When I Grow Up I Wanna Be A Farmer
BGI MBA Offers Something New for Food
At the beginning of October, Bainbridg Graduate Institute's (BGI) students returned to Bainbridge Island's Islandwood Campus for the start of the 2013 academic year. These students are mostly on track to get their Masters of Business Administration (MBA) in sustainability. However, last year BGI introduced new curricula for three certificate/elective courses offered on the topics of the built environment, green energy and sustainable food and agriculture systems.
Though all fit with the sustainability interests on Bainbridge, no sector is more fundamental to society's sustenance than the supply chain that provides our food, feed, fiber, and fuel.
BGI's aim with this graduate-level program is to stimulate innovation and creativity in the design and operation of businesses that are pursuing a more sustainable food and agricultural system. It's built to help students examine food business opportunities at a broad range of scale, including hyper-local, local, regional, national, and global.
Liz Smith, one of the inaugural graduates, comments, "The certificate program gave me a high-level understanding of the food system across the entire supply chain, and at all scales." Smith is co-founder of Seattle start-up, ÜbrLocal, an "Etsy" for urban food entrepreneurs. The program takes seriously its student's ability to develop a small food or agriculture business, but the curriculum doesn't start quite as one might expect. In fact, part of the unique value of the course is its focus on conventional agriculture and encouraging students to truly understanding the complex history and decision-making of the food system in America.
"One of the key takeaways of the certificate for me was a real sense of empathy," says course Teaching Assistant Jessika Tantisook. "As an organic cranberry farmer, I was sitting on a pretty high horse when I began. What it made me consider was, organic or not, local farmers are working very hard—most for little monetary reward. I have many factors to consider before making choices about how my business operates—only part of which is the pursuit of an organic label."
Tantisook continued, "To make a difference in the vast world of food and agriculture, upcoming change agents need to be thoughtful problem solvers that intimately understand the system they are working in."
The students both agree, "It is this perspective that has been invaluable as I build my own business," Smith confirms.
The program is co-taught by BGI dean and agroecologist John Gardner and Bainbridge Island's own former chef and sustainability expert, Tony D'Onofrio. For more info, check out: bgi.edu/academics/certificate-programs
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One Call for All Campaign
THE NEXT GENERATION
— By JOANNA RAUSTEIN
Brian MacWhorter of Butler Green Farms and Betsey Wittick of Laughing Crow Farm, both here on the island, have been apprenticing young farmers for years. Many of their interns have gone on to start their own farms.
Renee Ziemann and Luke Yoder, both 30, are the owners of Good Tilth Farm in Poulsbo. Renee interned with Brian and Betsey in 2010 after teaching English in Laos and working at a homeless shelter. Renee emphasized that interning with Brian and Betsey was a "great way to connect with other farmers."
After interning and continuing to work with Brian and Betsey, Renee and Luke started Good Tilth Farm last December. Renee noted through working on the Bainbridge farms, she was able to learn a great deal, enough to want to venture out on her own.
She also knew people who had already started their own farms, such as Aaron and Dana Steege-Jackson.
"It was nice to see that people were doing it already," said Renee. "And it's nice because [Good Tilth Farm] is like two miles from Aaron and Dana."
Both farms labor-trade with one another, and collaborate regularly.
Aaron and Dana, also both 30 years old, have owned Around the Table Farm in Poulsbo for three seasons. Dana interned for Brian and Betsey in 2008-2009. Aaron worked one day a week for them in 2008, then joined full-time.
"We feel like we've learned a lot [from the internship]," said Aaron. "Brian and Betsey continue to be mentors to us and they've really given us a ton of support as we've started our own business."
Good Tilth Farm and Around the Table Farm grow a variety of produce. Renee explained that she has been selling plants and vegetable starts at the farmer's market, and is hoping to plant berries and perennial vegetables, such as asparagus and artichoke, soon. They also recently purchased pigs to turn the soil.
At Around the Table Farm, Dana and Aaron grow a full line of vegetables, heirloom, potatoes, strawberries, roots and greens. They also grow a wide variety of dry beans, and have ducks and chickens for eggs.
Renee, Aaron and Dana all noted that variety is key in their farming. They explained that in order to have a successful farming community there needs to be an assortment of food in the marketplace. Variety also adds to the excitement of the experience."Brian and Betsey both taught us that [farming] is a creative thing," said Dana. "Every year you can choose what crops you're going to grow, and how much and which types…you get a lot of choice. It's like a canvas to be able to, every year, grow all different colors and shapes and sizes of plants throughout the field."
