Dispatches From the Farm

A Change of Plans: The 6th Grade Farm Trip

Blog Type:  Dispatches From the Farm Date Posted:  Sunday, October 13, 2019 Byline:  John McDaniel, Farm Director

When one is planting a garden from seed, there is a host of information on each seed packet. Days to germination, days to maturity, nutrition needs, ideal soil temperature and amount of needed daily sunlight. When growing mushrooms, there are guides for the various varieties. What species of tree is the best host, amount of watering and shade, but the timing of harvest is often unknown.

Students at the Manhattan Country School Farm have been growing edible mushrooms for five years. They’ve inoculated hardwood logs with Shiitake and Lion’s Mane mushroom spores. This involves drilling holes in a log, tapping a wooden peg which already has mycelium in it and covering the peg with wax.

Our current 6th grade class imbued poplar logs when they were in the 9-10’s. This involved sprinkling oyster mushroom spores on the ends of the logs, covering them with dark plastic bags and placing them in the farm basement for several months. The logs were then uncovered and stacked, totem style, in the “moat” next to our dairy barn. The moat provides an ideal environment of cool, damp and shady conditions for mushrooms to thrive. The mushroom logs lived in this spot all through the students 5th grade year. We know that the mycelium was hard at work, spreading through the logs and decomposing the wood fibers. Unfortunately, the mushroom’s never fruited.

During the 6th grade fall Farm trip last week, the logs seemed to be unchanged. Our meal menu was filled with foods made from ingredients grown and raised on the MCS Farm. Dinner planned for Thursday evening was potato soup, made from potatoes dug that morning by the kids, applesauce cooked down from our own apples, a kale salad from the garden and freshly baked biscuits. But wait! While walking the stairs to the hay jump and looking into the moat someone discovered logs bursting with creamy, oyster mushrooms. Change of menu! Cooking class quickly altered their plans to make pizza to carry the mushrooms to hungry mouths. They made dough from scratch, sauce from our own tomatoes, diced onions and peppers from the garden and sprinkled those earthy, sweet mushrooms on top. One of the firm beliefs at the MCS Farm is, “The land is our most significant teacher.” This experience was clearly one of those moments.

 

The First MCS Farm Trip of the Year

Blog Type:  Dispatches From the Farm Date Posted:  Sunday, September 15, 2019 Byline:  John McDaniel, Farm Director

The Manhattan Country School 5th grade visited both Hanford Mills Museum and the New York Power Authority Visitors Center, tying to their study of energy later in the school year. Hanford Mills is a “living history” museum that provides a glimpse into the life of people living and working in the Catskill Mountain region in the mid-1800’s. An operating mill site since 1846, for most of its commercial life Hanford Mills was owned and operated by the family of David Josiah Hanford, who purchased the mill in 1860. Under the Hanfords, the mill grew into a rural industrial complex that included a sawmill, gristmill, feed mill, woodworking shop and hardware store. In 1898, Hanford Mills harnessed the waters of Kortright Creek to provide the town with its first electricity. Through time, the Hanfords also used steam and gasoline engines to power the mill and its electric dynamo. The 5th graders explored the numerous work stations of the mill complex and operated some of the machines. They ground corn into meal, turned a barrel top on the lathe, and by pulling levers, changed the various belts' directions which are run by the large wooden waterwheel. They also examined the ice house, which will be full of ice blocks carved from the frozen mill pond this winter.

Moving from the 19th century of Hanford Mills to the 21st century at the “Pump Storage Project” at Blenheim provided a clear contrast. The Blenheim-Gilboa Pumped Storage Power Project uses hydroelectric technology and two large reservoirs at different altitudes to generate up to 1,160,000 kilowatts of electricity. The plant uses power to pump water from the lower reservoir to the upper reservoir. Then it generates power as the water descends through the project’s turbine-generators to create electricity, making it like a giant rechargeable battery. The facility provides power to the grid at moments of peak demand and then recharges, restoring itself to readiness when demand and power prices are low. The visitor’s center is filled with hands-on stations where our kids peddled a stationary bike that powers several electric appliances, flipped switches from A/C to D/C power, and had their hair raised by creating static electricity. 

