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  • Writer's pictureAccokeek Foundation

Nurturing Young Minds Through Service Learning

On June 7, the blueberries weren’t quite ripe yet. A few weeks before, eight students lovingly weeded and side-dressed the blueberry patch in the hopes that this year’s berry crop would be unparalleled. And on their last day on the farm for the year, they wanted to enjoy the literal fruit of their labor.

So the students took to the patch determined to find a ripe berry among the dozens of bushes. After a few moments, the cry went up–“I found one!” One glorious, huge, juicy blueberry ready to be enjoyed. The prize was brought back to Ms. Adriana Gomez, who took out her pocket knife and cut the berry into 4 equal pieces and handed the small-but-juicy quarters out to the students who wanted a taste. It was a success—the blueberry was delicious, and all the tastier for being shared among friends who had helped it grow.

Students search among the blueberry bushes at the Ecosystem Farm.

This experience is at the heart of the question, “What legacy will we, in our lifetime, leave to our children and to future generations?” Will we raise a generation of environmental stewards capable of addressing some of the most challenging issues of our day? Will they have the knowledge necessary to make more informed choices as citizens and consumers? Will they maintain (or regain) their link to the land?

In the hopes that the answer to these questions is a resounding “yes,” the Ecosystem Farm welcomed the 2nd and 3rd grade classes from Potomac Crescent Waldorf School (PCWS) in each week this spring. The students, led by Ms. Gomez and Ms. Lark Bergwin-Anderson, are studying farming and gardening in the classroom so their work on the farm gives them the practical experience to connect with their classroom studies. It also gives them context for when they begin their Botany block in the 5th grade. But above that, it gives them a completely unique learning experience.

During their time on the farm, the students learned how to differentiate between different plants as they weeded vegetable beds. They took the plants they weeded and built compost piles from which they enriched the soil of the pumpkin patch before seeding it. Then they broadcast marigold seeds into the patch to help protect the pumpkins from squash bugs. They planted tomatoes and turmeric, and talked to the plants to help them grow big and strong. They learned about rotational grazing as they helped shepherd sheep and cattle into new pasture areas. And they learned about the importance of biodiversity while feeding heritage chicks and rabbits.

Nurturing plants with love and care in the garden.

In just three months, the students from PCWS formed a deep connection to the land in their outdoor classroom. They learned lifelong skills, but more than that, they can now also begin to answer questions about our natural resources and how they connect to our everyday lives. They have a new language of experience through which to discuss these important issues, and it’s an experience many students don’t have an opportunity to get.

In the fall, we’ll welcome PCWS back for a new season and new experiences on the farm. A season full of hard work, but also moments of profound wisdom and a fair share of fun. Full of those unique and special “ripe blueberry” moments that just can’t be had anywhere else.

Ms. Adriana Gomez and Ms. Lark Bergwin-Anderson and students with farm manager, Daniel Trott.

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