Since starting in mid-October 2022 as SSFS's Farmer Educator, the question I have been asked the most is “What is there to do during the winter?” While winter is not a time for productive farming, it is by no means a time to kick back and wait till spring. Since winter is a time when food crops will not grow in our area, it is a great time to boost the health of our soil.
The history of Sandy Spring Friends School is rooted in a vision, and in the land. The vision began in 1958, when Brook Moore shared a message with Sandy Spring Monthly Meeting laying out the idea for founding a school whose mission was grounded in Quaker values, experiential learning, meaningful work, and a holistic balance of mind, body, and spirit. Shortly afterwards, a generous gift from Esther Scott of 140 acres of her family’s farm land made that School’s founding possible.
Rooted in the School’s founding educational vision, and with appreciation for the School’s rich land and history, the Farm Program at Sandy Spring Friends School seeks to bring together the School’s core mission and values by
- Providing experiential, hands-on opportunities for students to learn, to work, and to apply knowledge in a real-world context—in a way that students can, quite literally, see (touch, smell, and eat) the fruits of their labor;
- Sharing an appreciation and understanding of the importance of sustainability and stewardship of the earth by learning about and observing firsthand the natural cycles of growth, as well as the ecological implications of our choices; and
- Building connections and community—not only between SSFS students and staff and the land, but also between SSFS community members and those beyond the School’s borders, through the reciprocal sharing of harvests, and ideas.
At SSFS, we have a great opportunity to teach our students about all the aspects of proper soil management. Every student takes part in it every day when they toss food scraps into the compost bin in the cafeteria during lunch. We are able to draw a through line through each division so that as students grow up, they get more and more in-depth knowledge regarding the life cycle of a farm and the soil below it. Ideally, by the time an SSFS student graduates, they will have had the chance to start seeds, work with the compost, plant crops, harvest crops, and eat them as well--both at the moment of harvest and in the dining hall. All of this starts and ends with a variety of regenerative agricultural practices practiced on the SSFS Community Farm. For this post, I’ll focus on our soil management. (For more information about why soil matters, check out this post.)
Typically, we think of farmers growing and managing crops. But I’d like to argue that farmers should grow and manage both crops and soil. Farmers that make soil a priority typically have a much lower input cost and often a higher yield, as well as a more resilient crop. Here at the SSFS Farm, we consider the soil a top priority. We want to make sure that our students’ baseline understanding of farming is rooted in regenerative agricultural practices that can have a massive impact on the world that we live in, as well as the food we all eat.