Boys who are doing are boys who are learning. It’s an often-quoted sentiment at Cardigan and is one of the driving factors behind the Gates Program, the required sports commitment, the community volunteer opportunities, and the students’ involvement in serving and cleaning up after meals in the dining hall. It’s also behind Cardigan’s commitment to getting students out of traditional classrooms and into the natural environment where they can work with animals, dig in the dirt, and learn about planting and growing fruits and vegetables.
Four years ago Events Coordinator Mary Ledoux was approached by Cardigan and asked to join a team of individuals tasked with developing a farming program. Mrs. Ledoux grew up in Windsor, VT, where her mother raised horses and farming was a way of life. Today she lives on a farm just a few miles from campus where she raises horses, cows, pigs, and llamas. So, it wasn’t much of a stretch for her to imagine what Cardigan’s farm curriculum could be. With passion and a good deal of personal experience, Mrs. Ledoux took on the task and built a program from scratch.
“Kids these days don’t know where their food comes from and have little appreciation for what it takes to grow vegetables,” says Mrs. Ledoux. “One of the goals of Cardigan’s farm program is to teach them where their food comes from and the labor that goes into producing it.”
While the program may expand in the future, right now it’s the sixth graders who visit the School’s farm on a regular basis. Each Friday, they visit Mrs. Ledoux in the big red barn on the west side of campus and join her in lessons about local produce. One week this fall they ate pumpkin bread and carved pumpkins, saving the seeds for next year’s planting. Another week they sampled dandelion greens that will also be used to feed the bunnies kept on the farm. During the winter, students will learn how to make butter, and when the snow melts and the sap begins to run, students will learn how to make maple syrup.
Another important part of the farm program are the bunnies. Born in late summer, just when the boys return to school, the bunnies help teach the boys lessons in math as well as in caregiving. Even before the bunnies open their eyes, students choose one for which they will be responsible throughout the year. In addition to cleaning the bunnies’ cages and feeding them, students also weigh them and measure their feet and ears every week. The data they collect is used for statistics in math lessons back in their classrooms.
While Mary’s life experiences have given her a solid base from which to build the farm program, when she heard about the Farm to School Summer Institute organized by the University of New Hampshire Sustainability Institute, she knew it would help her further develop the program in important ways. According to the institute’s website, the three-day institute is designed “for selected teams from New Hampshire communities who are committed to increasing access to local, healthy food options in their school cafeterias, hospitals, and other community locations.” Through workshops and group planning sessions, Mrs. Ledoux and four other members of the Cardigan community discovered ways to not only develop the farm program but also introduce healthy local choices throughout campus--including locally sourced food in the dining hall.
“The institute was fully funded and provided us with so many resources,” says Mrs. Ledoux. “It gave all of us the opportunity to imagine what is possible at Cardigan.”
Acceptance into the Summer Institute also included grant money to invest in new programs, not just for the farm curriculum but throughout the School. Cardigan has used the money to install water bottle filling stations throughout campus and build new bunny cages and the heated space on campus in which to raise them. The grant will also help renew the vegetable gardens near the entrance to the School--paying for tools, soil testing, and compost.
“The idea is to enhance what we are already doing,” says Mrs. Ledoux. On her list next is composting in the cafeteria. She is also hoping to organize a committee in January that will help to facilitate campus sustainability efforts and oversee how the rest of the grant money is spent. “Composting is complicated and will require the coordination of several departments on campus. I’m hoping this committee will help plan and troubleshoot.”
In the capable hands and under the guidance of Mrs. Ledoux, the small project that began at her farm four years ago has developed into a powerful program for first-year students, teaching them important lessons about food and where it comes from.