October 2018

MCS Farm: "The Great Leveler"

Blog Type:  Dispatches From the Farm Date Posted:  Friday, October 5, 2018 Byline:  By John McDaniel

Norte and Sur Fall Farm Trips

In several conversations over the years with our founders Gus and Marty Trowbridge, they described the intent of the MCS Farm as a “social experiment”: a place where children from diverse racial, ethnic and economic backgrounds work, play and learn together. The Farm, as Gus put it, is “the great leveler.” On the first seventh and eighth grade Farm trips of the year, seventh graders also experience the Farm for the first time in a mixed-grade setting.  Up until this point, they have only traveled to the Farm with their grade, but at the start of the year, the class was split into two homerooms, Norte and Sur, mixed with 8th graders.

The Farm invariably provides the common space for students who have become very comfortable in its environs, routines and systems. Dishwashing, hauling firewood and cleaning bathrooms are all examples of tasks assigned on the job chart regardless of student grade.  At the start of a trip, it is not unusual to observe kids sticking near classmates from their own grade. However, when jobs and classes begin, the seventh and eighth graders organically mix due to the task or student’s desire to participate in specific activities. While family-style meals could be a place where kids segregate themselves by grade, particularly during this first trip of the year, students are routinely requested to sit with different people at each meal. This is a practice that our students have been familiar with since they first started coming to the Farm and provides an opportunity to talk to and bond with kids whom they previously may only know by face.

As the week progresses, the social barriers melt away and it would be impossible for an outsider to know which children are in the seventh or eighth grade. Playing cards on the front porch, a game on the ball field or taking a day-long hike are all subtle exercises in group dynamics and chemistry. The nighttime schedule of games, like Manhunt, Ghosts in the Graveyard and Sardines, evening snack and similar bedtime rituals all provide comfort for our kids at their home away from home.

All of the above, invariably, occurred during the recent seventh and eighth grade fall Farm trips. The Norte class visited during the last week of September and the Sur class followed during the first week of October. Students from both grades enjoyed getting to know one another better in their mixed groups as they created their beautiful textile projects, worked in the garden, did morning barn chores, shared delicious student-prepared meals of lasagna and garlic bread and pork chops and homemade applesauce, and snacked on apples plucked straight from he trees and cinnamon rolls, the delicious result of the students' yeast requirement!  

9-10's Host Visiting New York Educators at the MCS Farm

Blog Type:  Dispatches From the Farm Date Posted:  Friday, October 19, 2018 Byline:  By John McDaniel

During the 9-10's fall Manhattan Country School Farm trip, students and staff had the opportunity to host several visitors. Most of the guests traveled from New York City-based pre-schools, and two visitors were from the food justice organization, Insurgo Project. They were accompanied by Monica Amaro and Vicki Roberts from the Admissions team.

The visitors observed and participated in cooking, farming, textile and nature studies classes alongside students. In nature studies, the 9-10's learned map and compass skills for an orienteering course and worked on dyeing wool and weaving on tapestry looms in textiles class.

Students in the cooking class are responsible for preparing a meal for an average of 25 kids and adults. However, during the visitor’s stay, the lunch of tacos and toppings, needed to feed 40! The class worked collectively to slice tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and onions. They grated mounds of cheese and prepared guacamole. In addition to the lunch, the students also baked four loaves of pound cake for an afternoon snack.

Our visitors were clearly impressed by the MCS student’s level of production, and even more so by their involvement in every aspect of running our farm. The mantra of the day was, “We do!” There were countless questions ranging from:

“Who cares for the honey bees?” “We do!”
“Who cares for the cows, pigs, sheep and chickens?” “We do!”
“You serve your own maple syrup?” “Yes, we do!”

The pre-school folks truly appreciated our practice of “learning through play” and child-initiated “free-times,” because it is part of their pedagogy and early childhood curriculum back in New York.

As practitioners of Farm-Based Education, it is fascinating to step back and view our program through the eyes of visitors. Our 9-10’s were incredible ambassadors, both through their verbal descriptions of the MCS Farm experience and teaching our guests by demonstration. It is truly extraordinary to witness the shear amount and depth of learning, work and play our children involve themselves in.

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