6 Forward-Thinking Groups Using Farming In Education

With climate change and global economic restructuring threatening supply chains and the whole system of commodity food production, agricultural education has become more important than ever. Most schools, however, are not equipped to teach the basics of farming. Fortunately, a number of independent programs have emerged to provide both children and adults with instruction to begin harvesting their own food and tending to the land. In no particular order, this list shares groups combining pedagogy and the cultivation of crops.

The #1 entry is GrowNYC, which pursues the mission of improving New York City's quality of life through environmental programs, and transforming communities and empowering New Yorkers to secure a clean and healthy environment for future generations. Founded in 1970 with a primary focus on policy, it has shifted to emphasize farmers' markets, recycling, gardening, and education.

The group's educational initiatives include the Teaching Garden at Governors Island, a one-acre urban farm where kids can learn new skills, and Grow to Learn, which facilitates gardening programs in public schools. Learn It Grow It Eat It is a youth development and outreach program that improves food access and health awareness among residents of the South Bronx.

#2 is Shelburne Farms. It is a non-profit organization that strives to inspire and cultivate learning for a sustainable future. To that end, it educates students on a campus made up of a 1,400-acre working farm, forest, and National Historic Landmark on Abenaki land, located just outside Burlington, Vermont.

For adults, the organization offers year-round programs on farming, natural resources, historic preservation, and more. There are also a variety of initiatives for educators and students. Efforts like The Place Program and Vermont Feed, both undertaken with larger institutions, are designed to serve the local community.

Coming in at #3, The Food Literacy Project provides farm-based experiential education and entrepreneurial youth development programs that bring the Field-to-Fork experience to life in Louisville, Kentucky. Originating with a pilot program in 2005, the group maintains two active plots: Oxmoor Farm and an eight-acre urban vegetable growing operation.

The Project's education programs invite neighbors and community members of all ages to get their hands dirty, taste new foods fresh from the field, and get involved in the work of their community food system and a working farm. The group also maintains a mobile educational garden that travels to schools, farmers' markets, fairs, and festivals.

Up next at #4, NY Sun Works is a non-profit organization that builds innovative science labs in urban schools. Its Greenhouse Project Initiative uses hydroponic farming technology to educate students and teachers about the science of sustainability. The group's mission is to nurture a generation of environmental innovators empowered to create solutions to global resource challenges.

Sun Works' Greenhouse Classroom Labs offer students the opportunity to grow their own food. They also provide hands-on learning about topics such as nutrition, water resource management, efficient land use, climate change, biodiversity, conservation, contamination, pollution, waste management, and sustainable development.

The #5 spot is held by EarthDance, a teaching farm sharing the craft and science of organic farming with people from all walks of life. The organization's fourteen-acre space provides a model of sustainable food production used, through its Organic Farm School programs, to cultivate food leaders alongside abundant fresh produce.

Located in Ferguson, Missouri, the group's organic farm is the oldest of its kind west of the Mississippi River. The Farm & Garden Apprenticeship offers an education in organic gardening, market farming, and applied permaculture. Youth programs are designed to connect young people to the natural world, healthy eating, and the cultivation of produce.

Closing out our list at #6, Hidden Villa is an educational nonprofit occupying over 1,600 acres of open space in the foothills of California's Santa Cruz mountains. It provides experiential education and responsible agriculture programs, and opens up its organic farm and gardens to school groups, summer campers, family gatherings, corporate volunteers, and individual visitors.

In the 1920s, Hidden Villa founders Frank and Josephine Duveneck offered up their property as a gathering place for discussion, reflection, and the incubation of social reform. Today, the staff of educators uses the institution's array of programs as a means to reinforce values of inclusion, diversity, understanding, and respect, and to create allies and advocates for a just and sustainable future.