The Farm is relevant again in the Franklin Pierce School District.
A new generation of schoolkids is learning practical science and skills, and facts about food, on these 9.76 acres at Waller Road and 96th Street East in Summit.
The lessons, they say, are powerful enough to change their everyday lives and their ideas about their futures.
“I’m going to be a hydrogeologist,” said Alexander Schultz, 16, of Franklin Pierce High School. “I want
to study flooding, and getting irrigation to villages without clean water. I want to do small things that make big impacts.”
What’s happening at The Farm is a rebirth of sorts.
In 1970, a kid could grow up to make decent money farming in Pierce County. Traditional animal-husbandry and agriculture courses plus 4-H and FFA could give a young person the skills to run a dairy or a feed mill, raise stock or farm corn, berries or bulbs.
The Farm offered all that.
But by the turn of the century, education was veering toward classroom studies. Within 2 miles of The Farm, a dairy, feed mill and feed store closed. The Franklin Pierce FFA program, through which students raised pigs, sheep and fowl, closed.
The barns emptied, and neighbors including Summit-Waller Community Association members worried that the district would dump the site. Instead, the district moved its New Pathways program there.
It was the best thing that could have happened, and it happened at the perfect time. Farmers markets were teeming with locavores. Farm-to-table eating was maturing from fad to trend.
Jim Akers and Larry Volland saw an opportunity.
“They came to a school board meeting four years ago, stood during the comments and said, ‘We represent Summit-Waller Community Association, and it is very sad to us that this farm lies fallow,’” said Franklin Pierce School District spokesman William Painter.
“They made an appeal that the school district try to find a more constructive use, and they have been with us throughout this entire process.”
Akers and Volland were in on the planning, which included farmers, garden mentors and educators.
Sly Boskovich, the district’s assistant director for career and technical education, helped develop courses around the science and skills of building good gardens, and Paul Lambert taught them. They have added to the curriculum and to the size of the gardens each year.
“We have 36 beds, 4-by-25 feet,” Boskovich said. “We have potatoes and anticipate a harvest of 2,000 pounds. We have cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, pole beans, corn and tomatoes. They will be used in the school lunches in our cafeterias.”
“We usually reach out to elementary schools in the district, and a fifth-grade class comes out to assist with the harvest, and then nutrition services picks that up and prepares it,” Painter said.
“We also have the apple orchard, lots of apples,” Boskovich said. “Last year we had an open house for the classroom families. They come for conferences, and they go out and pick apples for the family and a basket full for us to donate to a food bank.”
With the curriculum, they’ve overcome the small problem of summer: Students plan, start seeds in the greenhouses and get them into the ground during the school year. Then they leave when the plants need them most.
Franklin Pierce worked with the Bethel School District’s skills center in Frederickson to develop a summer science class around the garden. Students take it for credit and earn bonus volunteer hours.
Lambert and assistant Michelle McGowan teach in the classroom, and in the field, literally.
The students designed and built a structure for pole beans to climb, McGowan said. They dug the trench to extend the water pipes. They built the raised bed frames out of old traffic sign posts in the shop, then, as teams, carried them to the garden.
“You take home the knowledge about how to grow, how to create a garden,” said Hunter Hansen, 16, of Graham-Kapowsin High School. “We learned how to make an irrigation system.”
“I learned about how different pesticides work, and other things you can use instead of pesticides,” said Tony Hill, 16, of Lincoln High School. “Instead of a class 10 hours a day, you put the skills to the work.”
“You learn about driving a tractor,” said Mario Greco, 17, of Bethel High School.
“You think about resources,” said Alexander Schultz.
His brother Ellijah, 11, of Ford Middle School, comes with him to The Farm.
“Me and Alex, we are using our backyard for a garden, potatoes and corn. We are making use of the yard,” Ellijah said. “We are making use of the knowledge.”
The Farm’s students are doing that by planting and raising a garden, and feeding their minds, their classmates, their community.