WILTON, N.H., April 5, 2016 /PRNewswire/ -- Farming requires hard work and intuition, powers of observation and memory. Most of all, farming asks for the space to truly listen to the land.
It turns out the same is true when teaching young people about the practice and relevance of horticulture and land stewardship. At least that has been the experience of Brad Miller, a biodynamic farmer turned teacher at High Mowing School, who teaches what he loves.
Exactly how a farmer relates agricultural practice to life decisions with teenagers isn't easy to explain. His students often describe the class as a real-time, collective experience, where the teacher and students respond as a group to a situation, a posture that Miller says evolved as he taught. "Rather than say, "I'm the expert," I now say, "I'm learning too," he explains. "And when we look at a situation closely, we sometimes see it in a different light."
"It's not enough to teach the mechanics of farming. It's also about making the space for young people to have a heart connection to the land," says Miller. In that spirit, Miller has developed a horticulture program that engages students in the many facets of biodynamic farming while finding an anchor in life lessons; a process that Miller says is centered on mutual discovery. The horticulture program has become a sought-after program at the southern New Hampshire Waldorf high school, and Miller's unique approach has made it popular with a wide range of students who he says might otherwise have little interest in farming. "The students are aware that there is more going on here than scientific method and best practice," Miller explains. "It's a place to learn about caring for something."
High Mowing alumnus Jack Budd agrees. He recalled a spring afternoon when the class was out weeding in the field. A student brought up a quote from One Straw Revolution, a book by Masanobu Fukuoka that states that "the ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings." Budd recalls that then, "the class became an honest debate about work and perfect humans, what farming was, and why we grow the crops we do. That was my first realization that although this was a period of work devoted to food and growth, we were learning how to be proper human beings in the process." For Miller, the garden and the meaningful work associated with it provide the platform, the place, and most importantly the time for deeper reflection, conversation and learning.
The setting for the program is ideal. About one hour north of Boston, High Mowing's 250-acre campus sits at the top of a long hill amid a fertile belt of fields that have been in agriculture since pre-revolutionary times. Next door is Temple-Wilton Community Farm, a biodynamic farm that was one of the pioneers of the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) movement in the U.S. Recently, High Mowing purchased farmland adjacent to its campus in collaboration with a land trust and the protected land is now used by the school and leased to the Temple-Wilton farm for haymaking and rotational grazing.
Miller, who grew up in southern Ohio, first came to High Mowing in 2009 to set up his own CSA operation and farm the land through a lease agreement with the school. Volunteering with students and teaching two horticulture courses quickly led to joining the school's faculty in 2011 and heading its farming operation, which produces food for the school's kitchen. Now in its sixth season, the program's course descriptions reveal their intended broadened experience; Horticulture of the Heart; Botany; Ecology and the Scientific Method; and Horticulture and Sustainable Living.
The courses reflect Miller's unique approach to using the garden as an integrated interdisciplinary teaching tool. For Miller, the garden is not only a place for students to experience personal growth, but is a critically important additional laboratory that supports the science curriculum at High Mowing and a forum for students to explore the contemporary issues of our relationship to the land and the food we eat. By integrating personal development, natural science and social science, Miller argues, the program "becomes more than just taking care of the carrots or the beets. It's about soil microbiology. It's about resource management. It's about fair and equitable distribution of resources."
When failure looms Miller stands back, letting students experience natural consequences. He recalled a time last spring when students were departing class, leaving a batch of seedlings unplanted. Miller told them that the plants probably wouldn't survive until the next class, noting his disappointment. But, Miller said, that was not the end of the story. One of the students returned during her free time to plant the seedlings. "How do we teach morality? Responsibility? It isn't taught. It's learned by reflecting on others and what they do, by looking at the other row and seeing how it's done," Miller said.
The life affirming aspects of working in nature are self-evident, though Miller contends part of that process is often overlooked. "Young people aren't always encouraged to connect with their dark feelings," he said. "I don't agree with that. Instead we need to create the space for them to acknowledge those feelings." After the loss of a parent, tenth grader Gabriela Ulin-Mejia says she was centered on herself and her grief when she began horticulture project block last spring. She credits his approach with being able to accept her situation and look outward. "There was something about taking care of those small dependent baby plants that made me reconnect with the world," she said. "There is this feeling of awe that is present when you are in the upper fields, whether it be weeding, planting, unveiling the beds, or hoeing; you can feel the love of the world around you."
High Mowing School is one of 120 Waldorf schools in the United States and serves high school day and boarding students. The school, founded in 1942, is a place for young adults to grow intellectually, artistically and socially, while living and learning with students from across town and around the world. www.highmowing.org
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SOURCE High Mowing School (A Waldorf School)