Learning to Farm Is a Graduation Requirement at This High School
By Mary Ann Lieser
A group of teens gather quietly in the predawn darkness. Dressed in warm clothing, they meet before breakfast to help capture and pack broiler chickens to be taken to a slaughterhouse. They fed, watered and watched the birds grow; now they prepare them for their final trip. Eventually, the birds will return as meat and be cooked for the teens to eat.
High school students at Olney Friends School, located on 350 acres near Barnesville, Ohio, witness the cycle of birth and death time and again during their four years on campus. Founded in 1837 to serve the children of Quaker families, Olney has always had a farm program and students have been involved in its operation to varying degrees.
During the past decade, Olney has integrated farm work and food production into every aspect of student life, from the barn to the kitchen to the classroom. In 2015, Olney became the nation's first USDA certified organic campus.
"Olney has had conservation practices to protect the environment in place for a hundred years," said Don Guindon, farm manager. Guindon spent his childhood on the school farm, where his father served for decades in the position he now holds. He's continued the sustainable practices—the use of crop rotation, cover crops and contour plowing—that help maintain soil fertility and combat erosion. The farm also produces and uses about 40 tons of compost annually, utilizing manure and kitchen waste from the school as well as the autumn leaves gathered by the nearby town.
The Olney school farm has 52 beef cattle, eight goats, 150 laying chickens and as many as 800 meat chickens. Students fatten a varying number of feeder pigs each year, produce hay for their livestock, and grow a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and herbs. Constantly looking to diversify, they have recently added beekeeping to their repertoire—they currently have two active hives and hope to have five later this year.
One week the farmers might lecture the biology class about artificial insemination. The next week the class might visit the greenhouse to help pollinate lemon trees by hand to provide a bigger harvest. An art class is working on designs to remodel a portion of the greenhouse. Farm skills are well integrated into the classroom.
The school has a diverse student body with many international students—30 percent of the student body—who speak English as a second language. Most of Olney's approximately 50 students live on campus full time. The cafeteria serves three meals a day, seven days a week and manages to use food that derives about 40 percent from the farm or local area.
The staff is looking at ways to nudge that number up by using homesteading practices to preserve more of the harvest. Mark Hibbett, assistant farm manager, is exploring possibilities: using the farm's cabbage to make kimchi, using strawberries to make preserves and using eggs to make noodles. And he's looking for ways students can be involved in each step.
Olney already adjusts the farming schedule to maximize the possibilities for student participation. Some crops are planted late so the teens, who are gone over summer break, can help with the harvest when they return to campus.
Freshman Izraa Rosa grew up in a vegan family and says his parents appreciated knowing that the food at Olney is locally sourced and pesticide-free. For Rosa, who's from Cleveland, the biggest benefit of the farm program is that he's nudged out of his comfort zone. "I grew up in the city, where my friends and I were careful not to get our shoes scuffed up. Now I get my hands dirty and I love it. I'm more open-minded and open to new experiences."
Adam Dyer, the newest member of the farm staff, said that "any time students help with morning chores, they realize how much work goes into everything. Those eggs don't just appear on our plates at breakfast. Someone has to come down at 6 o'clock and collect them."
Olney has always had a strong farm identity, but the school's goal is not necessarily to graduate future farmers. Graduates go on to four-year colleges, and few if any work in agriculture later. "Our goal is well-rounded citizens who are smart consumers with social awareness. The farm is a great place to absorb lessons in the complexity of sustainable systems," Guindon points out.
One of the most popular ways to absorb those lessons at Olney is to help tend its goats. When the babies are born, students watch the mothers clean them, then they make sure the babies are moving and active and getting milk. "When the students are there for every step of the process, they own it," Guindon said. Six does recently gave birth to 13 kids and a crew of 19 students trained as goat midwives took turns spending nights in the barn, watching for signs of early labor.
Antonia Sigmon is a senior who has been involved in as many farm activities as possible during the last four years, from picking potatoes to clipping goats' hooves. During the winter of her freshman year, many of the goat kids were born and she remembers how magical it seemed walking in the snow and the moonlight down to the barn, where she took the midnight shift to bottle-feed them.
"I've been excited about working with the animals ever since," she said. "And I like being in contact with the land and everything that's growing."
Olney still honors its Quaker roots. Twice a week the students participate in traditional waiting worship, when the school gathers for about 20 minutes to reflect quietly as a group. Weather permitting, evening collection might be held in the orchard when the trees are in bloom, in the hay mow when the first cutting of hay is fragrant, or in the barn where the sound of the cows' breathing is audible. And evening collection is sometimes held in the goat barn where the midwife crew brings the young goats out to play.
Reposted with permission from our media associate YES! Magazine.
By Gwen Ranniger
Fertility issues are on the rise, and new literature points to ways that your environment may be part of the problem. We've rounded up some changes you can make in your life to promote a healthy reproductive system.
