Across our nation, people are learning about food and food production. Closer to home, the rapid changes in land-use and demographics in this region have created a need for wide-spectrum agriculture education: basic information for beginning farmers, demonstration platforms for experienced farmers, and hands-on presentations of the food life cycle for the public. As philosopher Mortimer Adler stated, “The purpose of learning is growth, and our minds, unlike our bodies, can continue growing as long as we live.” The Fauquier Education Farm’s administrators agree.
The administrators of the Fauquier Education Farm, or Ed Farm, recognize that the farm’s constituency is populated by adult learners with evolving and diverse learning needs. Successful outreach requires IT-savvy methods balanced with in-person facilitation that steps back from bit, bytes, ones, and zeros. Therefore, the Ed Farm is a school where class convenes online but also under maple trees where students use picnic tables as desks. Class labs take place on the ten acres surrounding the farm’s buildings. In the soil, theory becomes practice, and the realities of a production farm shape the lessons learned.
Those who work at the Ed Farm regularly acknowledge the truth of Adler’s statement, but they also agree with farmer and author Kristen Kimball, who writes, “A farm is a manipulative creature. There is no such thing as finished. Work comes in a stream and has no end. There are only the things that must be done now and things that can be done later. The threat the farm has got on you, the one that keeps you running from can until cannot, is this: do it now, or some living thing will wilt or suffer or die. It’s blackmail, really.” The individual operating the tractor and the volunteers planting seeds, pulling weeds, and repairing equipment understand that Kimball and Adler both have it right. To keep a farming enterprise sustainable, a farmer must position himself or herself squarely in the front of the production, where effective leadership and management reflect the knowledge gained from lifelong learning. Enter the Ed Farm.
Formed in 2010, the Ed Farm reflects the vision of representatives from Virginia Cooperative Extension, the Fauquier County Government, the Fauquier Community Action Committee, and the Fauquier Farm Bureau, as well as local farmers and educators. Back in 2010, the opportunity surfaced to pick up where the FauquierCommunityGarden left off using the grounds, buildings, and equipment located on the former Stafford Farm. To differentiate the Ed Farm from the community garden, the farm’s founders determined that the Ed Farm would promote agriculture, provide agriculture education, and demonstrate social responsibility relating to food.
Within a year, the Virginia Farm Bureau and the multi-state Center for Rural Innovation recognized the Ed Farm for its contributions to public awareness of agriculture. In 2012, Virginia Tech provided grant funds to FauquierCounty’s Office of Agriculture Development so the Ed Farm could implement the Northern Piedmont Beginning Farmer Program. Today, the Ed Farm is a member of the Virginia Beginning Farmer & Rancher Coalition Program and is a supporter of the Virginia Farm Mentor Network as well as the Young Farmers of Virginia. Public and private secondary schools from as far away as Alexandria send students to the Ed Farm for group classes. Closer to home, the Ed Farm partners with FauquierCountyFFA chapters for farm equipment repairs as part of the county’s vocational education program. More than 40 adult learners have signed up for beginning farmer instruction and tours.
To date, the Ed Farm has harvested and donated 35,000 pounds of fresh food to local food banks and social-service organizations. The anticipated food donations in 2013 are 15,000 pounds. If that goal is attained, that amount will bring the donation total to 50,000 pounds in four growing seasons.
Daily life at the Ed Farm’s reflects both Adler’s and Kimball’s observations. Learning is a lifelong activity and farming is a demanding teacher; however, our efforts offer a unique contribution to the quality of life in and around FauquierCounty. The Fauquier Education Farm is a 501(c)3 that depends on community largesse to exist and operate. Volunteers are needed for planting, maintaining, and harvesting donated crops. Donations can be made through the farm’s website, www.FauquierEducationFarm.org. For information about volunteering, contact Lynn Consolla at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Ed Farm’s Facebook page.