There is no better way to learn the routines of the Manhattan Country School Farm than through the eyes of a child. The 8-9s, on only their second trip to the Farm, had the rare opportunity to orient their teacher, Cosi. Taking a page out of MCS progressive pedagogy, the kids taught by doing. Upon arrival, the students showed how they carry any luggage, rather than waiting for their own. They explained that if everyone pitches in, all bags will make it to the front porch. During the move-in meeting, they demonstrated how they turn in electronics that were used on the bus ride, and will be returned for the ride home. The kids reasoning was, “We don’t need electronics at the Farm; there are just so many things to do.”
Leftover food from lunch is added to the pig pail to be fed during barn chores. After receiving their room assignments, the kids showed how they safely carry their bags, one at a time up the stairs to their bedrooms. Once all roommates were present, the kids engaged in a group discussion to decide sleeping arrangements. “We need to listen to each other’s thoughts and concerns about top bunk or bottom bunk. Sometimes we switch bunks during the week, so everyone has a turn on the bunk they want.”
A tour of the Farm is vital in helping teachers begin to understand things they’ve only heard or read about. The first stop on the student-led tour was the stable area of the barn. Taking the opportunity to connect with the animals, which provide food for the Farm community is invaluable. The tour guides explained, matter of factly, that the steers are named after meat dishes or cuts of meat to make clear the reason we raise them. Beef Stroganoff and Carpaccio are not cruel jokes, but a reminder that the MCS Farm believes if we’re going to serve animal protein, we want to know everything about the animals—where and how they were raised and what they put in their bodies—before we put the products they provide in our bodies. The dairy cattle are appropriately named after dairy products. Yogurt, Chobani and Milky Way are just a few of the cows that have or will provide us with milk. One dairy cow produces enough liquid milk for drinking or for recipes, one gallon of yogurt, a little whipped cream and maybe a bit for cheese or butter.
Standing surrounded by chickens in the coop can be out of some people’s comfort zone. The kids artfully showed how they quietly and gently pick up a hen and cradle her in their arms. The students explained that these hens provide all the eggs the Farm needs. “We feed and take care of them and they take care of us.”
At the hay jump it was explained, “We jump one at a time, make sure the coast is clear before we jump and no pushing. And don’t forget, a teacher needs to be at the hay jump when we’re in here.”
During barn chores, one student quickly stepped up to show Cosi how to milk a cow. They each washed their hands in an iodine solution to prevent the passage of germs from human to cow. Carefully sitting on the tippy, three-legged stool, child and adult reached under the udder and squeezed milk from the four teats. The stream of collaborative milking rang out as it hit the metal pail. That evening’s milk was combined with the mornings and pasteurized to be served later.
The trip took on a steady rhythm of student-prepared meals, classes, jobs and free time. The lines of student and teacher, work and play became blurred, as we all worked and played together. Meals, as always, were a celebration of the combined work of farming class, cooking class and barn chores. Students and teachers passed platters and bowls around, filled their plates and talked about life.