Renee explained that the sense of community, in addition to the abundance of land, is what makes Kitsap a great place to farm."There's a great community," she said. "I wouldn't be here, in Kitsap, if I hadn't found a great community of people when I was interning."
Local farming is successful, but not thriving as much as it could be. Aaron noted that every little bit of participation helps. "We feel like if we could just get, you know, two percent of Kitsap County eating local foods, then there could be way more farms, and way more farmers here," he said. "Buy local food. That is the best way to support local agriculture."
Local farming, though very difficult at times, is a passion. It connects people to the community they live in. And by buying locally, people not only support their farmers, but also their local economy and themselves.
"I love farming because I think it's a really concrete way to participate in community, and we believe really strongly in the ideas around local economy, as far as a way forward for our country," said Aaron. "We feel pretty good about the ways that we're able to participate in the place that we live, and I feel good about it because it really roots us here. We're definitely putting down roots…It's a scary but also a really joyful thing for us."
read more at parfittway.com/blog
The EduCulture Project
A COMMUNITY THAT FARMS TOGETHER STAYS TOGETHER
— By JOANNA RAUSTEIN
The influence of our local farmers often goes unnoticed by many in our Bainbridge Island and greater Kitsap communities. Thanks to a local program led by our area's master farmers, however, the anonymity of the local farmer is changing.
Begun in 2006, the EduCulture Project at Global Sourced Education, a non-profit learning organization, is changing the way we look at agriculture, the classroom, our children, and education—by moving the classroom to the farm.
Jonathan Garfunkel, the founder and managing director of EduCulture, explained that children have long been studying farming and agriculture in the classroom, but often don't understand the greater picture of what they're studying. For example, plant life cycles are studied with a tiny plant under a light, and once the plant has grown they throw it out.
Educators wanted their students to see more.
"There was a strong interest from K-12 teachers wanting to find ways to bring food and farming into the classroom, recognizing that it had the chance of becoming the vanguard of environmental and sustainability education in the 21st century," Garfunkel said. "In addition, with issues of childhood diabetes and obesity growing more prevalent, learning about fresh and healthy food has become as important as ever."
"We saw this need for real education," Garfunkel continued.
In the fall of 2006, EduCulture approached the Suyematsu & Bentryn Family Farms and hosted a series of dialogues, inviting everyone from teachers to politicians to join in on the discussion on how to bridge food, farming, and community in the education system.
At the time, Betsey Wittick, owner of Laughing Crow Farm (located at Suyematsu & Bentryn Family Farms) was already inviting a fourth-grade class from Wilkes Elementary and a fifth-grade class from the Island School to her land to watch and aid in the farming process. EduCulture decided to expand on that model. Other farmers allowed classes onto their land and, like Betsey, included the children in the farming process.
"What grew from just a handful of teachers and one farmer eventually became an entire school—and then became more than one school," said Garfunkel. The number of students quickly became unmanageable.
The Morales family farm then set aside land on their farm, located next door, as a practice plot so students could take what they had learned from the farmers and practice it themselves.
"The whole idea was not to be a farm set aside on our own, but to have a place for the kids to learn about farming by modeling the farms around them," said Garfunkel. "Whatever the teachers and students want to harvest, we're helping them harvest."
Heyday Farm, located on the south end of the island, is also taking part in EduCulture. Much of Heyday Farm's focus is on animal production. Schoolchildren now have three different farms – with three different focuses – to learn from.
The farm-school partnerships on the island now involve four schools (Island Cooperative Preschool, Wilkes Elementary, Ordway Elementary and Blakely Elementary) and three different farms (Suyematsu & Bentryn, Morales, and Heyday). Lessons and the amount of time spent on the farm differ for each grade. Students learn math, science and social studies through EduCulture. Fourth graders come to learn the history of the Suyematsu family, their farm, and how the events of WWII affected them.
Needed Community Help
To continue these programs, improvements to the farms and practice plots are needed in order to ensure that the learning environment will continue to support the students. They need benches and tables, they need to build demonstration areas, they need to hire staff…and to do all that, they need funding.
"The money we need directly is mostly to build the infrastructure," said Garfunkel. "We aim to underwrite the cost of the programs so that schools don't have to dig into their pockets to support it."
"[The program] has grown a tremendous amount in the last seven years, when you think about one classroom and one farm to where we are now. And now we're at a place where we're large enough, where we need the community support and help to keep growing," he added.
"Children will greatly benefit from knowing their farmers, much like they know their teachers and their doctors," Garfunkel concludes.
For more information, please visit educultureproject.org
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