Harpswell home-schoolers reap science from farm life

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HARPSWELL — In Joe Grady’s science class, feeding the turkeys is much more than just a farm chore.

As six home-schooled students pulled wagons of feed and dragged fences through the field at Two Coves Farm, where Grady and his wife, Laura, grow organic vegetables and raise livestock, he prompted them to think about what they were doing.

The answer – distributing the manure adds nutrients to the soil – led to a discussion about soil formation and decomposition.

Experiences like these form the core of Grady’s farm science class, called “Nature’s Design on the Farm.” This is the first time Grady, a former high school science teacher, has offered the class, which integrates his family’s work on the farm with a science curriculum tailored to 8- to 13-year-olds.

His goal is that his students, who include his two daughters, gain a better understanding of where food comes from and the science behind growing what they eat, as well as learning about farming.

“Kids are not nearly connected enough to what happens on a farm,” he said.

Grady also wanted to make learning more physical and interactive.

“The need to sit down and be quiet all day is brutal,” he said, especially for boys. Grady believes that education centered around doing activities is not only better for many students, but is more realistic than shuffling between classrooms inside a school building.

“What we want to provide our kids, more than anything else, is that knowledge and understanding of what life is like day to day,” he said. “School in general is not realistic in a lot of ways.”

Every Monday and Wednesday, a group of students from Harpswell and surrounding towns spend most of the day at Two Coves Farm learning how farm life works. They care for animals, make compost, and use tools, while also studying ecology, physics and chemistry.

The blurring of the lines between work, school and play is what makes the class so appealing to students and parents.

When asked if they enjoyed Grady’s class, the six students who attended on Monday were quick to answer with a resounding yes.

“It feels like having fun, it doesn’t really feel like school,” said 13-year old Nick Comey, of Harpswell.

“We get to be outside a lot and we spend time with animals,” said Yvette Grady, 10, Joe Grady’s daughter.

Parent Elizabeth Davis, whose 10-year old daughter Rose participates in the class, is equally thrilled.

“This morning (Rose) was shoveling cow manure,” she said. “That’s fabulous. And she really gets what’s going on with cow manure and why it makes the soil rich when it goes into the earth.”

After feeding the turkeys during Monday’s class, the students walked back up the hill to the wood shop to learn about worms and the role they play in decomposition.

They assembled wooden boxes to hold worms and compost, and as they took turns hammering and holding the wood, Grady moved between the pairs, straightening bent nails and wiggling the pieces into place. Then they rooted through the compost for worms.

Although the class ends next week, Grady hopes to offer it again in the spring, and eventually to take his programming on the road to local schools.

“Part of it is bringing kids here and working, but part of it is bringing a little taste of what we do into schools,” he said. “That’s a niche that needs filling.”

Emily Guerin can be reached at 781-3661 ext.123 or eguerin@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @guerinemily.

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Muriel Grady, 8, Nick Comey, 13, both of Harpswell, and Drew Walden, 8, of Bath, move turkeys from one pasture to another during a farm science class at Two Coves Farm in Harpswell.

Joe Grady, who teaches a farm science class in Harpswell for homeschooled students, holds togther a box that Drew Walden, 8, of Bath, is making to hold compost and worms. Nick Comey, 13, of Harpswell, looks on.

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