Farm-Fresh Learning

by Jenny Enslen Stubbs

When you hear words like passive solar heating system, geothermal lines and electralock, you might envision a state-of-the-art facility connected to some multi-million dollar energy company. But, instead, these are all sustainability components of a school dedicated to teaching kids how to farm – the McDowell Farm School at Camp McDowell in Northwest Alabama. And forget walls. Its classrooms are made of farmland, coops, barns, a pottery studio and a teaching kitchen.


When Ali Papp became the program director at McDowell Farm School, she knew it would be a timely process to get the school where it needed to go. “But I always enjoyed doing something new.” And while farming is nothing new to Alabama, employing mostly sustainable practices, like compost heat and solar energy, is.

LEAN-FarmFreshLearning-pic1When nearby Camp McDowell started in 1948, people instrumental in the creation of the camp knew its waterfalls, canyons, beautiful streams and acres of beauty, all adjacent to the Bankhead National Forest, would inspire children to better appreciate the world and its ecosystems. And environmental education is something the Camp has taught effectively, successfully improving the perspective of thousands of Alabama schoolchildren in the process.

And now that the camp has that part of it down pat, its McDowell Farm School is a way for children to better appreciate the land, the animals and the food that comes from it. And because the children who visit learn first-hand where the food comes from, how to create an actual food system by caring for farm animals and cooking more healthily, their minds are forever changed for the better. Which is really what school is supposed to do, right? Not only teach you knowledge, but also teach you how to implement it into your life in a very practical way, teaching responsibility and, in the process, self-respect.

LEAN-FarmFreshLearning-pic2The Farm School’s family farm-to-table philosophy is demonstrated in many ways, including four core classes:

  1. Plant It Earth: This class uses a seasonal focus.
  2. Farm Fauna: Animals on the farm are a very large part of the school’s curriculum.
  3. Farm to Table: Instead of picking a recipe and buying the ingredients, this class teaches children how to pick dishes based on what food is in season.
  4. Farming to Food: Every animal has a function.

Although children only visit the school for a short time, learning about the land, what it provides and what that connection to us means is a lesson of a lifetime.

Check out this short video to learn even more about this innovative program.