High School Students’ Farm Visit
by Jane Califf
Going with your high school students on a visit to a farm is not usual these days; however, here is a story of a high school teacher who successfully did just that. But first, some background information.
Apple Pond Farm
Apple Pond Farm in Sullivan County, N.Y. is not only a working farm but also an educational center. Sonja Hedlund and Dick Riseling have developed programs for children, students and families for over 30 years. They began by using horses for farm work and hay rides and gradually started raising goats, sheep and chickens for meat and eggs. The “Farming with Kids” program is a chance for visitors to try to milk a goat, pick and eat vegetables in the organic garden, groom a horse and learn about compost. There are also private tours for groups and classes on how to spin and dye wool and make cheese. The farm also welcomes people for vacations year around in a three-bedroom guest house.
In recent years, Mr. Riseling organized the building of a small straw bale house on their property, had solar panels installed on their home and put up a windmill. The solar and wind energy sources provide 95% of their electricity needs. Mr. Riseling gives presentations to visitors on the environmental value of their solar and wind systems and on straw bale buildings. He also finds grants for Sullivan County to further clean energy solutions to its energy needs and gives workshops to its citizens and governmental leaders on environmentally sustainable practices.
The High School Visit
In the fall of 2009, a teacher from Monticello High School in Monticello, N.Y., brought her class to Apple Pond Farm to learn about alternative energy sources to fossil fuels and other sustainable, eco-friendly practices. Dick Riseling describes how this visit came about:
“The Academy of Finance is a program at the Monticello High School under the direction of teacher Wendy Levinson. It involves weekly meetings among students, frequent trips to places of business including Apple Pond Farm where the focus is on energy efficiency and renewable energy. Wendy contacted me through reading my weekly column, “Greening Sullivan,” in our local newspaper, The Sullivan County Democrat and my weekly radio show, WJFF Connections, at RadioCatskill in Jeffersonville, New York.
This visit was successful as can be seen in thank you letters students sent to Mr. Riseling. It is important to note that as a result of this trip, a number of them wrote about how they would take action based on what they had learned. Here are excerpts from their letters:1
“…Your home was beautiful and your compost pile was very intriguing. It made me want to start my own and use it for planting when spring comes along. I really believe that because you made the information interesting, and visual (most of us are visual learners) my peers and I were able to retrieve a substantial amount of knowledge about what is actually going on in our world that is affecting the environment.
“I now understand that much of what we use can be recycled, and the harmful toxins that come from the way we make products can be stopped by using alternative energy and materials. From our conversation, I was able to form an opinion about what it will take to stop the damage and start doing things the right way. I think that it is possible but only if people take action as soon as possible. And by joining the already growing number of people going green, we can help to end the cycle that is ruining the world we live in. We can recycle, buy products made from companies who use alternative energy, and spread the word about what’s going on with our planet and what we can all do to help.
“I really think you did us a big favor by showing us this path and giving us a start. Maybe when we grow up, some of us will end up living in a straw bale house. I know I would love that.”
“…I believe that we discussed very valid points on how our economy is going through a major downfall and we should be finding better ways to use our resources, such as, recycling. I learned a lot and I believe that you have very strong and valid points about our community potential to be more energy efficient. We must spread the word on how we can increase being more environmentally friendly.
“I want to educate people on ways to be more energy efficient after having a tour of your farm. I believe that we can save not only money but the environment too if the community was more educated on the topic and heard our discussion…”
“…I found your farm and all of the “green” products to be very interesting and so cost effective. I think that our school should make a project out of it.
“I feel that everything you showed us has incredible value. I feel that all people should have to convert at least even a little bit, to making their homes and/or businesses more green and energy efficient. I feel that it is my generation’s time to help provide people with this knowledge of being more ‘green’ and to stop the vicious cycle that currently exists.
“Thank you again for allowing us this opportunity. I feel many of us will take advantage of this knowledge. We will share this with our parents and fellow students…”
Dick Riseling showed students the DVD “The Story of Stuff” which can be found on-line. It stresses how the United States abuses the world’s resources and what can be done about this. Some students took offense at the critique of their country while others thought the points were valid. It is a tribute to Mr. Riseling’s presentation that students felt comfortable telling him not only what they agreed with but also with what they did not agree on.
He describes the value of visits from other schools:
“We have also had many other school groups come to the farm – some focusing on gardening and animal care and others on renewable energy. There are schools that have requested an internship with us, and students who have participated were granted a semester of academic credit for being here four days a week for three hours each day.
“For us, it is important to expose young people to the value, the feel, and the efficient way to do manual, physical work and to learn through mentoring as productive work is accomplished. For a large percentage of students, this is a very effective way of optimizing their learning, and it is a huge opportunity lost when the classroom is the only place where most students are taught.
“This is especially important now as we face the wall of environmental limits to tolerating our way of life. Kids must know first hand about the power and requirements of nature for their book learning to have meaning that is true and useful for their lives.
“We always benefit and learn from their presence, their questions and enthusiasm. They help us see what is important.”
1Mr. Riseling provided copies of these letters.