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Farm-based educators gather at Shelburne Farms to share inspiring and innovative education practices

SHELBURNE A shared interest in teaching children about their connection to the land, to agriculture and to the environment brought almost 200 educators to Shelburne Farms last week for a three-day symposium on farm-based education. Participants came from farm-based education organizations in 20 states, as far away as New Jersey and Ohio, to find new ways to be inspiring and innovative in their farm-based education practices. Shelburne Farms, the pioneer and trail blazer for farm-based education, hosted the program of workshops, field trips, networking, inspiring success stories, entertainment and outstanding keynote speakers, co-sponsored by the one-year-old Farm-Based Education Association. The symposium was a large-scale effort to build a community of support and resources for those involved in managing or teaching in farm-based programs. The objective of the symposium, according to Brooke Redmond, Executive Director of the FBEA, was to give farm based educators a professional education experience, finding new ways to be inspiring and innovative in their farm-based education practice, as well as to make connections and network. This was a chance for individuals to meet members of their community, people to reach out to when they arent together, to find resources when they are back to their work lives, said Redmond. It was also a chance to introduce the FBEA to the public and to educators who might not have heard of it, but would like to join. Field trips took participants to visit some of Vermonts unique examples of agriculture and education at the Intervale, in the Champlain Islands, at FoodWorks Farm in Montpelier, at Billings Farm and Museum and Spring Brook Farm, as well as visiting several programs on Shelburne Farms. Forty-three workshops offered presentations on the fine points of developing educational programs, building curriculum, designing exhibits and collateral material, how to engage teens in farm work, program evaluation, marketing, publicity and community relations, fundraising, public access, bringing local food into the school cafeteria, recruiting and retaining volunteers, and many more. Linda Wellings, Director of Shelburne Farms Education Programs, led a workshop entitled The Farm: A Perfect Classroom. FBEAs Redmond said, People were excited and impressed with what the symposium planning team had put together and how quickly this start up organization was able to glean the interests and win the involvement of this community with its impressive program of workshops and keynote speakers. People came with hypothetical baskets and cherry-picked information that they might not even have known were vital for their organizations things like having a human resources manual, or a policy for accommodating people with handicapping conditions. They went home with tools and resources not least of which is knowing there are friendly people as close as the telephone. This is especially important as so many farm based education organizations work in isolation. The symposium has shown that there are people thinking the same thoughts, sharing the same problems, part of the same community. Megan Camp, Vice President and Program Director of Shelburne Farms, said organizers were very pleased with the participation and the momentum being seen in the farm-based education movement. We would never have imagined 25 years ago that we would see so many farm-based education programs all over the country, she said. It is apparent that communities are recognizing the value of fostering the connection to the land and farms. FBEA, founded 18 months ago, is dedicated to providing start up programs for new farm-based education programs, and support resources. It is a chance to share our learning with our peers, focusing on common goals, said Camp. We needed an alliance to support our community where we can share best practices. Keynote speaker Peter Forbes, photographer, writer, conservationist and farmer, who with his wife Helen Whybrow, live in Fayston where their Center for Whole Communities is devoted to exploring and deepening the connections between land, people and community. He described the FBEA as an antidote to the loss of connection to a sense of Place. He said todays focus on commercialization has created a disconnect from the natural world. He challenged the educators to provide a road map out of the mess were in. He said, Young people come to see you on your farms, working and living. You can connect people to the land they love as the first step to connectng to one another.

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