The Northeast Organic Farmer’s Association in Vermont matches farms with public school classrooms each year in an effort to help communities make connections with local farmers and their excitement for agriculture. Our farm communicates with two fourth grade classrooms in a neighboring town.
In a year of mutual exchange, the students and our farm form a special bond. My letters talk about our daily lives here at Grand View Farm. I also purposefully teach them about different aspects of our sheep and shepherding. They learn about how to care for the flock, how to protect them, as well as how fearfully and wonderfully they are made. I invite the children into our lives, engaging them in conversation not just about our own lives, but about theirs as well. The children tell me about their pets, interests, families, and hobbies.
When writing my letters, I want to be as honest as I can about life on our farm. I share the joys, as well as the hardships and sorrows of owning a farm. They hear about the normal cycles of birth, life, survival, and death, topics seldom discussed with children. As a result, the children open their lives up to me, often sharing the death of a beloved pet or grandparent, sharing the hard work expected of them to help take care of younger siblings or their own farm animals, sharing their dreams and hopes, and sharing their personal stories of joy and love. Through their letters to me, they process tough issues in life, showing much compassion, humility, and thoughtfulness in their responses, reminding me to never underestimate the ability of a child to deal with difficult issues.
By the time spring arrives, we have made much more than a simple connection between a farm and school children. There has been an exchange of lives, and the children have been given the opportunity to learn about, process, and respond to many life lessons. When they step off that school bus in May, on their trip to our farm, it does not seem like the first time we have met, for our letters have brought us together over the past 9 months.