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MCS Farm: Past, Present and Future

Friday, September 30, 2016

John McDaniel, MCS Farm DirectorThursday’s Curriculum Night opened with an MCS Farm-focused community meeting. Parents gathered in the gym to hear a presentation from MCS Farm Director John McDaniel titled “MCS Farm: Teaching to the Future Without Losing Sight of the Past.”

Addressing a standing room only crowd, John explained that when Manhattan Country School began its Farm program in the 1960s, the intention wasn’t to produce farmers. Rather it would provide an opportunity for children to learn important life lessons and develop skills that would continue to serve them in adulthood. In addition, the various farm activities would offer a chance for students to discuss issues of impact in the Catskills area, across the country and around the globe. For example, learning to use a loom to complete a textile project not only teaches students a new skill, it can foster conversations about child labor practices.

John provided a snapshot of students’ time at the Farm as he shared an example of a breakfast that took place during the Seventh- and Eighth Grade Sur farm trip this week. During the meal, students dined on bread prepared by their peers in cooking class, bacon from an MCS Farm pig and berries picked by students during a trip to a nearby farm. “We measure our meals in steps, not miles,” John explained. In addition to learning to rely on the resources available at the Farm, the communal nature of mealtime allows students to build bonds with each other.

Manhattan Country School’s enrollment expansion has prompted those at the Farm, and in New York City, to think about how to accommodate more students and what changes to the Farm program might be necessary. MCS senior leadership is crafting a plan, which includes consideration of input from the MCS community. John shared details from the discussion he had with last year’s eighth-graders, who were given the challenge of envisioning the MCS Farm of the future. Everything from modifying the curriculum to altering sleeping arrangements was discussed. When the idea of transitioning from bunk beds to single beds was floated, one eighth-grader replied, “We can’t get rid of the bunk beds. That’s where we learn to negotiate and compromise.”

To further illustrate the impact of the MCS Farm, John read “Terroir Terrain,” a piece he wrote for the 2014 issue of MCS Courtyard.

Manhattan Country School students are children of the Catskills. Of course they live most of their lives in an urban setting, but have been given the opportunity to also grow up in the terroir that is Roxbury, NY. Our kids absorb what the soil provides and are immersed in an ever-changing climate. They have been knee deep in the mountain traditions, customs, and cultures, both wild and tame that helped shape their beliefs and ethics.

John then opened the floor to questions. Parents inquired about a range of topics including science education at the Farm, curriculum connections between the Farm and New York City classrooms, the new bee hive in the lower garden and the role of technology in the work and learning done at the Farm.

To learn more about the MCS Farm program, read the Dispatches From the Farm blog on the MCS website.