The art of putting pen to paper and sending letters to pen pals may feel a bit antiquated, but we’re happy to report that the practice is alive and well, thanks to a unique project known as the NOFA -VT Farmer Correspondence Program. This refreshingly low-tech program matches classrooms with farmers based on interests and grade levels. Children write letters to farmers, the farmers reply with stories and photos of life on the farm, farmers visit schools, and students travel to the farms for a memorable, hands-on experience. Through this exchange, students are able to learn how farmers work with and adapt to the natural systems that are intertwined in working landscapes. They learn of strategies used by their farmer penpal to solve challenges related to weather, climate, use of natural resources, and human impact, and these concepts are woven into their curriculum in the classroom.
The Co-op is proud to help provide funding for the field trip portion of this program for Addison County participants and we were lucky to be invited to ride along on a recent trip to Last Resort Farm with a group of lively Robinson Elementary 3rd and 4th-grade students from Mrs. Beecher’s class. Beecher’s classes have been writing to and visiting farmer Eugenie Doyle at Last Resort Farm for seven years. On this particular visit, the students divided into small groups to tour the farm with Eugenie and other members of her family including her partner, Sam Burr, and their son, Silas. Students had the opportunity to experience every step of the farming process from planting, to weeding, to harvesting and, of course, eating, as they made their way around the farm.
They were tasked with planting a cucumber seed in the farm’s germination room:
They received a quick lesson in weed pulling and an empty bucket to fill with weeds in the strawberry patch:
They learned to harvest asparagus and strawberries with an eye toward market appeal:
They felt the effective heat of the greenhouses and quickly dashed back out to cooler climes:
They checked in on the bees:
They even paused for a moment of reflection near Eugenie’s famous “Indian Cow”, closing their eyes and making note of the subtle sounds of farm life:
And, finally, the groups reconvened to share their experiences and feast on their fresh harvest of goodies:
While it’s certainly common for most Vermont schoolchildren take seasonal field trips to local sugarhouses, apple orchards or pumpkin patches, the experience created by the Farmer Correspondence Program goes deeper, fostering meaningful, long-term relationships between kids and farmers. It’s one thing to read about the challenges and wonders of farm life, but to experience first-hand the heat of the greenhouse, the magic of planting a seed, the labor of pulling a weed, and the joy of consuming freshly-harvested fruits and vegetables is truly an invaluable experience with lasting impact.
If you’d like to learn more about this program and get involved, visit the NOFA-VT web page. And if you find yourself passing through Monkton this summer, be sure to visit the farm stand at Last Resort Farm. Their succulent strawberries are the perfect summer treat!