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Agriculture Up Close

West Fairlee Students Get Hands-On Lesson About Farm Work

  • Westshire Elementary students Nathaniel Rinelli, left, and Xavier Dunleavy try to feed Rebel the ox yesterday during an event where students learned about farming-related jobs. Xavier had just gotten smeared with ox saliva. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    Westshire Elementary students Nathaniel Rinelli, left, and Xavier Dunleavy try to feed Rebel the ox yesterday during an event where students learned about farming-related jobs. Xavier had just gotten smeared with ox saliva. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Westshire first-grader Nigel Klarich examines a hyacinth. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    Westshire first-grader Nigel Klarich examines a hyacinth. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Students at Westshire Elementary School look over some of the items that Cat Buxton of Cedar Circle Farm brought to Jobs on the Move: Farming, where students learned about farming-related jobs. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    Students at Westshire Elementary School look over some of the items that Cat Buxton of Cedar Circle Farm brought to Jobs on the Move: Farming, where students learned about farming-related jobs. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • A student gets up close and personal with an ox at the event. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    A student gets up close and personal with an ox at the event. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Westshire Elementary student Vincent Petrone reaches up to touch Rebel the oxen at the school. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    Westshire Elementary student Vincent Petrone reaches up to touch Rebel the oxen at the school. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Westshire Elementary students Nathaniel Rinelli, left, and Xavier Dunleavy try to feed Rebel the ox yesterday during an event where students learned about farming-related jobs. Xavier had just gotten smeared with ox saliva. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)
  • Westshire first-grader Nigel Klarich examines a hyacinth. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)
  • Students at Westshire Elementary School look over some of the items that Cat Buxton of Cedar Circle Farm brought to Jobs on the Move: Farming, where students learned about farming-related jobs. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)
  • A student gets up close and personal with an ox at the event. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)
  • Westshire Elementary student Vincent Petrone reaches up to touch Rebel the oxen at the school. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

West Fairlee — “What’s a manure?” curious kindergartener Kaydin Gilman asked, as Debbie Hicks described equipment she and her husband sell from their East Corinth business: big fans to keep cattle cool and hefty machinery to dispose of manure.

“Look right behind you,” Hicks gingerly instructed, pointing to a large cow pie in the driveway outside Westshire Elementary School.

“That’s cow doo-doo,” classmate Lynzee Lapole said, prompting the rest of Emily Waterman’s kindergarten class to interjections of “ewww” and “gross.”

Kaydin still seemed confused.

“Poop, honey. It’s poop,” the boy’s teacher offered.

That answer appeared to satisfy Kaydin, who sipped his water bottle while Hicks continued to explain how manure can be used to fertilize crops and plants. She let the kids touch water bowls and sit on a spongy stall mat for cattle.

Hicks’ display, a hands-on learning experience for the 85 pre-kindergarten through sixth-grade students, was one of six stations at yesterday’s annual “Jobs on the Move” event on a sweltering afternoon at Westshire Elementary School.

“It’s about getting the kids to know the people from the community, but it’s also about career development,” Assistant Principal Tammy MacQueen said. “I hope that the kids will realize that farming is a viable career for them and that it keeps things local.”

In past years, “Jobs on the Move” has focused on community members’ careers working with water and forestry and woodworking fields.

This year’s farming theme ties into Rivendell Interstate School District’s “Farm to School” initiative, a program that trains volunteers to teach students how livestock and crops make it from the field to the lunchroom.

Two of the booths at yesterday’s event were manned by “Farm to School” parent volunteers. At one, Fabienne Stearns and Vanessa Waxman taught students through song, “magically” transforming a student volunteer into a plant and stringing the different parts — the roots, stem and leaves — into a catchy tune.

“Today, we’re not only moms,” Waxman said from behind their folding table lined with tomato plants and rhubard jam-slathered crackers. “We’re also magicians.”

Beside them, 4-H leader and Westshire parent Jen Shatney brought her son’s 4-H project pigs and the family’s ducks and rooster to teach the students about farm animals.

Shatney said learning based in community-interaction is a district-wide initiative. Yesterday morning, Samuel Morey Elementary School in neighboring Fairlee also held a “Jobs on the Move” fair centered around farming.

“What we try to do at both elementary schools is get a mix of people from as local as we can,” Shatney said. “It’s amazing who’s in your community.”

Just minutes south of the school on Route 113 is Mark Lansburgh’s Talking Well Farm in Post Mills. He brought a full pot of blossoming flowers and some greenhouse insects with him yesterday, to teach the students about cultivating a greenhouse that doesn’t require synthetic fertilizer or pesticides.

“I go to school every day because when I go into the greenhouse, my teacher is Mother Nature,” Lansburgh, who has been in Post Mills for 27 years, said to the students.

He let the eager onlookers dig their little hands into buckets of wood chips, which he gets for free, and dried leaves, which are donated to his farm. Lansburgh explained that he uses the products to create a compost mixture, which is a cheap and safe way to fertilize the plants in his greenhouse.

“I hope they come to realize there’s an amazing matrix of events and critters, microscopic and large, that we are a part of,” Lansburgh said.

Experiencing the tiny components that aid the greater process, Lansburgh said, is how he thinks he can bring the school’s curriculum into the students’ hands.

This concept is one that Cat Buxton, the education program coordinator at Cedar Circle Farm in East Thetford, embraces. Her table at the job fair was littered with cups of soil, boxes of seeds and time lapse flashcards.

“We do a lot of discovery, encouraging kids to act like scientists and ask lots of questions,” Buxton said. “It’s all about hands-on. This is seed exploration.”

Switching from tiny seeds to massive livestock, the kids laid hands on a pair of heaving oxen, Red and Rebel.

“Red is my favorite,” said Kailey Blake, a sixth-grader whose dad, Jonathan Blake, brought the oxen to Westshire. “He’s the most laziest and the calmest. And he’s not a people person.”

Kailey fielded questions like a tour guide, while her dad explained that oxen drool the way humans sweat, a way to keep themselves cool on hot days like yesterday.

“They’re going to poop in our garden!” one kindergartener exclaimed.

“That’s OK, it will make your plants grow,” Blake said with a chuckle.

“That’s right,” Waterman, the kindergarten teacher, said. “We just learned about that, boys and girls.”

A couple rocks over from the laboring oxen was third-grader Josephine Smith, slurping water in the shade with friends.

“I learned to never take any kind of plant that you don’t know is edible,” Josephine said. “Because you could get really sick.”

The heat was tiring, but Josephine said it was fun to learn outside the classroom.

“Despite how hot it is, they always ask really great questions,” Shatney said, as kids dashed into the air conditioned building. A Westshire employee walked by, carrying a brightly-colored box.

“Oh my God, popsicles!” Josesphine said, jumping up from her spot in the shade.