Stonewall Farm: Building Bridges

Case Study 7

Using bee puppets, children pretend to pollinate squash flowers in the garden.

Stonewall Farm in Keene, NH, is a nonprofit working farm and education center dedicated to connecting people to the land and to the role of local agriculture in their lives. Set in a scenic valley, Stonewall Farm consists of pastures, fields and woodlands.  As you walk around the farm, a geodesic dome greenhouse and two acres of gardens pop out of the landscape and invite you to take a closer look.

Amanda Hopkins serves as the garden manager  at Stonewall Farm, and acts as a bridge between the gardens and the Farm’s education programs.  Every year, Amanda works with Keene High School students, community volunteers, and children who come to the farm for summer camp and school programming. She dreams of working with more local schools starting in the spring of 2010.  This winter, she is working to create curriculum to bring the garden deeper into their educational programming and to nearby schools.  Amanda is “inspired by the garden and the proximity to Keene area schools who can use us as a resource…for all the schools who don’t have the opportunity to have a school garden and for those that do.”

Project Beginnings

Amanda started working at Stonewall Farm two years ago with the goal of expanding the existing Farm to Table program that already draws many school groups to Stonewall Farm.  Amanda’s goal is to create outreach partnerships to help schools with curriculum and linking farm and garden activities to state and district standards.  Part of this work involves meeting with teachers to identify their needs, gauging the age and ability of the students involved, figuring out their classroom and school grounds resources, and then determining how to incorporate the teachers’ interests, skills, and energy.

As more and more teachers and districts embrace place- and agricultural-based curriculums, it’s critical that there be resources available to help add fuel to their fire.  Amanda notes: “their days are already packed as it is, and I want to help.”

Up and Running

The knowledge and skills that will help to turn Amanda’s vision into reality came from myriad life experiences: a Master’s Degree in Environmental Education from Antioch University New England, an internship with Tracie Smith of Tracie’s Community Farm, working at the Youth Horticulture Project of Brattleboro, being a NOFA member and attending conferences, going to Small and Beginning Farms workshops, involvement with the Keene Farmers’ Market, and visiting a variety of farms and farmers.

To start up the garden program, funds will come from the garden’s produce sales at the on-site farmstand, Keene Farmers’ Market, and her new year-round CSA.  Once running, the garden programs will generate its own revenue.

A great support network at Stonewall Farm also makes the garden program possible, including Amanda’s new production and floral coordinator, Sarah Barkhouse.  Sarah will relieve Amanda from the coordination and oversight of daily garden tasks and allow her to focus on the development and execution of educational programming.  A pilot program with a second grade class in Marlborough this spring (2010) will provide the foundation from which the program can grow.

Another great opportunity for curriculum development has been the evolution of the C3, Cultivating Community Connections, Partnership with Keene High School’s (KHS) Career Center.  The original C3 program, funded by a SARE grant two seasons ago, was a partnership with the Horticulture, Culinary and Marketing departments at KHS. The program has since reduced its scope to working mostly with the Horticulture classes in planting and harvesting field crops, and less with the Culinary students’ on-site café.

Hurdles to Overcome

While the garden outreach program has great support from the staff at Stonewall Farm, there are still hurdles to overcome.  Dealing with the challenges of managing limited time, working under the constraints of the school day schedule, tight school budgets, and school transportation for groups are all issues to address.  Another barrier is the lack of access to information needed to move forward with some of the school programs.  Though Amanda is bridging the garden and education programs, she sees the need to strengthen this connection in the future.

“I would like students to understand that gardens produce food. Real, tangible, edible food and that you need to work hard in order to harvest the benefits from that garden, and when you do, not only is there a lot to learn from but, boy does it taste good too!”

Planning for the Future

The future has much in store for Amanda and her visions.  This winter, curriculum development and gaining teacher support are the first steps.  Along the way,  Amanda also recognizes the need to identify existing garden-based curricula and figure out how they match local curriculum in schools in order to fill gaps and eliminate repetition of resources.

Advice for Other Schools/Projects

For others who are interested in starting similar food and agriculture programming, Amanda Hopkins advises working on a farm or in a garden to gain experience and knowledge of what works and what doesn’t.  Perhaps you will experience some failures, but you will also learn to problem solve in the process.

Amanda also urges tapping into the resources right at your fingertips:

  • Go to the Keene Farmers’ Market and meet your local farmers and producers.
  • Stonewall Farm offers many education programs, farm tours, and workshops.
  • Many seed companies will donate seeds and catalogs.  Some examples of seed companies to contact are: Fedco, Johnny’s, Seeds of Change, and Seed Savers.
  • Cooperative Extension and 4-H offer lots of support.
  • Experienced farmers in the area can be great resources (as long as you approach them in the winter.)
Summer camp celebrates a good morning of weeding.

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