Learning about FARM life
It's the type of gorgeous Saturday morning that has been far too rare this summer and The FARM Institute is holding its weekly community chores. A steady trickle of arriving families is directed to the Friendship Garden for a preliminary dirtying of hands.
While the counselors figure out who among them are going to tackle which chores, the community volunteers are set to work weeding. A host of adolescents descend upon an unintelligible green mass, and in a handful of minutes turn it into a neat patch of tomato plants. When a counselor asks if anyone wants to wheelbarrow the weeds to the compost, a child jumps to volunteer.
Parent-escorted children compose the bulk of the workforce. Even early in the morning they are full of questions. "Is this a weed? Which plants are the good plants? When will these grow tomatoes? Have you eaten them? Are they good?" After everyone's hands are covered with a good layer of dirt, the real chores begin.
The FARM Institute is a fully functioning farm and as on any farm, there is always work to be done. Children tend to think of chores as some annoying contraption invented by parents in order to infringe upon the child's freedom, but to a farmer, this is just the routine of farm life.
One of The FARM's goals is to show the interconnection of food and work: food doesn't just appear on the kitchen table. To this end, counselors inform volunteers which chores they will be doing. Some will feed cows, others milk goats, others collect eggs. Children are free to choose what work they want to do, and they clamor with their decisions.
Counselor Wendy Biddle leads a group of children out to feed the cows. All of the children are given little pails filled with alfalfa cubes, which they hold out on their hands as the cows shuffle up.
"Their tongue feels like sandpaper," says one of the girls. One young boy is hesitant about the cows at first, but after seeing the other kids laugh as the cows eat from their hands, he too offers some alfalfa cubes.