Sustainability Education: Self Reliance through Interdependence

Daniel Hutchinson

There is new life springing forth from two essential but beleaguered systems: education and agriculture. Farm-to-school, edible classroom, service learning, place-based curriculum and ecological education are among the concepts brought to life in a quiet renaissance within some of our nation’s more progressive educational institutions. Ultimately, these radical reforms are nothing new. They are simply a reaffirmation of what humans have engaged in over the eons. And on one mountainside in northern New Mexico, children at the Sangre de Cristo Youth Ranch (SCYR) are learning their place in nature’s community.

At its core, education is the genuine exchange of information vital for survival in a changing environment. With the increasing complexity of civilization, the traditional values of learning for a clear purpose within a supportive community have largely been lost in a sea of trivia and abstraction. Many institutions are poorly structured to nurture total human development. Many students flounder in our schools.

Agriculture is similarly convoluted. Consumers are estranged from the natural systems that support our food web and livelihoods. Farmers are beholden to the financial bottom line. The result is a systemic and perilous lack of accountability.

Since its founding by retired heart surgeon Dr. Bud Wilson and his wife Barb in 1985, the SCYR Summer Camp has empowered youth to take an active role in stewardship. Children from all over the world have worked and lived together at the camp free of charge in a small self-reliant community. “We started the camp for children who would not be able to go to camp otherwise,” said Dr. Wilson. “The kids have come from all socioeconomic situations. That diversity is very important for the program; they all have equal status.”

Many exceptional schools and dedicated teachers have developed programs to connect children with food in ways that promote physical and emotional health, demonstrate academic concepts, and instill a sense of stewardship. “These efforts are vital to our future,” says camp director Daniel Hutchison. “However, most programs can only involve small gardens in schoolyards or field trips to neighboring farms. At the SCYR, children are real farmers.”

Lama Community Farm

Started in 2007 by middle school students at Roots and Wings Community School (a public charter school within the Questa Independent School District) and summer campers at the SCYR, the Lama Community Farm CSA, with its farmers young and old, includes two acres of intensive vegetables, a large orchard, and a 1,000-sq./ft. tomato house. The farm feeds students, summer campers, an art center, neighbor shareholders, and customers from the Taos area.

In a uniquely symbiotic relationship, Roots and Wings students and community members plant the farm in the spring, campers at the Youth Ranch summer camp care for the crops all summer, and the school returns to harvest during the fall semester. Campers prepare meals with the pick of the day and tend a bustling booth at the Taos Farmers’ Market. Harvesting, food preparation are part of the school’s curriculum. Students bring shares home for the family table.

The 700-acre ranch is a comprehensive outdoor education facility. Children create projects that have a real impact on their community. The ranch is an outdoor classroom for Roots and Wings Community School (an innovative public charter middle school based on Expeditionary Learning, a nationally acclaimed school reform model) along with other area public schools. Curriculum is integrated into hands-on learning during school day, after school, and through multi-day immersions. SCYR is also home to local producer cooperatives, the Herekeke Art and Sustainable Design Center, and other charitable programs of Localogy, a public charity focused on revitalizing local communities.

Children on the ranch engage in the full spectrum of agricultural production. Practices are a mix of traditional and innovative. Participants grow greenhouse crops, grains, berries, fruit, hay and cover crops. They milk goats, market vegetables, and work with Fjord draft horses, yak, Navajo-Churro sheep, heritage turkeys and chickens. Water is from an acequia.

In order to sustain and expand the program, the Sangre de Cristo Youth Ranch will hold a fundraiser on June 4th at the Dragonfly Café in Taos. Guests will be served a five-course dinner featuring produce grown by kids on the ranch.

For more information, call 575.613-6808, email info@localogy.org or visit www.localogy.org

Daniel Hutchison is executive director of Localogy and camp director at the Sangre de Cristo Youth Ranch. He lives in Lama, NM