Beth Wheat, a Program on the Environment (POE) lecturer and Whidbey Island Farmer is interested in incorporating the Farm Education program into her Advanced Topics: Environmental Pedagogy course and has invited UWBG staff to present an overview of the Farm education program to the class on April 20th, 2015. The course has a service-learning component in which the students need to develop and implement environmental curriculum. Through this course, POE students can help develop curricula for the Farm that will have a practical, useful and enduring application.
Since UW student volunteers are a crucial component of the program, building formal and informal connections with other departments and programs is critical. There is strong potential for fruitful collaboration with the POE, Education Department, the Islandwood Teacher Program, the Biology Program for Teachers, the Pipeline Project, and the Carlson Leadership and Public Service Center. UWBG staff have contacted each of these entities to explore avenues of collaboration.
Websites for further information:
UW Farm: http://food.washington.edu/farm/
UWBG Education Department and Field Trip Program: http://depts.washington.edu/uwbg/education/school_youth.shtml
The project will create great demand for student volunteers in a variety of capacities including constructing the Children’s Garden and maintaining it; leading school field trips; developing educational signs; and designing curricula. Some opportunities are on a short-term basis but others require a longer-term commitment.
The first immediate need for volunteers will be to help construct the Children's Garden raised beds. Volunteers will learn how to build raised beds during a construction workshop with Master Gardner Helen Weber that is tentatively scheduled for 9am on May 30th. Student volunteers will build the beds, fill them with soil and compost, and irrigate them. These beds will need to be maintained and planted with seasonally appropriate crops on an ongoing basis by a rotating crew of volunteers. Currently the UW Farm has student officers responsible for certain jobs critical to the operation of the Farm. Once the Children's Garden is created an Education Outreach Coordinator position will be advertised and a student volunteer will be responsible for collaborating with UWBG education staff and UW Farm Manager Sarah Geurkink to maintain the Children's Garden. There are regular bi-weekly volunteer work parties at the CUH Farm that will provide a consistent work force for routine maintenance of the Children's Garden.
Student volunteers will create weatherproof educational signage for the UW Farm that explains key concepts of sustainable agriculture (such as compost, crop covers, crop rotation, and companion planting) and information about the crops planted at the UW Farm. The signs will be moveable so that as the crops rotate through the season the signs can be moved and interchanged. The benefit of the signs is that they are available for all visitors to read, even those who are visiting the farm without a planned tour.
Three UW students are currently volunteering with UWBG staff to develop programming but more student involvement to develop seasonally appropriate curricula on a variety of topics is desirable. Beth Wheat’s Advanced Topics: Environmental Pedagogy course (see the executive summary) is one possible source of student volunteers.
A core team of eight committed and reliable student volunteers will be needed to lead field trips on a regular and on-going basis. This core team will need to be intimately familiar with the Farm, its operations and the curricula. Since training the members of this core team requires substantial time and financial investment (a criminal history check is mandatory in order to work with minors), these field trip leader positions will require a minimum commitment of an academic year.
Since UW student volunteers are a crucial component of the program, UWBG staff are working on building connections with other departments, centers and programs (including the Education Department, the Islandwood Teacher Program, the Biology Program for Teachers, the Pipeline Project, and the Carlson Leadership and Public Service Center) to ensure a continual stream of new volunteers.
The UW Farm and UWBG staff are committed to working with students to create volunteer positions that fulfill their academic needs and interests.
A two-quarter paid student intern has been built into the budget to help ease the educational program into self-sufficiency. The intern will be responsible for developing systems for volunteer recruitment, for assigning student tour guides to lead field trips, for new student volunteer curricula trainings, for communicating with the various involved parties, and for schools to register for field trips.
Education & Outreach:
The program's objective is to build a field trip program to educate elementary students about sustainable agriculture and healthy food choices while also providing UW students with an enriching and challenging educational and leadership opportunity. Through teaching curious and inquisitive youth, the goal is for UW students to develop a deeper understanding of the underlying biological and environmental concepts and for their enthusiasm to inspire the next generation of children to care deeply about the environment. The short-term plan for autumn is to develop a curriculum that provides a general introduction to sustainable agriculture. Fieldtrips would be offered one day a week with no more than one trip a week to a maximum of 60 elementary children (two classes worth of students). Upon arrival the 60 children would be divided into four groups of a maximum of 15 students, each to be lead by an instructor, ideally a UW student volunteer. After an introductory discussion, each group would rotate through four stations that would include a service learning station, a soil station, a “take home” station and a tour of the Farm. The field trip program is rooted in the inquiry approach to education with the belief that children learn best when they are engaged in an activity. The service learning station is where the children will try out being farmers and contribute to the upkeep of the Children's Garden (by sowing seeds, weeding, watering, harvesting). The soil station is where the children will explore compost from a worm bin to learn about soil fauna and flora and the interconnectedness of food webs and soil’s role in overall ecosystem health. The “take home” station will vary depending on the season but could include sowing a seed or an art activity. The purpose would be for the children to take something home with them to spark a conversation with family members allowing the child to assume the role of teacher. The final station would consist of a tour of the production beds of the UW Farm where the students would observe sustainable agriculture in practice and have the opportunity to taste and smell a variety of seasonal foods.
The field trip program would expand to offer more field trips on a variety of topics in response to demand and a solid base of UW student volunteers. The field trip program is to be a creative and experimental learning venue for UW students to explore different teaching techniques and develop curricula for different seasons and to address different topics of interest. To ensure the financial viability and longevity of the education program, school groups would be charged enough to cover the program costs.
