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Not just for city kids

Rural students at one Hutterite school enjoyed Agriculture in the Classroom activities last year

There’s little doubt Hutterites have a long agrarian history.

Some time after settling in Raditschev, in northern Russia in 1770, they were taught to farm by Johann Cornies – whose role was similar to that of agriculture minister – by placing Hutterite young people on Mennonite farms. The Mennonites had arrived in southern Russia decades earlier, and were successfully “dry farming” in the Chortitza area.

In 1874, the Hutterites immigrated to North America. “We are farmers,” they told President Grant and he invited them to settle in Dakota Territory. For the next 40 years, they engaged in agriculture, producing grain, sorghum, broomgrass and silage corn, as well as livestock, including milk and egg production.

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Harassed during the First World War for refusing to participate in the military effort, the Hutterites immigrated to Canada, settling in the Prairie provinces, where they continued to farm and improve their agricultural expertise.

Because Hutterites are still involved in agriculture today, it is appropriate that even in the primary grades, Hutterite children are introduced to this aspect of their livelihood. Fortunately, there is a program available that has enabled us to do just that — Agriculture in the Classroom (AITC).

I teach at Brennan School, at Elm River Colony, and in the past I had seen AITC information, but always assumed the programming was geared to children in the city, rather than youth in a rural setting.

This year, however, my thinking changed, and I am glad it did.

Under the umbrella of AITC Manitoba, schools can enrol in various well-organized programs and utilize interesting classroom resources that provide hands-on learning opportunities for students from kindergarten to Grade 12.

A pizza lunch was a high point for most of the students.
A pizza lunch was a high point for most of the students. photo: Elma Maendel

Throughout this past school year, Brennan School students had the privilege of participating in several programs.

For example, last spring, we applied for and received a grant for our own “Little Green Thumbs” classroom garden. Then in fall, one of our teachers received training for two days and came home with all the equipment and materials necessary for this intensive indoor gardening program such as grow lights, potting soil and seeds. Several classes had the opportunity to grow vegetables and herbs in our school, providing a hands-on agricultural experience to strengthen that farm-to-food connection.

On a sunny fall morning, Brennan School hosted a first-ever breakfast at school. AITC Manitoba provided a “Made in Manitoba” breakfast, which our students, staff and many community members loved. Contrary to most of our meals – which are prepared in our community kitchen – this breakfast was cooked in our school, so several of our community ladies helped. An interesting interactive presentation was made before breakfast to give the students an opportunity to explore the agricultural industry and discover the origins of their breakfast. Although we are part of a farming community, this program gave students an opportunity to learn about agriculture beyond our immediate surroundings.

As well, every February, many schools across the province promote literacy during “I Love to Read” month. This year our promotion was extending into March to include agriculture-based literacy. Denise Payment, a retired teacher from Oakville with a farming background, came to celebrate not only literacy, but agriculture. She read books about farming, showed videos, and had our students participate in a hands-on agriculture activity: making butter. Our students eagerly shook their vials of cream, chanting the familiar rhyme:

“Come, butter come! Come, butter come!
Peter’s at the garden gate,
Waiting for a butter cake.
Come, butter come!”

By the time we chanted the rhyme for each primary class child, the butter was ready. We spread it onto soda crackers and the consensus was that they’d never tasted better butter.

Pizza Farm is an interactive learning experience for Grade 7 and 8 students. This program usually includes farm tours in the fall and spring, at farms that raise or grow pizza ingredients. Between the farm tours, each class engaged in curriculum-linked activities and grew their own pizza ingredients in an indoor school garden.

During the fall, our middle grades and high school agriculture students, along with several other classes in Portage la Prairie School Division, spent a morning touring several local dairy and vegetable farms.

At the dairy farm they saw a milking parlour and the huge tank where milk is stored until it is transported to the creamery. They also saw calves and were invited to pet them and let them suck on their fingers, a familiar experience for many farm children, that was enjoyed by the whole group. After the tour, students were treated to homemade cookies and a carton of chocolate milk.

At the vegetable farm they observed the process of market preparation: carrots arriving at the plant, being washed, packaged and boxed for shipment. They saw the storage facility and the machines in action.

Next, the students travelled to the community hall in Oakville for lunch, after which they visited various agricultural centres which included learning about erosion and pesticides – both chemical and organic – as well as the economic spinoffs and potential careers in agriculture.

The final phase of the program took place here at Brennan School in spring. Several stations were set up in our gym where students engaged in hands-on activities: learning about pulse crops, testing canola seeds for ripeness, crushing canola seeds to make oil and making salad dressing, which they tasted by dipping fresh vegetables provided by AITC Manitoba.

The grand finale to this program? Our Grades 3 to 8 students made their own pizza. Typical for all AITC programs, materials, cooking utensils and ingredients were sponsored by various agriculture commodity groups or companies.

After each of the programs, the presenters left us with fabulous resources to further our students’ agricultural learning.

There are a few things we plan to do differently this year, with the experience of hindsight, but we definitely plan to continue teaching our children about agriculture.

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