Sixth grader Yahnya Dominique took one look at the chickens and danced away from their coop.
“Chickens are kind of disgusting creatures, but they do look really majestic and pretty,” she said.
On Thursday, sixth graders from Leadership Preparatory School in Brooklyn visited the FARM Institute, which is located on historic Katama Farm and is under the umbrella of The Trustees of Reservations, to get hands-on experience in agriculture and sustainability.
Like Yahnya, many of the students were encountering chickens and other farm animals for the first time.
The FARM Institute has been involved with the Uncommon Schools network of public charter schools for nine years. The farm invites different schools in the network to visit Martha’s Vineyard and take part in workshops over three days that teach students how to interact with livestock, harvest and prepare produce, and about sustainability.
The group of 45 students separated into smaller groups and rotated to different areas of the farm. Each area had its own workshop, where farm staff instructed students on a range of topics such as gathering eggs, spinning wool, and making homemade ice cream.
According to Molly Peach-Mayhew, a FARM Institute instructor, each workshop teaches students important lessons about life both on and off the farm. “The underlying message is sustainability. We want kids to be actively thinking about food production,” said Peach-Mayhew. “We want them thinking about the process their food goes through before they eat it.”
Kamari Vick, 12, grinned as he approached the picnic table area. “My favorite animal I have seen is the pigs. Or actually, no, it’s the sheep, definitely the sheep.”
Kamari said he has learned a lot during his time on the farm. “I didn’t know chickens were so fast,” said Kamari. “I really wanted to pick one up, but it’s a lot harder than I thought.”
Andre McNally, a teacher at Leadership Prep and one of the chaperones on the trip, expressed how happy he was that his students were getting such a unique experience. “It’s all new to these kids. Most of them have never been on a farm,” said McNally. “They are all experiencing a lot of firsts today, and it’s so great to see.”
McNally said the students come from impoverished areas in the city where there is little exposure to nature and farming. “A lot of these kids have it really rough back home, so it is a wonderful opportunity for them to get away from all that and learn about a different lifestyle,” said McNally.
Dayviyana McFadden, a Leadership Prep student, said she enjoyed collecting eggs from the chicken coops. “The chickens are so much fun. It was definitely the best thing we have done so far,” said Dayviyana.
Marie Ambrose, a FARM Institute staff member, said she wants the kids to gain a new appreciation for food and for the natural world. “It’s all so new to them. I hope they learned a lot of valuable lessons about life on a farm.”
Kellie Huynh, another chaperone on the trip, said she is glad to see the students gain practical knowledge they can take home to New York with them. “It’s important for them to understand where their food comes from, and to make that connection,” said Huynh. “It allows them to be more conscious of what they eat.”
The educational experience is secondary to the students enjoying themselves on their Island visit, Huynh said. “We really want them to just have fun and interact with nature,” said Huynh. “They have never seen this much grass in one space before. It’s sad they don’t even have fields to run around in back home.”