At the MCS Farm, our students are aware of our practice of using clean renewable solar energy to power the Farm and sustainably harvested wood to heat the outbuildings. The stream flowing through the Farm also has a human-built waterfall that once turned a waterwheel and powered a sawmill. As the kids research and discuss the topic of energy later in the year, they’ll be able to make connections from these experiences. 

 

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First Farm Trip for the 7-8s

Blog Type:  Dispatches From the Farm Date Posted:  Saturday, June 8, 2019

This week, as a crowd of anxious parents filled the sidewalk of 85th street, MCS 7-8s loaded the bus for their first trip to the MCS Farm. Prior to their trip, Farm Director John McDaniel visited with the students and asked them what they think happens at the farm. Comments included "We get to cook," "there are bunk beds," "there's a sewing thing" and "we can't shower." After two nights at the farm, students found that the farm exceeded their expectations!

The 7-8's first Farm trip is full of acts of bravery. It takes courage to leave their families for a couple of days and sleep in a new place. There is bravery in entering a barn full of new sounds and smells, to hand-milk a cow and reach under a chicken for an egg. Daring to try a new food, jump in the hay or walk deep in the woods. All of these experiences and countless more will become familiar as these children return time and again to their home away from home.

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Bee Grant Update

Blog Type:  Dispatches From the Farm Curriculum Spotlight Date Posted:  Friday, January 25, 2019 Byline:  By John McDaniel

In early December, the Manhattan Country School Farm was notified that we were awarded a grant from the Whole Kids Foundation and their partner The Bee Cause Project. The Whole Kids Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Whole Foods, offered a monetary grant or beekeeping equipment to schools and non-profit organizations. In our application, we opted for the $1500 monetary grant to expand our existing honey bee program which you can read about here.

On Tuesday, January 22, a delivery truck pulled into the Farm driveway and delivered an enormous box. Like kids at a birthday party we tore into the box. Inside, not only was there a grant check, but two new hives, guides, curriculum books, signage and packets of honey-based lip balm and skin care items.

There are different types of hives, the MCS Farm uses the traditional Langstroth hive; another model is a Mason Bee hive. Mason Bees are gentle, native bees that are incredible springtime pollinators. By raising them and increasing their population, it takes stress off the already struggling honey bees. The added Langstroth and Mason Bee hives will be added to our “bee yard” located in the lower garden. This will provide students with a third hive to investigate and learn from and an increased honey production.

The $1500 will go toward the purchase of more bee suits, apiary and honey extraction tools and a fourth honey bee hive. While we were thrilled to be awarded the financial grant, the additional equipment was a huge bonus to the Manhattan Country School Farm.

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Farm Class & Social Justice: Studying the Ethics of Labor in the NYS Dairy Industry

Blog Type:  Dispatches From the Farm Curriculum Spotlight Date Posted:  Friday, January 25, 2019 Byline:  By John McDaniel

There are times at the Manhattan Country School Farm where we live in an agricultural bubble. 100% of the agricultural harvests are either consumed or utilized at the MCS Farm in Roxbury, NY or at meals on 85th Street. Our number one “product” is education -- educated and informed children, as such, we are somewhat shielded from the political landscape of farming. However our seventh and eighth grade students have been taking a deep dive into a political issue that has great bearing on the New York State dairy industry.

During winter Farming classes, the kids have been investigating the scale of dairy farms in the state and who provides the labor. The students learned that NY is the third largest dairy producer in the country, behind California and Wisconsin. They researched and learned that the price of milk paid to farmers is $17 per hundredweight. Milk is measured in pounds, with one gallon weighing approximately 8 lbs. and a hundredweight equaling 100 lbs. This is a fact they know intimately as they hand milk our cow and then hang the bucket on a scale to be weighed. They also discovered that the cost to produce this milk is $22 per hundredweight. Farmers are losing, on average $5 per hundred pounds of milk.

