The Farm, an alternative learning program in the Rocky View Schools (RVS) district with a focus on agriculture, received a $12,500 donation from Wawanesa Insurance on May 19.
Located just northwest of Airdrie on 15 acres of land, The Farm takes a hands-on approach to teaching students the principles of agriculture. The students follow a regular Alberta Education high-school curriculum while also learning about where their food comes from. Students take part in projects like composting, raising hens, caring for pigs, and beekeeping.
Catering to children that learn best in an unconventional way, The Farm currently has 52 students ranging from grades 9 to 11, from across RVS' boundary.
The Wawanesa donation offers the school “a really cool opportunity” for the students to expand their projects, said Mark Turner, a teacher at The Farm. The donation showed the students “that there’s community members around them that want to support their learning,” Turner said.
“Now we have a lot of happy kids,” he said.
To receive the donation, the students at The Farm had to pitch a project idea to Wawanesa. Creating nine project proposals, the Grade 9 students had to recognize something that was currently missing on the farm that they needed, Turner added.
Students pitched a new water pump, a hydroponic system, and a drip irrigation system.
The donation will also go towards supplying the school with tools. Currently, Turner has been lending his personal tools to the students but he is excited to travel to work without his skill saw in tow.
For Turner, it was important to get the children involved with the pitching process. He left it up to the students to decide what was missing on The Farm and what most interested them.
“That’s a really exciting part for us, is when students have an interest or is showing interest in something,” Turner said. “We want to sit there and at least advocate for it and not just talk about it but actually have the opportunity of having lived through that experience.”
Turner told the students they had to deliver their pitches in 30 seconds, teaching them to make the purpose and financial details of their project concise and clear. The students made pamphlets of their project pitches to hand out to the Wawanesa Insurance staff who visited The Farm, he said.
Leading the insurance company’s representatives on a tour around the school, the students presented their projects to the four Wawanesa employees the same way they are taught – through a hands-on experience.
“[The students] had to go face-to-face, they just had their pieces of paper and they walked [the Wawanesa employees] through. The students who wanted to showcase lands or ducks or the drip irrigation system, they took [the employees] to where it was going to be,” Turner said, adding the students had to create visuals of their proposed projects for the Wawanesa representatives, which gave the students “a sense of building a prototype.”
The students were able to show the insurance company their vision and idea for their projects, ultimately leading the insurance company to support the school, according to Turner.
To Grade 9 student Laura Carroll, the Wawanesa donation “means a lot.”
“We’ve been doing small projects throughout the year but…we get to start doing all these big projects that we’ve all been talking about and planning,” she said.
Choosing the school for its hands-on learning approach, Carroll wanted a different learning experience than a conventional classroom. The Farm offered Carroll “more one-on-one time with the teacher, more outside time and field trips,” and she added the smaller class sizes mean it is easier to create a bond with her classmates.
However, Carroll does not intend on working in agriculture in the future, instead wanting to pursue paramedicine.
“It is still cool to learn about where our food comes from,” she said.
Turner recognized that most students do not want to work in the agriculture sector after graduating, but for the students, The Farm still offers a valuable learning experience.
“If anything, they walk away appreciating all of our producers who are producing food for us on a daily basis because you realize it is a ton of work and they’re really impressive human beings,” he said.