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edible conservation Starting fresh


Unlike a lot of kids their age, the students at the Zena Springs Farm School in Oregon’s Willamette Valley know exactly where their food comes from—because they grow it themselves. And once they pick their produce, they know where it’s headed, too: they carry the harvest about 20 steps from the garden to a kitchen built into an old barn, rinse off the mud and bugs, and get cooking.


“Kids love to be in the garden, and they love to cook,” says Anne Walton, who started the school at Zena Springs in 2014. Walton worked with The Trust for Public Land to create a conservation easement for the farm—which has been in her family for more than a century— so that it will never be subdivided or


developed. Today, she teaches gardening and cooking to students aged 5 to 14, many of whom have struggled to suc- ceed in traditional classroom settings. “Throughout the harvest cycle, there’s a task for every kid, at every age. We’d have five-year-olds who are the best at starting a tray of seeds—it’s that kind of meticulous work that really appeals to that age group. Ten-year-olds, just give them a shovel and they’ll dig all day.” The Trust for Public Land has helped gardens grow at schools across the country. But at Zena Springs, the garden is the school—and so are the creeks, pastures, forests, and wetlands that make up Walton’s 160-acre farm. Along with tending to crops and learning how


zena springs farm school, salem, oregon


to cook with what they harvest, kids get a hands-on education in ecology by exploring the property’s varied habitats. By immersing the valley’s youth in


the day-to-day work of sustainable farm- ing, Walton aims to bolster the region’s network of small farms. “I know a lot of the small farmers in the area, and they always need skilled labor,” she says. “I’d like the farm school to be a place where kids can learn those skills, and maybe get a job nearby once they graduate.” Even if her students opt for a less muddy career path, Walton knows that lessons learned from a season of farm- ing will stick with them. “If you can tell people you have farm experience, they know you’ve had to really work,” she says. “That commands respect.”


18 · LAND&PEOPLE · SPRING/SUMMER 2017


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