We are living in a time on our planet where dreamers and thinkers need to create a new model to teach the next generation an urgency for protecting our planet and its natural resources. But first we must acknowledge and accept that we are not doing a great job taking care of this planet and its creatures, including ourselves. We aren't eating right, getting enough exercise outdoors and hardly have time to recreate, to rest, to read, dream or think about new ways to live as a species after a very difficult year on this planet. How to begin? What can I do to change this? What are my gifts? How can I use my creativity and privilege to respond to our current challenges in modern society? This is more like an essay I've been needing to write than a philosophy, but this is my inspiration for Little Wings from start to finish. Settle in with a cup of tea and read on!
We need to forge vital connections to the natural world to inspire children to make choices to better support our planet and its inhabitants and to ensure that clean air, clean water and clean food will be a priority and a right for us all in the future.
There has never been a more pressing time to protect farms, forests, natural habitat and open space. Our land, water, atmosphere and bodies are being contaminated on a daily basis by the current agricultural and industrial systems our civilization has invented. It can't and won't work for future generations without a long lasting negative impact on our health and happiness and this one and only planet we call home.
We need to come back to our beginnings. Humans first gathered and then grew their own food for their immediate needs and the needs of their family and tribe. We lived in relative harmony with the land, taking only what we needed and utilizing restorative agricultural practices that kept things in balance. It was farming that allowed our civilizations to settle in one place and form the first communities. Without farming, we are nomads, hunting and gathering what we need to survive the seasons. Since our early days as farmers, a lot has changed. But our communities are starting to realize how important it is to have a healthy farming tradition. Food is so very perishable, we need to be reminded to rely on and support a more local foodshed where food travels far less from farm to plate, is grown organically and is grown without destruction or degradation of the environment or our bodies. Food does not come from the supermarket. Food starts as the simple act of planting a seed by a farmer with the knowledge of how to tend it. If food is so basic to our species and the very reason we are all involved in agriculture, then why are farmers struggling so much? Why is it so very difficult to make a living wage as a farmer?
According to the Farm Bureau, the population of the world is going to go up by 2.2 billion by 2050. That means the worlds' farmers need to grow 70% more food than we are currently growing to feed ourselves. We need to carefully choose the right path to take in agriculture to feed many more people while minimizing the destruction of our planet. According to the World Resources Institute, agriculture generates 25% of annual greenhouse gas emissions. Factory farming is a major contributor to global warming. According to a Bloomburg study, roughly 41% of the U.S.- over 800 million acres- is used to feed cattle and livestock. The large scale farming of protein has continued to cause irreversible affects on our land, water and planet. As we have all witnessed, global warming causes extreme weather. The United State Department of Agriculture estimates extreme weather is the cause of 90% of the crop losses in the U.S. now. So you see, there are simple changes and choices we can make now to remedy this. There is more to farming than just mass production of a commodity. HOW we do it will make or break us. What we eat and who we support with our food dollars could mean the difference between a contaminated world full of catastrophe or a pleasant world where everyone is safe and fed.
We live in a time when ALL CAN BE FED, yet we still cope with food insecurity all over the world. Americans also currently throw away 25% of the food we bring home each month. Food waste results in methane gas exiting our landfills. Up to 10% of our annual emissions are caused by food waste. Three things we CAN do immediately: 1. Reduce the amount of livestock on the planet by transitioning to a more plant-based diet where we grow vegetables to feed people, not commodity crops to feed livestock. 2. Teach restorative and regenerative agricultural practices. 3. Decrease foodwaste. If we learn to value our local farmers and to eat what they can grow in season, decreasing food transportation miles, we will be on our way to solving the looming food shortage crises we are about to face.
Our children don't have the luxury of another century to work things out. The biggest challenges to our civilization are here, NOW.
So how do we make sure farmers will keep farming and people will keep supporting them? It won't be easy. Family farmers are almost extinct. Farmers and ranchers make up just 1.3% of the American workforce. It is incredible difficult work that does not pay a living wage for many farmers. Every day 2,000 acres of agricultural land are paved over, fragmented, or converted to uses that jeopardize farming. According to the American Farmland Trust, in the next 15 years, one-third of America’s farmland and ranchland will likely change hands, as current landowners age and sell. The land is most at risk of being converted to a non-agricultural use when it is sold. In Saratoga County, a lot has changed from the year 1910 to 2012. The number of farms has decreased from 3,611 to 583, as well as the amount of farmland, which has decreased from 392,200 acres to 78,849 acres. Along with the loss of farmers and their land is the loss of knowledge that has been passed down from generation to generation- creating a situation where many young farmers have to begin at the beginning to educate themselves from scratch. Currently, 25% of farmers are beginning farmers- in business less than 10 years. We need to inspire and teach the next generation of young farmers before this knowledge is lost. Farming brings about a deep connection with earth, home, place, and community. What can we do to love our farmers, keep them here in Saratoga County and assure they make a living wage?
