Science is a cornerstone of the Manhattan Country School Farm educational program. On their autumn trip, MCS sixth-graders delved into a range of topics including soil science, food science, forest ecology and the ever important social sciences. The class had the opportunity to spend one morning observing and learning from a Cornell University soil technician. Soil health—using organic, restorative practices—is vital to the MCS Farm and the animals that rely on crops grown as a food source. The students learned that the technician gathered at least 15 samples from various places in each field, in order to have a balanced representation. Those samples were then mixed together and boxed for analysis at the Cornell lab. In total, 10 fields on both MCS’ New Kingston Mountain and Meeker Hollow farms were sampled. The MCS Farm will use the results to help balance the nutritional needs of our fields and pastures. The class used this experience to prepare our vegetable beds for layers of nutrient-rich compost we’ve created throughout the year.
Science in the Kitchen
MCS students learn to work with yeast from an early age, but sixth grade is the time when they examine the science of how yeast reacts with water and flour. Cooking Teacher Donna McDaniel walks kids through the process of gathering ingredients, setting up their workstations and making sure their water is the correct temperature. Employing the Goldilocks method—not too hot, not too cold, but just right— the students prepare their dough to the right consistency to be leavened by the yeast. They verify this method of temperature by touch and also by using a thermometer. After the appropriate time to rise is reached, into the oven go their bread or rolls. This lesson has a very real impact on the meals that will be served and eaten. The loaves of bread will be used for Thursday morning French toast or sandwiches for the bus ride home. The rolls will hold grilled burgers for dinner.
Science in the Forest
Examining the Northeast forest through the lenses of environment, economics and equity is a yearlong research project for the sixth grade. Investigating historical natural or human-made changes to the landscape is their start. Walking through an area that has been cleared, re-forested and cleared again they see many signs. Small stands of Hemlock trees are an indication of their dominance prior to being over-harvested for the tanning industry. A lone apple tree in the middle of a dense forest illustrates that this was once open land. Our practice of harvesting select trees helps maintain the health of our forest. Students marked Northern White Ash trees with spray paint to indicate which trees will be cut this winter. The class chose which trees to harvest based on opening of the canopy, releasing other trees from competition and the ease of extraction. The harvested hardwood trees will be used to heat the textiles studio and rec room next year.
The Science of Living Interdependently
Living together as an interdependent community for a week provides countless opportunities to learn about ourselves and others. The intentional, community-based experience MCS founders Gus and Marty Trowbridge envisioned as a social experiment thrives at the school. The Farm provides a structure and system that requires all involved to be invested in each other and the greater whole. Meal preparation, time spent with roommates, free time and mealtimes place people in non-stop social balancing acts. Kids are asked—and ask of themselves—to provide for others, make appropriate choices, be kind, etc. These sometimes stressful demands can come at a frantic pace. This being said, the Farm is also a community rich with empathy, patience and tolerance. Mistakes are a welcome and vital piece of the learning process. Kids support friends through physical tasks and emotional struggles. They turn to adults for guidance, often finding they already possess the roadmap to the answer.