An Introduction to Sustainable Farming for Middle School Students

Isabel Mann, Staff Writer

For middle school students who feel like the only way they learn any new material is through a textbook is in luck.  Beginning Feb. 2, all middle school students are eligible to join the new Wakeman Town Farm program.  The program will run from three to five on Thurs. afternoons.

This program is designed to teach students all the ins and outs of farming and gardening by allowing the students to actually plan, plant, grow and harvest the Wakeman Town Farm gardens.  The students involved in the program will be helping care for chickens, rabbits and bees in addition to participating in several simple building and construction projects.

Science teacher, Mike Aitkenhead is the leader of this program and is eager for it to begin.  “I think there is a real interest and commitment among students of the middle school age to commit to a program of this kind and to really benefit from the lessons they will learn,” Aitkenhead said.  In addition to giving students the ability to grow their own food and get their hands a little dirty in the process, Aitkenhead sees this program as excellent preparation for high school in which some students may decide to take the advanced placement environmental studies course.

Briana Beller, a sixth-grader at Bedford Middle School is currently enrolled in the Wakeman Town Farm Program and is waiting with anticipation for the Feb. 2 starting date.  Beller’s mother, Elizabeth, is the Wakeman Town Farm board-chair member and is also very eager for her daughter to begin her new after-school activity.  “I am very excited for the program to begin,” Beller said.  “My mom and I write a blog together about sustainable farming called Simply Chicks.”  Beller feels that this program combined with her blog will give her a good introduction for more difficult high school courses.

Although this particular program excludes high school students, this doesn’t mean that they cannot help with the upkeep of the Wakeman Town Farm.  While there are opportunities for high schoolers to help plant and manage the gardens, there will also likely be positions available for students to help lead programs and other various activities on the farm.

Gabriella Rizack ’13, a student in Aitkenhead’s advanced placement environmental class is just one person considering taking a part in helping the Wakeman Town Farm.  “I definitely think that involving myself with the gardens would be supplemental to what I am learning in the classroom,” Rizack said.  “It would be cool to, for example, learn about sustainable food production in the classroom and then be able to actually sustainably farm outside of the classroom.”

Aitkenhead encourages high schoolers to become involved in the Wakeman Town Farm and contact him with any interests.

This particular program for middle schoolers costs 175 dollars per participant and has a limit of 20 participants.  Anyone interested in signing up for the program can do so on the Westport Parks and Recreation website.

As time goes on, the Wakeman Town Farm will continue to have more programs to offer.  So, Aitkenhead urges people to stay tuned to www.wakemantownfarm.org for these opportunities.

“Overall, I want students to get a chance to work outside, reconnect with nature, and have fun at the same time.  We are overwhelmed by technology these days,” Aitkenhead said.  “While are technology is often great, it doesn’t hurt to unplug every once in a while.”