Little Wings Farm Preschool is an attempt to find a way to engage, enrich and educate children about local, small-scale agriculture. It will be a classroom that never looks the same twice, but has a flow and a rhythm that comes with changes in the season. We aim to teach students to be stewards of the land by immersing them in farm and forest life, allowing them to form deep relationships with a handful of local farmers, to live, grow and learn alongside many friendly local farmers. Many adults do not really know where their food comes from or why we must preserve and protect vital farmland, natural habitats, waterways, and foodsheds in our communities. The next generation is running out of time. In the words of environmental activist Greta Thurnberg, "You are never too small to make a difference." We want to raise a little army of planet protectors ready for the enormous fight ahead.
Some deep lessons at the core of Little Wings revolve around environmentalism, but also restoring pride in farming. It is beautiful, valuable and honorable work. It makes you feel proud to pull a carrot from the earth that began as a little seed and even prouder to then feed your family that tasty carrot. The children will fully participate in or observe all aspects of farming. These real life experiences and "chores" will give them a sense of purpose in a world where many seek just that. Their many chores are seasonal and ever changing to provide all the finger, hand and arm strength they will need for kindergarten writing readiness. Farming requires muscle, but also dexterity for seeding, sorting, plucking, cutting, peeling and harvesting. Life on a farm is just what children need to acquire the physical health, strength and motor control they need for kindergarten and beyond.
Little Winglets will also become at home in the forest through freeplay, hikes, habitat walks, exploring the wetlands, searching under logs, identifying plants, trees and mushrooms, finding tracks in the mud and snow, and finding time to be still each day during a brief meditation to try to quiet their bodies and minds. The program incorporates specific themes rooted in science and social studies through a fantastic set of children's literature and teacher-made materials- butterflies, tadpoles, acorns, fossil fuels, adventurers, peacemakers, states of matter, the animal and plant kingdom, emotions, solving problems, and the seasons etc.... so many glorious themes. An amazing picture book will be featured for daily storytime in the forest with a cup of tea and a snack. Other areas of study include crafting with paper, wool, wood and clay, finding and eating wild edibles, fire building, tracking, shelter building, sensory awareness, wildlife identification, singing, movement, yoga, drawing, painting, journal writing, bushcraft, natural dyeing, indoor and outdoor cooking, scavenger hunts, storytelling, special guests, dancing, singing, and an end of year community pot luck as they are ready to leave the nest.
Throughout our day, we will learn about our letters and phonics through a modified Pre-K FUNdations curriculum utilizing our trail and trees. We will use the Wild Math curriculum to practice our early math skills while going about our play. Everything New York State considers important in their Early Learning Guidelines can be easily incorporated into outdoor learning environments. We are very familiar with the Pre-K state standards, but wary of teaching to the standards. The outdoor curriculum can easily be adapted to add activities in concepts of print, literacy, number sense, gross motor prowess, positive approaches to learning and cognitive growth through science, social studies and art.
We are mindful of Leave No Trace ethics and the children will be familiar with all 7 major tenets. We want children to see untouched forest habitats, to explore and then leave it as we found it. We do not want to repeatedly trample our forest environment. Even though the children are small, lots of activity will change our forest over time. To reduce our impact on our world we will try to roam and scatter our use, reuse, reduce and recycle all that we can, to live with as little a footprint as possible, to use renewable energy, to compost, and try not to waste. This is how we model a way to live our best lives.
When we have extra produce, we will share what we have with those who don't have, to be a part of a community which thrives upon a sense of shared responsibility to care for one another by donating to our local Food Pantry or participating in Little Wings Free Farm Stand days where we will offer the children a chance to stand behind a tiny farm stand and give away what they grow for free to people who may need it. This should pave the way for future service oriented projects that are child led.
Through a series of monthly field trips to local farms to see what other farmers do best we will learn to appreciate and create life long relationships with the farmers in our community. All this farming knowledge may help convince just one Little Winglet to try their hand at farming when they are big! Or at least to shop at a Farmer's Market or join a CSA. All of this will create a community and sense of belonging for Little Wings families.
Little Wings will gladly begin collecting donations to provide scholarships to families who cannot afford this model for their child. It is important for the teachers and farmers to earn a living wage, but also for students to come together from all backgrounds. We are determined to offer a place where All are Welcome. For this reason, we are trying to figure out a way to work with families who cannot pay full price. Consider donating to our Scholarship Fund if you find our work compelling. We also welcome students with IEP's on a case by case basis. Though the day is short, we welcome service providers who may want to brave the outdoors to provide therapy to your child. We also consider it our mission and duty to refer children who may qualify to receive free Special Education services through the Saratoga Springs City School District and to provide a therapeutic environment to children who may have struggled with other settings. The outdoor classroom can nourish us all.
Offering a child an opportunity to learn in a "farm and forest" classroom offers them daily: movement, exercise, fresh air, purpose, responsibility, freedom, peace, inspiration, a sense of awe and importance, and practical knowledge. On Wing Road Farm, play is the most honored past time. There is plenty of time to work in life. Play is the work of young children. But teachers have the very important responsibility to make sure that our materials are presented purposefully and are enriching. In this way, we as teachers are free to be creative and joyful to procure curriculum that is spontaneous and meets the interests and needs of the students as they come forth. This makes teaching so much more rewarding.