Day Two: Springfield Farm


As befits children more used to X-boxes and Beltways than corn cribs and crops, the initial reaction of Powhatan Elementary School's suburban third-graders to Springfield Farm was predictable:

"Ewwwww!" they cried, nearly in unison and with equal parts delight and disgust, upon encountering their first cow patty.

Lesson No. 1: We're not in Woodlawn any more.

But by the time the children finished their visit to Springfield Farm in Sparks -- the second part of the three-part "Days of Taste" program – they bubbled with new and important knowledge about agriculture, about getting crops and livestock to market, and about all that goes into getting those chickens and turkeys and cows into stores and restaurants and ovens at home.     

"I learned that there are about 12,000 gallons of food in the third (feed) tank," said Rowan Gwinn, pointing at huge corrugated-metal bins near Yeoho Road. "I also learned there are a lot of animals out here, and I really wanted to touch them, but we can't touch them."

"I learned that chickens are really weird," said Jaylin Pride. "They keep pecking at things, and barking, and trying to get out."

Visiting a Baltimore County farm is very nearly a rite of passage for BCPS elementary school students, but this trip had special significance. "Days of Taste" is a national program administered by the American Institute of Wine & Food and created by chef Julia Child as a way to educate elementary school children about the importance of fresh food, where the food comes from, and how to better appreciate what they eat.  It was modeled after a successful French program known as "Journée de Gout."

After children spent their first day in mid-October learning about how foods taste and interact and cultivating an appreciation and awareness of good nutrition and foods, the second day is spent on a local farm to see where those foods come from and how they are produced.

"They were excited to come; we started looking for horses and farms and big houses when we got off of I-83," said Sharon Startt, who with fellow third-grade teacher Amanda Schell spent the day pointing out sights and corralling any rambunctious children. "Before, it was learning about how different foods taste, and now it's more learning where the food comes from, that it doesn't all come from grocery stores."

The program's third day would bring the first two lessons together as children would learn how to make their own salad dressing and create their own salad, complete with chicken and goat cheese, for lunch.

But that was for later. At the farm on this day, the Powhatan expedition gazed at cows, scanned a stand of woods for fattened, free-range hogs, whistled at turkeys (which made them gobble), pointed with alarm at a hapless chicken that had escaped its holding pen, and viewed silage hoppers and brood barns and cisterns.

Led by Valerie Lafferty, whose family co-owns the farm, the children learned how weather affects egg-laying chickens, how farmers protect their livestock from predators, and that the free-range pigs won't eat red, yellow, or green peppers but love to nosh on pineapple, asparagus, and chocolate croissants.  

"We've been (hosting school groups) for five or six years now, and we get the same reactions every year," she said. "I have to giggle when I see them react to some of what they learn. It's a lot of fun for us and it's a great opportunity for the kids to see things they might not ordinarily see."

Established in 1850, Springfield Farm is an especially educational site to learn about farming – it employs sustainable agricultural methods to raise its free-range animals and produce its all-natural wares.  As an example, Lafferty told the Powhatan students (in more detail than described here), those cow patties they saw are used to help grow the turkeys and other livestock.

"I get a big reaction when I tell them we have to hatch 600 eggs here to have enough turkeys for our Thanksgiving customers," she said.   

As the field trip ended and Powhatan's children clambered aboard their BCPS bus for the ride back to school, they expressed a newfound appreciation not only for where their food comes from but for all the work that goes into raising and making it.

"I was kind of creeped out by some things, and I'm not sure I like hot dogs or chicken anymore," Jaylin said. "But I think the thing I liked the best about today was that I was with my friends and we got to hang out at the farm. It was interesting."

Story and photos by BCPS Communications Specialist Charles Herndon
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