by Julie Defelice
The fields of Brookford Farm may be covered in a heavy blanket of snow today, but the grade school children at Tidewater Waldorf School in Eliot, ME are already gearing up for spring planting.
As part of just one of the farm’s collaborative school partnership programs, Brookford Farm and its growers, located in Rollinsford, NH, are teaching Lisa Sweeney’s 2nd and 3rd grade Tidewater students about farming. From growing, to harvesting, to preparing fresh, seasonal food, Mrs. Sweeney’s enthusiastic students will travel to the farm each week once the ground begins to thaw, and immerse themselves in the daily activities of farm life.
Catarina and Luke Mahoney began the farm’s school partnership program so that students from local area schools could gain practical hands-on experience and a real world appreciation for community-based, sustainable agriculture. For Mrs. Sweeney’s students the program fulfills part of their Waldorf-based elementary lesson block for Farming and Gardening.
Developed by Rudolf Steiner in 1919, Waldorf education seeks to present academic subjects in a pictorial, dynamic and hands-on way in hopes of stimulating the child’s imagination and fostering a deep love for education. Waldorf teachers strive to transform education into an art that educates the whole child – the heart and the hands, as well as the head. “Farming and Gardening teaches the student how animals and humans depend upon the earth’s soil” said Mrs. Sweeney. “How they make best use of it throughout the yearly cycle of seed, to plant, to food, to compost, then back to seed.”
Much to the Mahoneys’ delight, Mrs. Sweeney’s students have already begun their learning. Just last October the students made weekly visits to Brookford Farm as part of fall harvesting. Following Catarina’s lead, the last of the season’s tomato crop was picked one week, and in the week that followed, the vines snipped, pulled from their twine and tossed in a heap for composting. Before their time was done, the students had also trimmed nearly 50 pounds of onions in a hayloft and witnessed a mother reuniting with her hungry calf for the first time less than twenty-four hours after being born.
One of the Mahoneys’ three young boys also attends Tidewater and was eager to share with his classmates what it means to live and work on a farm. In his well-worn boots, he was not only the first up the ladder to the hayloft, but happy to demonstrate just how easy it is to lead some one-hundred Jersey cows from the field back to the barn before sunset.
In conjunction with their program at Brookford Farm, Mrs. Sweeney’s students will take their practical knowledge back to their outdoor classroom at Tidewater and plant an array of organically-grown vegetables in the school’s raised garden beds. Last season Tidewater’s crop included potatoes, beets, swiss chard, turnips, tomatoes, squash and carrots. Once the crop was ready for harvest, the vegetables were shared by all students and used in each of the classrooms for a weekly pot of Stone Soup.
Just as all the children at Tidewater Waldorf School know the fable Stone Soup, a story that demonstrates how cooperation and sharing makes for a great pot of soup, they know too how grateful they are to Luke and Catarina Mahoney for their efforts. For it takes many hearts and minds to make a great education.