Farm to School connects communities to our nation’s farmers and ranchers through field trips to farms, taste tests of local and seasonal crops, local food purchasing and hands-on agricultural education. School districts value the agricultural education model of rigorous STEM based classroom and laboratory instruction, experiential learning and leadership development.
Joelle Liddane, agriculture science teacher of the Holmen School District, shares more on the hands-on learning opportunities they have available and their Farm to School program.
The Holmen High School Agriculture has six hydroponic systems in their greenhouse, a hydroponic system in the school cafeteria, and a fish tank which houses a native fishes of Wisconsin display. These and many other things they provide supply students with hands-on learning opportunities.
Holmen is a pretty suburban area with few students who have a direct connection with a farm. The Holmen students are engaged in agricultural courses because of the opportunities and the methods that they have for teaching. The teachers don’t have the typical lecture structure when it comes to teaching. Instead, students learn by doing. Students are able to work with their hands, create something that they can be proud of and are able to work with their peers in order to learn.
The students also have the flexibility to decide how they learn. For example, if the standard that the state says they need to learn about is digestive systems, the students get to decide if they want to learn about a cat, sheep or whatever animal digestive system that interests them. Being able to take some ownership of their learning is definitely a reason that the Holmen program is growing.
“I teach a greenhouse class, which is pretty much an introductory to plant and soil science, which is transcripted through Western Technical College,” says Liddane. “Students receive credit at WTC in Lacrosse.”
All of the principles learned through that course are applied in their greenhouse for the asparagus garden in the spring or district apple orchard. They also make fishing rods and use them in the fisheries ecology class. In animal science they bring in animals so that students don’t have to just look at a poster and can see the animal in person to learn.
“We’re really trying to make things as applicable as possible so we’re not just staring at a computer screen,” adds Liddane.
The School District of Holmen has a great farm to school program. They utilize their greenhouse hydroponic systems to raise lettuce for the school lunch program. They also grow cilantro, spinach, and other herbs. Students also have the opportunity to raise animals specifically to be utilized in the school’s meal programs.
“I have two students who raise beef and pigs and then those animals get processed and then served in the school lunch, ” adds Liddane. “It’s really cool when my students get to be proud of what they’re doing and teach their peers about how food gets from the farm to their plate.”
The farm to school program helps students who didn’t know that cattle get processed into their beef or how to grow plants be educated consumers. It also provides students with knowledge of business structures when they work to sell their items to the nutrition services.
Enrollment in the agriculture science department at Holmen is overwhelming. Liddane can teach about 240 students a year and can provide about twelve classes. However, only so many students are able to get into the classes. There are a good couple of hundred students who were not able to get into an agricultural science class this year due to not having a second teacher at this time.
Liddane is very optimistic that the community will continue to see that number grow and support a second agricultural science teacher who can continue providing opportunities for the students that they want to say yes to.