March 30, 2011

Everdale gives students hands-on farm lessons

As published in The Erin Advocate

The best learning seems to happen when students not only have access to the facts, but a chance to see and hear and touch and smell the objects of their lesson.

That's how things work at Everdale Organic Farm near Hillsburgh, which has a range of farm trip programs designed for students from Kindergarten to Grade 12.

The Ontario school curriculum requires that students learn about sustainable ecosystems and the impact of human activities on the environment.

"Teachers are scrambling, looking for how to teach about it," said Karen Campbell, one of the founders of Everdale's Environmental Learning Centre. "They are trying to find out how to make activities cross-curricular, involving things like literacy and math."

The programs are designed to support the curriculum, providing a fun experience and showing students how they can take action related to what they have learned. Everdale also alerts young people to a possible career choice – you do not have to grow up on a farm to become a farmer yourself.

Thousands of students have visited in the last ten years, from a radius that includes Guelph and Brampton. The program has a mandate to stay small-scale, hosting only one school at a time and serving about 50 schools per year from early May through late October.

Students up to Grade 6 can interact with livestock, do some farm chores, explore ecosystems, learn about 19th-century farming, study soil ecology and find out where food comes from.

"The livestock gets the most comments," said Campbell. "Sometimes, kids are a bit frightened at first of physically touching the animals. They are out of their comfort zone."

Older students can work alongside the farm's regular workers in the field, study animal rearing and nutrition, or learn about the process of getting products from the field to the marketplace.

Fancy attire is discouraged in their dress code: "You are visiting a farm; you and your group will hopefully get dirty."

During the chillier months of November through April, Everdale goes on the road with its Farmers in the Schools program, with elementary-level workshops that include visiting chickens, a rotten apple party (about composting), a local food lesson that traces all the ingredients of pizza from their sources, and a bread and butter party that features flour grinding, dough kneading and butter making.

There is a popular Grade 3 Intensive Program that has three visits to the classroom by a farmer to interactively discover soils, plants and animals, followed by a final unit at the farm. A comparison of pictures drawn by students at the beginning and end of the program shows substantial increases in understanding, said Campbell.

The cost for farm trips is $7 per student for half days, and $13.50 for full days. In-school workshops are $3 per student. In addition, parents can register children for a farm day camp in July ($190 per week). Co-op placements are possible for high school students, and non-school groups can arrange visits.

There are lots of other things going on at Everdale, including events like Seedy Saturday (April 30), education for adults and the sale of produce to the public through "harvest shares". The farm is at 5812 on the Sixth Line, north of Wellington Road 22, west of Hillsburgh.

For more information, go to or call 519-855-4859.