Infertility and Environmental Health: The Facts<ul> <li>Sperm count is declining steeply, significantly, and continuously in Western countries, with no signs of tapering off. Erectile dysfunction is on the rise, and women are facing increasing rates of miscarriage and difficulty conceiving.</li><li>Why? A huge factor is our environmental health. Hormones (particularly testosterone and estrogen) are what make reproductive function possible, and our hormones are increasingly being negatively affected by harmful, endocrine-disrupting chemicals commonplace in the modern world—in our homes, foods, and lifestyles.</li></ul>
What You Can Do About It<p>It should be noted that infertility can be caused by any number of factors, including medical conditions that cannot be solved with a simple change at home.</p><p><em>If you or a loved one are struggling with infertility, our hearts and sympathies are with you. Your pain is validated and we hope you receive answers to your struggles.</em></p><p>Read on to discover our tips to restore or improve reproductive health by removing harmful habits and chemicals from your environment.</p>
Edit Your Health<ul><li>If you smoke, quit! Smoking is toxic, period. If someone in your household smokes, urge them to quit or institute a no-smoking ban in the house. It is just as important to avoid secondhand smoke.</li><li>Maintain a healthy weight. Make sure your caloric intake is right for your body and strive for moderate exercise.</li><li>Eat cleanly! Focus on whole foods and less processed meals and snacks. Studies have found that eating a Mediterranean-style diet is linked to increased fertility.</li><li>Minimize negative/constant stress—or find ways to manage it. Hobbies such as meditation or yoga that encourage practiced breathing are great options to reduce the physical toll of stress.</li></ul>
Edit Your Home<p>We spend a lot of time in our homes—and care that what we bring into them will not harm us. You may not be aware that many commonly found household items are sources of harmful, endocrine-disrupting compounds. Read on to find steps you can take—and replacements you should make—in your home.</p><p><strong>In the Kitchen</strong></p><ul> <li>Buy organic, fresh, unprocessed foods whenever possible. <a href="https://www.ehn.org/clean-grocery-shopping-guide-2648563801.html" target="_blank">Read our grocery shopping guide for more tips about food.</a></li><li>Switch to glass, ceramics, or stainless steel for food storage: plastics often contain endocrine-disrupting chemicals that affect fertility. <a href="https://www.ehn.org/bpa-pollution-2645493129.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Learn more about the dangers of plastic here.</a></li><li>Ban plastic from the microwave. If you have a plastic splatter cover, use paper towel, parchment paper, or an upside-down plate instead.</li><li>Upgrade your cookware: non-stick may make life easier, but it is made with unsafe chemical compounds that seep into your food. Cast-iron and stainless steel are great alternatives.</li><li>Filter tap water. Glass filter pitchers are an inexpensive solution; if you want to invest you may opt for an under-the-sink filter.</li><li>Check your cleaning products—many mainstream products are full of unsafe chemicals. <a href="https://www.ehn.org/how-to-shop-for-cleaning-products-while-avoiding-toxics-2648130273.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Check out our guide to safe cleaning products for more info</a>.</li></ul><p><strong>In the Bathroom </strong></p><ul> <li>Check the labels on your bathroom products: <em>fragrance-free, paraben-free, phthalate-free</em> and organic labels are all great signs. You can also scan the ingredients lists for red-flag chemicals such as: triclosan, parabens, and dibutyl phthalate. Use the <a href="https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/" target="_blank">EWG Skin Deep database</a> to vet your personal products.</li><li>Ditch the vinyl shower curtain—that new shower curtain smell is chemical-off gassing. Choose a cotton or linen based curtain instead.</li><li>Banish air fresheners—use natural fresheners (an open window, baking soda, essential oils) instead.</li></ul><p><strong>Everywhere Else</strong></p><ul><li>Remove wall-to-wall carpet. If you've been considering wood or tile, here's your sign: many synthetic carpets can emit harmful chemicals for years. If you want a rug, choose wool or plant materials such as jute or sisal.</li><li>Prevent dust build-up. Dust can absorb chemicals in the air and keep them lingering in your home. Vacuum rugs and wipe furniture, trim, windowsills, fans, TVs, etc. Make sure to have a window open while you're cleaning!</li><li>Leave shoes at the door! When you wear your shoes throughout the house, you're tracking in all kinds of chemicals. If you like wearing shoes inside, consider a dedicated pair of "indoor shoes" or slippers.</li><li>Clean out your closet—use cedar chips or lavender sachets instead of mothballs, and use "green" dry-cleaning services over traditional methods. If that isn't possible, let the clothes air out outside or in your garage for a day before putting them back in your closet.</li><li>Say no to plastic bags!</li><li>We asked 22 endocrinologists what products they use - and steer clear of—in their homes. <a href="https://www.ehn.org/nontoxic-products-2648564261.html" target="_blank">Check out their responses here</a>.</li></ul>
Learn More<ul><li>For more information and action steps, be sure to check out <em>Count Down: How Our Modern World Is Threatening Sperm Counts, Altering Male and Female Reproductive Development, and Imperiling the Future of the Human Race</em> by EHS adjunct scientist Shanna Swan, PhD: <a href="https://www.shannaswan.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">available for purchase here.</a></li><li><a href="https://www.ehn.org/st/Subscribe_to_Above_The_Fold" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Sign up for our Above the Fold Newsletter </a>to stay up to date about impacts on the environment and your health.</li></ul>
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