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Posted January 26, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Clarke class for 'budding farmers'


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By Stacey Keenan -- Daily Correspondent

BERRYVILLE -- A new program offered by the Clarke County Parks and Recreation Department is designed to get area youth away from TV and video games and re-connected to the Earth.

The department's upcoming Budding Farmers class is an out-of-the-ordinary program for children ages 8 to 14.

"It's not a pre-4-H class to train kids to learn about agriculture," says class instructor Mary Margaret Baker, of Berryville. "It's a more holistic idea. It's to get children interested in learning about being greener."

Over the course of the six classes, students will learn about the history of farming and farm ecology. They will also learn about soil, composting and vermicomposting, including making their own worm bins. Students will investigate methods of soil testing, how to determine how well plants will grow in certain kinds of soils.

In another class, children will learn about an American Indian agricultural technique known as the three sisters garden. In this technique, which involves the interplanting of corn, beans and squash, the three plants partner together and benefit one another, according to kidsgardening.com, a Web site of the National Gardening Association.

"Corn provides support for beans. Beans, like other legumes, have bacteria living on their roots that help them absorb nitrogen from the air and convert it to a form that plants can use. (Corn, which requires a lot of nitrogen to grow, benefits most). The large, prickly squash leaves shade the soil, preventing weed growth, and deter animal pests," says the Web site.

The three sisters garden, which recognizes this trio of plants as sustainers of life, is a concrete example of the idea behind the Budding Farmers class, says Baker.

"We want to help children understand how to use natural barriers in the ecosystem, how to help gardens grow without using synthetics and chemicals," she says.

Students will also learn about bio-diversion, sustainable farming, greenhouses and four-season harvesting. Children will even make miniature greenhouses.

To learn about four-season harvesting, students will turn to "The Old Farmer's Almanac."

"We'll look at the cycles of the moon, and how the moon and the weather and climate changes in different regions and how it affects the growing season. We'll look at how you can manipulate climate and the environment, like in a greenhouse, so you can grow year-round," Baker says.

Children in the class will also hear from guest speakers from the area. Baker plans to invite people with expertise in different areas pertaining to sustainable living, she said.

Baker encourages children to attend each class, as the program is designed as a series and each class meeting will build on the previous one.

If a child is interested in attending the class, but isn't able to participate this session, parents need not worry, says Tracey Pitcock, recreation program coordinator for the Clarke County Parks and Recreation Department. She is planning a similar program for the summer months that will begin in mid-May.

The Budding Farmers class is open to any child in Clarke County and the surrounding area, including home-schooled children and those with special needs, says Baker.

"It's open to anyone, not just farmer's kids. We're trying to teach holistic gardening to a huge variety of people. We're trying to glorify the idea of farming -- to keep yourself alive through farming because farming is a dying art," she says. "Living sustainably is a lifestyle, a way of life, not just a hobby."

The Clarke County Parks and Recreation Department's Budding Farmers class begins on Feb. 10 at the recreation center at 225 Al Smith Circle in Berryville. The class will continue on Tuesdays, Feb. 24, March 10, March 24, April 7 and April 28. The class meets from 4:30 to 6 p.m. The registration cost is $30. For more information or to register, call the Clarke County Parks and Recreation Department at 955-5140 or visit the Web site at www.clarkecounty.gov/parks.

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