Day Road farms show Bainbridge educators sustainable Lessons

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Under the tutelage of Bainbridge farmers and craftsmen, teachers became pupils at Day Road farms last week.

The group of 13 educators – half from Bainbridge schools and half visiting from schools spread from the Columbia basin to the San Juan Islands – spent four days gleaning lesson ideas from the farms.

With supervision from farmer Betsey Wittick, they took turns guiding a draft horse around a dusty paddock as though driving a cart. And they became beasts of burden themselves, shouldering a strap and pulling a plow down a garden row.

The aim of the hands-on, dirty-fingernail “Food, Farming, Culture and Education Institute,” was to show teachers ways of making their students more connected to local land and community through farms, said Jonathan Garfunkel, managing director of Global Source Education, an island nonprofit group that hosted the events.

“The idea is for them to really come here and see how they can grow their professional repertoires,” Garfunkel said. “Teachers need to be able to experience it before they can help children experience it.”

Wittick demonstrated activities she shared with students who come to the farm, activities that educate students on how food was grown and gathered before tractors and combines conquered fields.

To collect grain seeds, the teachers were given a flail – a jointed wooden rod used to thrash the grain stalks. Using a circular motion they brought the rod down flat on piles of dry stalks, showering the pale yellow seeds onto a tarp.

Wittick pointed out the activity’s obvious appeal for students.

“Little kids, little boys especially, really like it, because it’s beating things with sticks,” she said.

During afternoons at the farm, after lunching on island grown berries and veggies, teachers batted ideas for how, and why, children should be introduced to values reaped from local farms.

Peter James of Bertschi School in Seattle suggested that studying simple, practical farm work could give kids focus in a school environment full of busy work. Like performers balancing spinning plates on poles, students are being asked to balance too many things, he said.

“As a society I think that all of us are spinning too many plates,” he said. “Conversations like this remind me that we need fewer plates and better spinning.”

It was a conversation Global Source Education year ago, when it hosted the first institute at Day Road farms.

Those sessions on the farm helped inspire several Wilkes Elementary teachers to take a new tact in teaching history over the last school year.

During the year they brought in island farmers and craftsmen, including Wittick, Brian MacWhorter, Dave Ullin and Gerard Bentryn, who practice skills used by pioneers. Students recorded oral histories from the locals, then recreated their stories in plays.

One theme that pervaded the exercise was the value of “purposeful work,” Covert said. Roy Jackson, for example, detailed his 30 years learning the arts of shipbuilding, as he handcrafted a 43-foot wooden schooner.

Using the experience of community members like Jackson brought the curriculum close to home for students, Covert said.

“We looked at Washington State history through the eyes of islanders,” Covert said.

In the upcoming year, Covert said Wilkes teachers hope to bring students to the farm, and plan to cooperate with Island School on some projects. Both Day Road schools share the farm as a backyard.

“That’s the community part that makes this feel so good,” Covert said.

Garfunkel launched Global Source Education in 1999 to host forums and seminars for teachers in areas of human rights and sustainability, and to help bring community members into classrooms. It offers a membership program for teachers, with access to resources, including a lending library.

Though its programs have grown, the group has remained small. Garfunkel and Director of Development Kathryn Keve are its only dedicated staff.

Beyond educating teachers, Garfunkel said Global Source Education wants to begin a discussion on how Bainbridge’s public farmlands can blossom as classrooms for the community.

He hopes educational opportunities are kept in mind as the city considers how to manage its roughly 60 acres of available farmland in the future.

“We’re asking, how can these farms be centers of learning, not just working landscapes?” Garfunkel said.

t Global Source Education joins Northwest teachers with farmers on Day Road.


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