Principal Curtis Leishman and his junior high staff have been guiding their students in hands-on, curriculum based learning with the introduction of an agriculture program located behind the school in Mountain View. The idea was dreamed up between administration and staff two years ago with hopes of teaching kids sustainable agriculture while directing them back to the roots of their ancestors. One peek into the unusual schoolyard proves that the staff have succeeded in giving the school an experience they couldn’t get elsewhere. The yard is alive with activity, with students, teachers, animals, and plants thriving and seemingly unaware that 2020 was supposed to be a year of pandemic and crisis.
The apiary and garden program were the first foray into live agriculture behind the school. Barfuss and Leishman began this project two years ago and have been learning and growing along with the kids. Barfuss is fairly new to teaching at the school, and was hired by Leishman specifically with this program in mind because of his background in agriculture. The teachers and students together researched apiculture to learn how to maintain good bee health, harvest honey, and find new products to create with the wax. The kids have experimented creating lip balm and are hoping to learn to make other products they could sell. Barfuss is also working with students on the gardening program.
The gardening program is a project based option class for junior high students that allows them to dip into the green certificate program High School credits a little early. The students choose projects they want to do in relation to gardening and the class experiments in carrying out their goals. The school uses a hydroponic (water based) garden tower, and the kids are involved in balancing the nutrients, monitoring ph levels, and overall plant health. Growing the food has helped the children appreciate it more, Barfuss notes that the children were mindful of their waste when preparing meals with their harvest, knowing exactly the time and energy that went into growing the plant. Barfuss’s class also experimented with growing feed for animals to cut back on costs for the agriculture programs. To expand the garden projects at the school, in the spring each class in the school will be planting in raised garden beds that were donated by community members. Currently there is only one outdoor garden bed, run by the preschool class that the small children had fun harvesting through the summer and into the fall.
The fall of 2020 is also when the poultry program got underway, run by teacher Mike Romeril. The coop, affectionately named the Poultry Palace, was designed by Romerill with construction help from the community, and materials donated by Pincher Creek Coop, and Custom Windows in Magrath. The large red coop is home to over 20 Turkeys purchased by the school that are being raised for meat, and another 25 laying hens donated by the community members. Turkeys will be ready to sell between January and February, and eggs are currently being sold for $3 a flat. About six Junior High kids are involved in the day to day chores and problem-solving involved in poultry raising. The children feed chickens, water turkeys, take care of health problems, weigh the animals, and analyze the cost of feed versus rate of production and weight gain to project earnings. One child in particular is heavily involved in egg collection, marketing, and egg sales and has shared that it is a delight to come to school with a sense of purpose that wasn’t there before.
Principal Leishman heads the steering program at Mountain View school. Three steers were donated to the program, one each from Perlich Brothers Auction, Baylog Auction, and Southern Alberta Livestock Exchange (Fort Macleod). Community members donated equipment, dug in power lines and water lines necessary for the project. The students feed the steers, learn about maintenance and health, shelter, feed, and the differences between a finished steer program and a maintenance steer program. Leishman says the active science project includes taking monthly measurements and adjusting rations after balancing the cost of feed versus weight gain and considering the value of each nutritional component. There are plans to either sell the meat or use it for the grade nine banquet fundraiser.
The students and community members have taken to the program in a way that is uniting everyone and proving that the possibilities are endless. The school program has been evolving fast to keep up with the overwhelming community donations. The big dream now is to build a barn/greenhouse to not only house the animals, but provide a safe space to expand the project to become fully sustainable, with a heated aquaponics room to feed the plants, which would feed the animals, which would feed the community. In the meantime, it’s enough that children who thought they hated science or math are getting immersed in a living education that is infused with curriculum and providing functional life skills. Students are learning that adults don’t have all the answers, learning where to find solutions to real problems, and making memories that will last a lifetime. Leishman says “We want kids to come back in 60 years and see the pine trees they planted for a wind breaker, and remember the time they stunk up the school learning how to make fodder.”
Elizabeth Thompson-Christensen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Temple City Star