Agriculture, Education November 01, 2023
ABCs of Consumer Outreach
Farm's preschool program does more than educate.
Blaine and Leona Staples moved their young family home to her family's nearly century-old farm in 1996.
It was their plan.
Then, her dad passed away from a massive heart attack.
Leona enjoyed her Extension career, but suddenly her hands were needed. "I was never going to be a farmer. My intent, instead, was always to work with farmers."
Jungle Farm, outside Red Deer, Alberta, Canada, was started in 1897 and named after a brown bear who lived nearby by her great grandfather. Until Staples' return, the farm had raised mainly grain. Blaine added strawberries and vegetables, which they now sell directly to consumers.
Leona was missing the fulfillment she got from her Extension career, specifically educating the public about their food.
As luck would have it two years in, her son's kindergarten teacher asked for just the right favor: "Would you host a field trip on your farm?"
Fast forward a whole generation (that son is now a father), Jungle Farm has a thriving children's education program.
"This is what I am passionate about," Leona says, her eyes instantly gleaming with pride and her chest rising with a deep breath of potential.
She not only continued to host field trips through the school year but has developed summer-long programs for preschoolers and older children to come to the farm, get a little dirty, and learn about how their food is grown.
Digging in. "Mommy, I love rhubarb!" says Maddison Kuzek, barely as tall as the patch she's standing in, eyes as wide as the leaves she just learned need to be taken off, and lips puckering from the unexpected sour flavor.
The first day of the farm's 2023 ABC preschool program was all about the letter R. Eight children and their moms picked and tasted rhubarb, made raspberry lemonade, searched for the colors of the rainbow, fed the roosters, and jumped in puddles made by the overnight rain.
Nicole Homan, one of this summer's student teachers explains their goal is to teach children about various farm-grown foods all summer long, harvest or create something with their hands while also running around during each trip to the farm.
"It's super rewarding and I can tell they are starting to put the puzzle pieces together when the kids tell me stories about what they did with the food they took home the previous week," Nicole says. The bond she and the children make is evident.
The program is designed for young children, but the accompanying parents also see a lot of benefit.
"I love that the kids get to dig in the dirt. My son is pretty shy. It's so good for him to do outside activities. Here he can wander and discover something new if he needs to, and then I get to shop for our produce while we are here," says Lauren Watt while watching her son Beau smash raspberries into lemonade.
She and many of the other moms say they found the program through families who had participated in previous summers.
Leona added the preschool program to the existing field trip program about 15 years ago.
As the summer program grew, she transitioned the curriculum development and execution to local college students majoring in education. Nicole—who started working in the fields and farm store in high school—and her counterparts teach four, hour-long ABC classes each week July through August.
They also lead a two-hour program one day a week for older children based on the '1000 Outside Hour Challenge Program' geared to balance children's screen time through the year. Families can sign up for the eight-week sessions or do drop-in days. Seventy-eight children participated in the 2023 summer programs.
"Not actually running the programs gives me time to really focus on my team and ensure they love being here and together," Leona says as she watches two of her young ladies giggle as they help U-Pick strawberry customers. Nicole is one of many who have come back year after year. ‡
Jan Golian applies lifelong lessons to her Missouri farm.
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