So how are dairy farmers staying in business? One solution has been for one or more family members to work “off the farm” jobs. Another is to grow or produce other crops or “value added” items on the farm for sale. A not-so-new, but growing strategy is to hire a less expensive labor force. While the work is extremely hard, dirty and dangerous, there is a ready and willing workforce. 83% of workers on New York dairy farms are undocumented immigrants. It’s nearly impossible for farmers to hire workers with legal documentation. Primarily, American workers have refused to do the work due to the difficulty, dangers, hours and wages. The seventh and eighth grade classes watched a documentary, where one segment showed interviews with people at an employment agency seeking a job. When told there were plenty of jobs on local dairy farms, the potential employees from the US were quick to say no, “I won’t do that work” or “those hours are too long.”   While there is a Visa program for visiting farm workers, it’s only seasonal. Historically, people from other countries, primarily Latin America would follow the harvest seasons of fruits and vegetables. No such worker Visa program exists for the dairy industry, which is not seasonal. There have been some attempts to change this law.

Being quite politically savvy, our students were quick to connect the dots of the current political administrations increased arrests, detention and deportation of undocumented immigrants and the need of the dairy industry to hire them.

Western New York has one of the largest Immigration and Custom Enforcement Detention Centers outside Texas and Arizona. Located in Batavia, New York, this ICE center, like many nationwide has site specific or “bed” quota. NYS dairy farms have been directly targeted in sweeps or raids that reduce or completely eradicate a farms work force. Often times, prospective farm workers have enough proper documentation for the farm owner to fill out required applications, but not enough to satisfy ICE.  During these sweeps, students learned undocumented farm workers are removed from the farm. Some are detained in the ICE detention center, but if the daily quota is filled, the people are often released, only to start working at another nearby farm. In the meantime, the farm that’s lost a group of trained workers hires new undocumented workers and the cycle continues.

The classes touched on the isolation many people feel when living and working so far from home and family. They explored what it must feel like to have language and cultural barriers. How do people without a driver’s license, let alone a vehicle, perform simple tasks like grocery shopping? The potential danger and inherent physical risks of dairy farming often lead to injuries. Will undocumented farm workers choose medical attention for injuries or stay silent to keep working in the shadows?

What happens next? Students will continue to research, investigate and discuss this issue on their spring Farm trips. They will eventually move on in their next stage of life, with a deeper understanding of these complex issues. Eventually, this shared knowledge will help inform their decisions as citizens and change-makers.

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Cultivating Kindness on the 8-9s Farm Trip

Blog Type:  Dispatches From the Farm Date Posted:  Friday, November 16, 2018

We often hear or use the phrase, “paying it forward.” This usually pertains to doing a good deed for others or a random act of kindness. We’ve been using this phrase the past couple weeks at the Manhattan Country School Farm to reflect on our gardening practices.

Our students, first and foremost are soil farmers. It’s necessary to supply new, organic matter to our vegetable gardens. The basis of preparing and building soil with a balance of nutrients each plant requires is vital in providing healthy and delicious foods for our community.

The past two weeks our 8-9’s Oeste and Este classes were at the Farm. Oeste was busy in the gardens, harvesting the last of our root crops like potatoes and carrots. They pulled weeds and fed them to our chickens and turned the soil over by hand. During meal preparation, each class added potato peels, fruit skins and egg shells to our compost bucket. When cleaning our cow stalls the kids dump the manure, old sawdust and hay into the spreader which is either broadcast on our hay fields or piled in the compost barn. The mix of animal and plant waste is then turned periodically to aid the decomposition process which creates rich organic soils.

The Este homeroom arrived with the task of adding the nutrient rich compost to the garden beds during Farming class. With the bucket of our tractor full of compost, some kids shoveled it into wheelbarrows while others dumped it into the beds and spread it around. This process continued throughout the week, seeing most of the lower garden finished. Almost every meal served at the MCS Farm has direct connections to our garden. However, this week we enjoyed an ingredient connected directly to the process of decomposition.

In September, our 5th grade class inoculated logs with oyster mushroom spores and stacked them totem style in the farmhouse basement. As the mycelium spread through the logs and began the process of breaking down the wood fibers it also “fruited” providing us with beautiful mushrooms. Wednesday evening dinner was pizza prepared by kids in cooking class. The topping choices were sweet Italian sausage made from our pigs and beautiful oyster mushrooms growing in our dark basement.

Even though every student a MCS doesn’t perform each task in the garden due to the seasonality of their trips, they do have knowledge that someone has come before them. The 9-10’s and 6th grade will do the bulk of the planting on their spring trips in May, but every member of our MCS Farm community will enjoy the fruits of all labor and our practice of paying it forward.

