When Evan Yoder of Peabody started teaching in 1981, many students were from farms.
“Things have changed,” he told an Aug. 22 meeting of county Farm Bureau members. “Very few kids have parents who make a living off the farm. They don’t know where their food comes from. If they don’t know about farming, how will they support it?”
Yoder has been principal of Hillsboro Elementary School since 1991. He toyed with the idea of starting an ag-related curriculum.
After visiting the Rural Life Center in Walton four years ago, he got a grant to start school gardens.
Six raised-bed gardens were created, one for each grade, kindergarten through fifth grade. Students help with planting, harvesting, and caring for the gardens. One plot was planted in wheat.
“The kids love getting their hands dirty,” Yoder said. “They like to do something in the garden during recess.”
Yoder said this past spring produced a bumper crop of lettuce. Students learned how to pick it and eagerly ate it in sandwiches.
Kindergartners through second graders ate broccoli that was harvested from school gardens. It was prepared and served side-by-side with frozen broccoli. Students could see the difference in color: brown for the frozen and green for the fresh.
“All of them might not have eaten it, but they all took some,” Yoder said.
One and a half years ago, Yoder applied for a Green Schools grant and received $3,000 to establish a compost pile. He ordered worms, and the students saw how they multiplied and were turned lose in the compost pile. Two dump carts came unassembled. Yoder gave the parts to the students to figure out how to put them together.
“It took several days, but they got it done,” he said. “The kids like to haul stuff from the gardens out to the compost pile.”
Yoder got a zoning variance from the city to have livestock on the premises. Chicks were hatched in an incubator in May, and the chicks were kept in the hallway for three weeks until school ended.
Yoder said Nick Hein built a chicken barn out of donated material from The Lumberyard. It holds five laying hens. Openings in the back of the barn allow students to gather eggs without going inside.
Last year’s fifth grade class founded Eggmen Productions Co. They gathered and sold eggs.
The Hillsboro Community Foundation provided money to build a mobile chicken barn for growing chickens. It is moved frequently so the chickens always have a fresh patch of grass to eat.
A farmer donated a lamb, which the kids took turns bottle-feeding. After a lamb-naming contest in which students had to suggest names and also give reasons for why their name should be chosen, the lamb became “Lucky.” Another donated lamb became, simply, “Baa.”
One student from each class was selected each day to be at school at 8 a.m. to do “chores.” They were encouraged to bring boots. They made the rounds to make sure the animals and poultry were fed, gathered the eggs, and anything else that needed done.
“Students could pick produce, like radishes or carrots, and eat it right there after washing it,” Yoder said. “They observed as the wheat emerged, grew, and developed heads.”
The ag area was expanded last spring to include a community garden. Dale Dalke provided a load of compost to enrich the soil. Yoder said parents tended it during the summer. It grew sweet corn, squash, watermelon, cantaloupe, and tomatoes.
With students back in the classroom, the process is starting over again.
Looking ahead, Yoder dreams of building a shed out of which to sell things and a greenhouse and classroom to use for instruction.