Both the UW Farm and the UWBG have well-established formal social media networks to communicate with its student volunteers and supporters. This collaborative project will be widely publicized on the Farm's blog, newsletter, and Facebook page as well as on the UW Botanic Garden's website and newsletter with routine programmatic updates. The Farm also has informal avenues for publicity including a weekly book group and topical discussion groups, regular pizza bakes, volunteer hours, and potluck dinners. Volunteer opportunities for UW students to become involved will be advertised on the Carlson Leadership and Public Service Center's and the Pipeline Center's searchable online service opportunity bulletins. Beth Wheat's class also provides a valuable opportunity to publicize the UW Farm's project and to engage students who have already demonstrated interest in environmental education. We also plan on advertising opportunities for student engagement to the Biology Department's and the Education Department's student list serves. The UWBG routinely publicizes current field trip offerings to local elementary schools and intends to include the UW Farm field trips in those circulations.
As discussed above, there are two main components of the project. The first is to build the Children’s Garden. The wooden raised beds should last a minimum of 10 years and the metal raised beds even longer. The Garden once built will be maintained by student volunteers. Once the beds are built and the perennials planted, the main cost will be for seeds and plant starts each season. The second component of the project is to create a formal education program. The main re-occuring cost associated with the education program will be educational supplies. Once the program is operating smoothly, the Farm education program will charge a nominal fee for field trips, which will cover the operating costs of the Farm’s education program including maintaining the Children’s Garden. To help launch the education program, UWBG has committed the partial support of one of its education staff for the short term. However, the objective is for it to be fully self-sustaining by 2017 when the support of the UWBG education staff position ends. For this reason, a student intern is built into the budget to ease the transition to self-sufficiency. The student intern will work one quarter with UWBG staff to develop a self-sustaining system. The following quarter the intern will work independently to implement the plan. UW student volunteers will take primary responsibility for leading school field trips, however, in order to ensure continuity and reliability, UWBG education staff and volunteers will be available to provide back up support and lead field trips when needed. The Children’s Garden has been designed with future expansion in mind. The metal water trough raised beds around the periphery of the Children’s garden will be placed on pallets so that they can be moved by fork lift to allow for possible expansion.
Franklin D. Roosevelt said that "The nation that destroys its soil destroys itself" (Letter, February 26, 1937, to state governors, urging uniform soil conservation laws.) As small scale farms have been replaced by industrial farming, agriculture has become increasingly destructive to the environment with the wide application of fossil fuel dependent chemicals (including fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, antibiotics, and grown hormones) detrimental to animals and plants; and with farming techniques that result in the loss of valuable arable land through soil erosion and salination. Industrial agriculture—one of the three main sources of green house gas emissions—is heavily dependent on fossil fuels at every stage of production from fertilizer manufacturing to delivery of out of season crops half way around the world. Unsustainable agricultural practices impact the health of interconnected ecosystems in myriad ways and push an ecosystem out of balance.
The UW Farm education program’s goal is to be one small player in a global effort to educate children about healthy food choices for themselves and the planet. Through learning about sustainable agriculture—an ecosystem approach to agriculture—children will grow up knowledge about the impact of their food choices and that the choices they make have very real ecological impacts that effect complex, interdependent relationships between animals, plants and their environment. Children will not only learn about sustainable practices such as cover crops, crop rotation and composting, but also about the science behind the practices—about why these practices are important for keeping the farm ecosystem in balance. The objective is to provide each child with one more positive outdoor experience in the hopes that the sum of all of them will inspire action in their daily lives and in their communities. If today’s children collectively grow up to demand local, sustainably grown food, change is bound to come.
Explain how the impacts will be measured:
To ensure that the program is meeting school curriculum needs and offering a high quality program, the UWBG education staff is working with students to develop surveys to hand out to teachers after field trips to solicit feedback on their experience at the Farm. The UWBG’s online field trip registration site, to which the UW Farm field trips will be added, tracks the number of field trips per year, the number of students per field trip, and volunteer hours. These numbers track volunteer involvement and the number of participants and field trips within a given year but they do not track student learning.
It is more challenging to track the program's impact on UW students and elementary school children because individual learning is similar to planting a seed, personal growth doesn't happen all at once. However, there are several informal opportunities for assessing the program's overall impact. Continued UW student involvement is one coarse indicator of whether the experience is perceived as valuable and worthwhile. Another assessment opportunity is regular group volunteer meetings during which student volunteers can support each other, discuss challenges, answer questions, and exchange recommendations. Individual one-on-one student meetings with UWBG staff provide another opportunity for assessing the program's impact, and an opportunity to tailor the volunteer experience to the student's specific academic needs, provide two way feedback, reflect on educational progress, and identify specific steps for future attainment of educational objectives. To assess the field trip's impact on elementary student learning, tour guides will ask questions throughout to determine student's prior knowledge and the field trip will close with a group discussion to evaluate the children's learning.
The best way to ensure that the UW Farm education program has the desired impact is to make the program fun, and to pique children’s interest and curiosity. Engaging curriculum and passionate field trip guides will be key to the program’s success. Beth Wheat’s Environmental Pedagogy class and the Islandwood Program are two valuable potential sources for passionate environmental volunteers and for continual curriculum improvement and innovation.
This funding request is a: Grant
If this is a loan, what is the estimated payback period?:
|Task||Timeframe||Estimated Completion Date|
|Prepare for Raised Bed Workshop||2 days||May 30th, 2015|
|Raised Bed Workshop/Construct Beds||one day||May 30th, 2015|
|Fill with soil and irrigate Raised Beds||2 weeks of CUH volunteer work hours||June 15th, 2015|
|Plant raised beds||ongoing throughout year||none|
|Plant fruit trees/berry bushes||4 hours||late fall/ winter when plants are dormant 2015|
|Purchase educational supplies||as needed|
|Develop Educational Signs||1 month; ongoing as needed||Fall 2015|