8-9s Farm Trip - See you again in January!

Blog Type:  Dispatches From the Farm Date Posted:  Friday, November 16, 2018

We often hear or use the phrase, “paying it forward.” This usually pertains to doing a good deed for others or a random act of kindness. We’ve been using this phrase the past couple weeks at the Manhattan Country School Farm to reflect on our gardening practices.

Our students, first and foremost are soil farmers. It’s necessary to supply new, organic matter to our vegetable gardens. The basis of preparing and building soil with a balance of nutrients each plant requires is vital in providing healthy and delicious foods for our community.

The past two weeks our 8-9’s Oeste and Este classes were at the Farm. Oeste was busy in the gardens, harvesting the last of our root crops like potatoes and carrots. They pulled weeds and fed them to our chickens and turned the soil over by hand. During meal preparation, each class added potato peels, fruit skins and egg shells to our compost bucket. When cleaning our cow stalls the kids dump the manure, old sawdust and hay into the spreader which is either broadcast on our hay fields or piled in the compost barn. The mix of animal and plant waste is then turned periodically to aid the decomposition process which creates rich organic soils.

The Este homeroom arrived with the task of adding the nutrient rich compost to the garden beds during Farming class. With the bucket of our tractor full of compost, some kids shoveled it into wheelbarrows while others dumped it into the beds and spread it around. This process continued throughout the week, seeing most of the lower garden finished. Almost every meal served at the MCS Farm has direct connections to our garden. However, this week we enjoyed an ingredient connected directly to the process of decomposition.

In September, our 5th grade class inoculated logs with oyster mushroom spores and stacked them totem style in the farmhouse basement. As the mycelium spread through the logs and began the process of breaking down the wood fibers it also “fruited” providing us with beautiful mushrooms. Wednesday evening dinner was pizza prepared by kids in cooking class. The topping choices were sweet Italian sausage made from our pigs and beautiful oyster mushrooms growing in our dark basement.

Even though every student a MCS doesn’t perform each task in the garden due to the seasonality of their trips, they do have knowledge that someone has come before them. The 9-10’s and 6th grade will do the bulk of the planting on their spring trips in May, but every member of our MCS Farm community will enjoy the fruits of all labor and our practice of paying it forward.

Please be advised that the MCS Farm is closed to school groups for the upcoming holidays and 6-week hunting season. We will resume farm trips in January 2019. Season's Greetings!

Sixth Grade Farm Trip: Halloween Edition

Blog Type:  Dispatches From the Farm Date Posted:  Saturday, November 3, 2018 Byline:  By John McDaniel

Immersion in rural culture, language and traditions has always been a hallmark of the Manhattan Country School Farm experience. Throughout our student’s childhood at the Farm, they have the opportunity to celebrate customs linked to food, gardening practices tied to the weather and seasonal holidays and observations.

The MCS 6th grade class stayed at the Farm during Halloween.  While the urban and rural practice of dressing like someone you’re not and going from door to door for treats is similar, the logistics are quite different. Interviewing the class prior to going out, we all learned something new from each other. Some kids who live in “high rise” buildings receive a list of apartments that are participating.  In some city neighborhoods, kids travel from stoop to stoop to be greeted by other costumed people with treats. Some MCS kids start at the top of their building and work their way down, while others do the opposite.

In Roxbury, NY there is a historic main street with a couple of neighborhood streets off it. Many houses are decorated for the occasion with traditional jack-o-lanterns, spider webs, corn stalks and more modern inflatable creatures. Our kids split up in three groups of seven and along with two adults and moved through town. At some houses they were greeted by ghoulish masks or funny faced individuals. Some streets are only lit by porch lights of the houses on the block as there are few street lights. Our groups probably covered more than a mile to fill their bags as opposed to many flights of stairs. One unique stop was to the house of a craft soap maker, who in addition to giving out sweet treats, also offered homemade soap shaped like pumpkins! The night wouldn’t be complete without a stop at the firehouse. Our Roxbury volunteer firefighters provide hot dogs, doughnuts, apple cider and hot chocolate to the revelers.

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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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!  

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