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Connecting the Farm to the Community Flint Hill Farm Educational Center does it one relationship at a time

By Linda Sechrist K

athleen Fields relies on a dedi- cated core of volunteers to help her run the not-for-profit Flint

Hill Farm Educational Center. And just as the postman can be counted on to travel through rain, sleet or snow, Fields trusts that her volunteers will show up like clockwork. Some have to drive 40 minutes to get to the 28-acre agro-edu- cational Center and production farm in Lehigh County. “I’m blessed that they all see the vision of what we are do- ing here; since without them this farm couldn’t maintain its broad program base,” says Fields. The vision for the multifaceted Agro-Educational facility that Fields, Board Members for the Educational Center and the volunteers see is a future in which there is a connection between the family farm and the subur- ban communities. This connection that

Fields and her volunteers are building one—educational course, school tour, open house, family farm stay, trip to the farm store, farm camp, horse camp, vocational program, and carriage driv- ing clinic—at a time. “Right now there is such a disconnect between what people eat and where their food comes from,” says Fields, “and our goal is to build a bridge by feeding the spirit, educating the mind, and preserving the community.” ‘Feeding the spirit’ is accomplished

through a vocational component that focuses on teaching job skills through the everyday tasks that run the farm. That goal requires that we educate the educators as to the value of farms as a placement for their students upon graduation. “We try to educate them so that they come to see the farm as a competitive employment opportunity.

Many young people are offered lim- ited opportunities through corporate structures likeWal-Mart and K-Mart, Giant, etc. Under caring supervision of long termVolunteer Rebecca Case at Flint Hill Farm Educational Center, Inc and the students school appointed job coaches, young workers find an accepting environment where they are allowed to make mistakes and receive encouraging feedback learn at their, own pace, build physical strength, independence, and good self-esteem as well as acquire solid problem solving skills.

Working outdoors around the ani-

mals and plants has many advantages. The environment if calming. “Hyper stimulation is significantly decreased,” emphasizes Fields, “since the work can be adjusted to the needs of each individual. This is an important point to consider because of the hyper sensitivi- ty to sensory stimulation overload youth and adults with head injury or other challenges experience from working in big box stores with all those fluorescent light, overhead speakers, and crying children.” Noting that individuals with a variety of emotional, physical and mental challenges work at the farm, Fields proudly talks about the accom- plishments of a very special young adult. “What he lacks in small motor coordination skills he makes up for in the large motor skills he puts to work moving chicken houses. That leaves him with a real sense of accomplish- ment at the end of the day,” enthuses Fields.

Any opportunity to educate young minds is relished by everyone at the

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