By Caroline Schomp
For many urban kids, the closest they get to a farm is visiting a pumpkin patch. A visit to Ekar Farm, tucked onto two acres at 181 S. Oneida St. in Lowry, is a chance …
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By Caroline Schomp
For many urban kids, the closest they get to a farm is visiting a pumpkin patch. A visit to Ekar Farm, tucked onto two acres at 181 S. Oneida St. in Lowry, is a chance to do some real farm work.
Seventh and eighth graders from the International School of Denver trooped off their school bus a few days ago not knowing what to expect. Dressed in powder-blue polo shirts, they didn’t look much like farm hands.
Their visit had multiple purposes. The seventh graders were studying soil in their earth science class. The eighth graders had read Animal Farm and were here for a taste of real farm life. Both classes planned to perform community service by helping to get the farm ready for cold weather.
Ekar Farm changes gears in late fall and early winter from production to education. Here in a file photo students help with spring planting. Ekar is this year seeking to expand its educational offerings. Photo courtesy Ekar Farm.
Ekar Farm is one of the largest urban farms in the country, according to Executive Director Aaron Ney. In its seventh season it provided more than 16,000 lbs. of organic produce to local nonprofit organizations, including Jewish Family Services and Metro Caring. It grows more than 100 different varieties of produce, tended mostly by volunteers, including families who are welcomed every week during the seven-month growing season with “Days in the Dirt.”
“We’re alleviating and addressing hunger on an immediate front,” said Ney. “By involving families we hope to influence the future. One in five Coloradans face food insecurity—they miss at least one meal a day.”
The food grown here is distributed within a three-mile radius of its source and within two days of harvesting.
As demonstrated on the day of the students’ visit, Ekar Farm also is an active learning laboratory. The seventh graders grouped at tables under a canopy with Ekar’s Lead Educator Margot Sands. Each table contained cups filled with liquids. Sands started by asking the class some fundamental questions: “What is urban? What is organic? What is soil? What’s in it?”
“It’s natural.” “No GMOs.” “It’s everywhere.” “It’s dirt,” the students threw out.
They went out to the field to collect soil samples. When they reassembled, Sands led an experiment to mix soil with vinegar and cabbage water, which illustrated why different soils were appropriate for different kinds of crops and how soil could be amended with various natural ingredients. More than a few hands got muddy in the process.
Then it was off to the greenhouses to harvest a late crop of sweet potatoes. The greenhouses would be sealed up for the winter after they were done.
“This is so far down I can’t reach it,” hollered one student. “Is this a weed?” asked another. There were plenty of shrieks as spiders and worms surfaced.
Teacher Jake Otto tried to make himself heard above the fun, asking, “Did you notice the quality of the soil?”
While the seventh graders learned about soil, the eighth graders took a look at Ekar Farm’s composting bins, repurposed from old refrigerators. Ney showed them the farm’s beehives, asking why bees are important to crop production and explaining how bees produce honey. The kids were skittish watching the bees fly in and out of the hives, nervously waving their hands in the air, not really believing Ney’s promise that if they were calm they wouldn’t be stung.
While the seventh graders dug into sweet potatoes, half the eighth graders prepared to shovel and spread crushed rock onto some landscape fabric they’d laid down. Director of Farm Operations Jason Plotkin handed out rakes and shovels from the tool shed, while teacher Lois Holtz inquired, “Which one of you is Boxer?” (an Animal Farm character).
One of the shovelers neatly summed up his work: “Oh, my back!” Holtz just smiled and said she thought that the day had been the successful learning experience she’d planned.
Once the students were back on their bus and rolling out of the parking lot, Plotkin explained that the shoveling and raking served a definite purpose. “They learn how to work together. Also, it’s too common you get kids who’ve never used a hand tool before!”
“We could produce more here if we were just focused on production,” Ney said, but teaching about where food comes from is equally important.
Although Ekar Farm is buttoned up for the winter, Ney and his colleagues will spend the downtime taking their message to classrooms throughout the city. They’ll be growing again—and receiving busloads of students—next March.
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