What I Learned at Farm School

I had the privilege earlier this week to serve as a chaperone for a 3-day, 2-night field trip that Jack’s class took to Camp McDowell. Camp McDowell is a retreat situated on over 1,100 acres roughly 90 minutes northwest of Birmingham. The class was there for the McDowell Farm School, a hands-on farming experience designed to help the kids apply math, reasoning, observation, analysis, and problem-solving skills that they have developed in school.

Being the type of person that I am (whatever that means), I needed to know what was expected of me in the role of chaperone. Though she’s been on several trips before for school and church, Leah wasn’t much help. All she said was, “you can’t yell at the kids.” I am happy to announce that I didn’t yell at a goat the entire time I was there. (FARM HUMOR!)

I conferred with other dads on the trip and, when presented with the ‘no yelling’ rule, they were all as confused as me as to our presence on the trip. How were we to tell that kid to not jump from the top bunk to another bed and make him believe that we meant never again? Level-headed daddy voice isn’t reaching that kid. I guess, after a few hours, we just accepted our role as cat herders and went with it.

In all honesty, I’m sure that the kids learned a lot, but I think that I may have learned more. Not necessarily about farming, though. Here’s a short list of things that I learned and things that I thought parents would like to know about what happens on an overnight trip.

Kids, particularly the girls, but the boys picked this up pretty quickly also, will create a song about anything and everything. Each cabin of, roughly, 10 students was given an animal name; turkens, red wigglers, nubians, and guinea hogs. That, in fairly short order, led to:

I don’t want to be a turken,
I don’t want to be a duck,
I just want to be a guinea hog, a guinea hog,

Then there was a song about Elvis Presley which, of course, included the line boys are messy (which is true, by the way) and somehow worked its way around to sitting in the backseat drinking diet Pepsi. The second verse was about Choo-Choo Charlie, who knows karate. He’ll punch you in the stomach and he’s not sorry. Pretty creative song writers in this group. We should encourage that.

Harper, or Scout, or the other one.
Harper, or Scout, or the other one.

For 4th grade boys, poop was big on the farm. Nothing funnier, I guess, than seeing a goat raise her tail and fertilize the earth behind her. Goat poop looks like milk duds, which led to, seemingly, hours of entertainment and was relayed home in phone call after phone call.

I also learned that earthworms have five hearts. Their hearts help crush the dirt that they’ve eaten and pass it through their body. It ends up as poop. Which fertilizes the soil. Notice a theme?

Jack's not too sure about this rabbit.
Jack’s not too sure about this rabbit.

Rabbits on the farm are an experiment to see if they can be a sustainable resource. A momma rabbit can have 12 baby rabbits every month. McDowell Farm has 3 momma rabbits, so they could have 36 new baby rabbits each month. Where would they put all of those rabbits? How would they feed them? What are rabbits really good for? You can’t milk them. Taking the lucky rabbit’s foot in kindly frowned upon. The answer, of course, is that they provide poop, which is used as fertilizer in the garden, but with all of the goats and hogs, McDowell is pretty much covered in the fertilizer category.

Moving on from poop, your children don’t close the cabin door when the air conditioner is running any better than they close the door of your home. “Close the door” the dads said, over and over and over again in our completely ineffective non-yelling voices. In all honesty, yelling and shaming and sarcasm are just as effective, which is to say completely ineffective, at my house.

Lastly, for this morning anyway, I thought it was interesting that, as we sat around a table for our meals, the students – mine included – didn’t know how to pass a dish around the table. We were served family style, but when the boys needed a roll, they stood up, walked to the where the rolls were on the table, reached over their friends and grabbed a roll, and then went back to their seat. Fascinating!

It probably speaks more to how we eat as a family unit now; they’ve never been exposed to passing anything. We either don’t all eat at the same time, or mom makes all of our plates and serves us, or food is left on the stove and we serve ourselves buffet-style. We, all of us, just don’t eat family style anymore. Not even on Sundays at grandmas, which is where I was exposed to “can you please pass the ______?”

The kids at our table learned over the three days to just ask someone to pass the plate of pancakes, or rolls, or syrup, or green beans, or whatever they needed. Now, once they got the plate of pancakes, they shuffled through them like they were looking for the 6 of diamonds. When they get the bowl of green beans, they still used their fingers to pick out the green beans that they wanted, but we only had three days. There was only so much we could teach them. I just learned to get what I wanted first.

It really was a fun time. I’m glad that I had the opportunity to take the three days off of work to attend. The McDowell Camp staff did a wonderful job, and I encourage you all to check out their various camps and educational opportunities. Family Farm Camp is coming up in November!

Have a great weekend!


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