Digging into wonder, skill-building, and wellness with Farm to School in 2024

by EarthDance Marketing & Program Coordinator Jess Coffin

Why do bees and chickens need each other? How many miles of fungus are beneath our feet at the farm, and why do we care? What is your favorite vegetable, and what are some fun ways you can play with your food? How are farms connected to our food, clothes, and homes in ways we don’t often think about?

Young learners who join us at EarthDance Organic Farm School in 2024 will find the answers to these and many more questions ~ and, hopefully, gain deeper understanding of what farming and food justice work have to do with their lives ~ as they dig into learning on the farm with us.

“We are so excited to cultivate wonder and engage students in ways that really get them excited about food and farming,” said Farm to School Educator Joia Walker. “We want to get this good food to them, and we want to help them draw connections with how these things impact their lives.”

EarthDance is a 14-acre organic farm school that provides farm and garden-based education for people of all ages. Youth programs at EarthDance welcome the local school district, clubs, camps, home schooled families, church groups, educators and students of life to learn about growing and selling fresh food, nutrition, and food justice. Our Farm to School programming also includes educational visits to the Ferguson-Florissant School District (FFSD) for school garden consultations, What’s Fresh nutrition and cooking demonstrations, and more for district students, families, faculty, and staff.

New to the EarthDance Farm to School program this year, EarthDance will provide farm-based enrichment for Ferguson area youth in collaboration with Unleashing Potential’s after-school program, funded through a grant from the Dana Brown Charitable Trust. This grant will also support summer programming with long-time partner of the farm, Strength & Honor (SAH) Summer Camp.

Unleashing Potential (UP) provides curriculum-based before- and after- school programs in St. Louis City and County at 9 locations, including 4 Ferguson-area schools. The program provides enrichment in math, literature, character education, fitness, and nutrition. This year, some of these lessons will come to UP students by way of EarthDance!

Tiffany Brewer, EarthDance Director of Impact, was instrumental in establishing the partnership. “One of my favorite parts of my role at EarthDance is building  partnerships with organizations like Unleashing Potential. When groups reach out for support and we can teach young people about healthy eating to add value to their program, we do what we can to make it happen.”

The SAH Summer Camp aims to engage youth in community service projects and fun team-building activities, with a focus on building character and confidence. The campers visit various enriching destinations throughout the summer. EarthDance will be one of these, where campers will participate in weekly programming at the farm throughout the summer.

Joia has found much wonder and joy herself this year, along with practical guidance, through professional development activities sure to enhance the experience of Farm to School programming participants. Among these were a trip to educational  Shelburne Farms in Vermont and her current work toward becoming a Certified School Garden Educator through Life Lab. “I have learned so much this past year and am still learning! We’re getting produce into schools, we’re inviting wonder at the farm! Students will be eating whatever food they learn to prepare; older students will be exploring the business aspects of working with food; we will be making value added products together. We’ll be painting with vegetables, and giving new life to “seconds” [unmarketable] produce. Returning students will help co-lead some of the activities.”

EarthDance’s investment in youth education has always been an important part of the organization’s work. Joia said she feels this is especially important for Black students. “One of the professional experiences I’ve had is with students feeling that agricultural work, specifically doing manual labor on a farm, is ‘slave work,'” Joia said. “From my perspective, a lot of Black farmers have found a sense of pride, joy, connection and also self and community sustainability by choosing to do this work. I believe it will take time and a lot of examples of successful farmers that look like them for students to feel that same empowerment that their elders feel by connecting with the land. Kids want to know how they can make money, earn a living. I think they should know that farming/being an urban farmer is a great way to do that and that farming doesn’t equal ‘poor’ or ‘slave’ or ‘less than.”

Unleashing Potential students and SAH campers can look forward to hands-on lessons at the farm, in the classroom, and out in the community. “I want them to see these other aspects of farming and farmers – exploring the science of farming, starting a small business, the creative and artistic sides of things. And I want them to know farmers and that people are earning a living wage growing food, starting their own farms and gardens.”

As part of Farm to School, EarthDance also aims to empower teachers and staff through education programs like Spring Training for Gardeners. Spring Training is a five week online and in-person class offered March 13-April 13, and this year, it will be offered as PAID PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT for FFSD teachers & administrators. Register now with your Ferg-Flor email address to take the course for free and GET PAID FOR YOUR TIME!

Want to know the answers to the questions at the beginning of this story? To Learn more about youth education and Farm to School and EarthDance visit our website to find ways to connect with us!