âMany of them grew up gardening at home with family members, but for most of the students, this is their first time working on a production farm or in gardening,â said Nora Corbett Wicks, professor of sustainable agriculture and leadership at Vista Grande High. School (VGHS).
Students gain hands-on experience tending to vegetable crops such as corn, squash, and carrots on over a third of an acre of garden, known as Vista Grande Gardens at Rio Fernando Park. The garden is part of a VGHS partnership formed with the Taos Land Trust and the Youth Conservation Corps (YCC).
Wicks said the class gathered 2,000 pounds of food this growing season alone. The yield is given to YCC interns, VGHS families, North Central Food Pantry, Talpa Farmers Market, and Questa Farmers Market.
But learning about the culture of cultures is not the only goal of the class.
This fall semester, students study ancient food systems and the effects of climate change. In the spring semester, they will learn about the evolution and genetics of the seeds.
âSo it’s definitely not just ‘Oh, I know how to grow plants.’ It’s pretty much more than that, âWicks said.
The classroom is an example of a model of learning outside the classroom that the New Mexico legislature chose to promote during this year’s session. Lawmakers adopted the Senate 1 Memorial to promote outdoor learning, in part in an effort to mitigate pandemic risks (the CDC has observed that transmission of SARS-CoV-2 is much more likely to l inside and outside). Governor Michelle Lujan-Grisham then declared September 27 to October 1 of this year the state’s first outdoor learning week.
Wicks said there are benefits to learning outdoors that cannot be replicated in a classroom. From her experience, she finds that skills such as ârelationship buildingâ and âsocial and emotional growthâ are more easily developed when students learn outdoors.
âYou can build more meaningful relationships with students than inside a classroom – that’s all about me,â Wicks said.
The class was created in 2020 on the heels of the first wave of the pandemic, long before the state launched its outdoor learning initiative. New Mexico Environmental Education (EENM) and the Field Institute of Taos (FIT) were other early adopters of a program designed to bring students outdoors.
Cass Landrum, community programs coordinator for FIT, said advocacy for outdoor learning in America has come in waves.
âThe ’70s are kind of when the notion started – when Earth Day startedâ¦ but that kind of decline has subsided,â Landrum said. “Then in the 90s there was another surge.”
Landrum works primarily with schools and community partners to bring students outdoors with a mission to promote environmental stewardship and outdoor recreation. She runs field trips, community programs and after-school programs. This could mean organizing hikes miles from schools or simply asking students to “study leaves on trees” a few feet from school campuses. Landrum tells teachers that almost every lesson can be adapted for an outdoor environment. The ease of access to public land in Taos makes the model an almost perfect fit for the region, she said.
âA lot of my job is just to encourage teachers – or remind them – that they can teach just as well, if not better, with all the distractions of the outside world, because with a little practice and skill, you can incorporate these distractions into your lesson plan, âsaid Landrum.
She worked in environmental education in New York, Texas, and Albuquerque before joining FIT. She recognizes that it can be difficult for some teachers to learn how to break out of their curricula.
âThey would love to go out, but they don’t have time because they have to teach 80 things about math and they don’t even have enough time to do it. If they went on an excursion, they would have less time. said Landrum.
Wicks believes policy initiatives, like Outdoor Learning Week, will help more instructors get used to it.
“I would like to see more education policies to support and facilitate the outing of teachers with students. On the setting than in a traditional classroom,” she said.
She has many favorite times to teach her class, from the conversations that take place while she pulls the weeds with the students – until seeing a student so interested in learning more about native plants that they went. visit a weekly meeting with the Native Plant Society to find out more.
Wicks asked his Vista Grande students to write testimonials about what farming and farming means to them and their families. Here are some of the answers:
âThis class connects to me because I know agricultureâ¦ My grandparents are in agricultureâ¦ food is part of me,â wrote Itzmir Orozco, a junior from VGHS.
“Growing your own food can be very useful and useful because we don’t know how the world is going to end,” wrote Elder Abagale Carson.
Senior Faith Martinez wrote: “Every holiday or party we eat at my Aunt Berts’s or grandma’s house. My family cooks a lot of food, every member of the family, most of the time it’s the women who cook, but my uncle chris cooks green chili stew and other good food, my favorite would be my grandma’s red chili or my aunt Gina’s green chili stew.