Soils For Life: The Agraria Educators’ Workshop
As a Center for Regenerative Practice, Agraria is committed to outdoor, experiential education that increases students’ knowledge about soil and their personal connection to the natural world. The need for both knowledge and connection is growing—the average age of a U.S. farmer increased to 57.5 in 2017. In Ohio, 29% of farmers are 65 and older, while only 10% are 35 and younger. At the same time, the percentage of children participating in outdoor activities has fallen from close to 80% in 2006 to around 60% today, even as more and more studies link outdoor activity with increased mental and physical health.
One of the best ways to reach students is to give educators many attractive options for outdoor, soil-focused education. To this end, Agraria hosted the inaugural Soils For Life Workshop in June, sponsored by the Ohio Environmental Education Fund. Thirty-five teachers from nine area school districts traveled as far as 59 miles to participate in the two-day program. Facilitators from Antioch College, Yellow Springs Schools, Ohio State University, and the Greene County Soil and Water Conservation District guided participants through a total of 14 different lesson plans, evenly distributed among elementary, middle school, and high school levels. Educators also learned about Agraria’s many resources as a field trip destination, from macroinvertebrate studies in Jacoby Creek to bluebird boxes in our fields and The Nature Conservancy’s restoration of our riparian area.
Teachers participated enthusiastically during the workshop, throwing seed balls and counting insects as they attended breakout sessions all around Agraria; many reported being relieved and excited to participate in a professional development conference that allowed them to get outside—educators need to connect with nature just as students do! Of the educators who attended, 96% said that the workshop positively impacted their understanding of soil and its importance, with 70% reporting being greatly impacted. This is especially impressive since five teachers reported a relatively high level of pre-workshop soil knowledge. We were very excited to note that 92% of the educators thought that the activities and lessons presented at the workshop would be “very useful” or “useful” to them in their teaching.
Providing teachers with this opportunity felt wonderful. One educator wrote that “this place is a blessing. The people really do speak for the land. Finally, an educational place for environmental study that wants us along to help and gather resources.” Another observed, “it really felt like the emphasis was on getting (participants) the most out of it that we could. Loved attending with colleagues so we could brainstorm together.” Since the land for Agraria was purchased two-and-a-half years ago, we have wanted to help teachers connect students to the land and incorporate soil into their plans. The Soils For Life workshop represented a giant leap in this direction, and has already led to a closer partnership with several school districts. As one educator put it, “please keep doing what you are doing! Totally on right track to aid, inspire, and support local environmental education. THANK YOU!”