Farming to Teach at The Community School

The Community School in South Tamworth, New Hampshire, is using farming to reach its students, and building a vibrant rural community at the same time.

| May/June 2014

  • On its 4-acre farm, The Community School grows enough vegetables to support a 70-member CSA program.
    Photo by Craig Idlebrook
  • Students at The Community School relax before class starts.
    Photo by Craig Idlebrook
  • In wood shop class, students at The Community School carve out a wooden beam with hand tools.
    Photo by Craig Idlebrook
  • Students at The Community School learn through growing all sorts of plants.
    Photo by Craig Idlebrook
  • Baking muffins is a great time for a math lesson.
    Photo by Craig Idlebrook
  • Seedlings await transplanting in The Community School's greenhouse.
    Photo by Craig Idlebrook
  • A student awaits further instruction in one of her classes at The Community School.
    Photo by Craig Idlebrook
  • At The Community School, weeding in the greenhouse is a rich learning opportunity.
    Photo by Craig Idlebrook
  • Community is what this school is all about.
    Photo by Craig Idlebrook

It’s a gray school day in May, the kind of day where the clouds never quite leave the peaks of New Hampshire’s White Mountains. A handful of peeper frogs tentatively call out in the afternoon. On a day when many science students are sleepily trying to memorize the periodic table, science teacher Kathleen Flaccus has her class outside digging in the dirt on the grounds of The Community School in South Tamworth. The class is staking out small garden plots to test different forms of fertilizer and tilling methods.

“Should we dig to the clay?” a student asks.

“That’s not clay. See how it crumbles?” Flaccus responds as she picks up some dirt, crumbles it, and then places it in the student’s outstretched hand. The group continues to dig and rake until many of the students go to woodworking class to use hand tools as they carve wood rafters from local lumber.

It’s a typical day at The Community School, a small private school for students grades 6 through 12 that endeavors to combine traditional academics with learning homesteading skills hands-on style. The school sits on an old 4-acre farm where students and staff grow enough food in greenhouses and fields to support a community supported agriculture program of some 70 members.

Since opening 20 years ago, The Community School has hosted between 20 and 50 students a year. Many of the students are either former homeschoolers who yearn for more peer interaction or public school students who yearn for a different learning experience. Some come from farming families, but others have never even seen an onion plant in the ground.

“The fun is to watch students who wouldn’t want to get their hands dirty in the beginning of the year volunteer for garden work by the end of the year,” says Jenny Rowe, the school’s former director, before Will Robinson took the helm in 2012. Rowe knows most of the children will not go on to farming careers, but that’s beside the point — the goal is to instill a love of learning and doing through farming.

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