Learning about Ecology and Community with Farmer Rhonda
Here we are. Spring has arrived like a fresh start, filled with the promise of abundance. Baby chicks scamper about, plants are blooming, bees are pollinating, and it seems everywhere you go there are neighbors working in their gardens, tilling soil, starting seeds, and planting. It makes me excited, really excited, which is why I had to go on my daughter’s recent field trip to this amazing farm. I squeeze in with my camera, snapping shots, taking notes, and trying not to squish kids out of my way.
We’re fortunate to have some fantastic farmers here on the island because not only do they share their produce, they share their time and wisdom with our children. One of them who gives so generously to the classrooms in our public school is Rhonda Barbieri, owner of La Campesina Project. Most of the time you’ll find her working on her farm or at the farmer’s market selling her produce, but she’s also a regular visitor to the school. Last fall we harvested seeds with her and just recently she invited two classrooms to her farm for a tour. There were thirty-six kids in total, all 2nd and 3rd graders, and, wow, were they excited.
Rhonda waits, with her dog Rudy Blue, as we begin to tumble out of the bus and I’m pretty sure I can see the whites of their eyes. There’s so many kids! Some of them hug her and others, including myself, look around the farm in awe. It’s a lot of energy but the kids love the farm and they love Rhonda.
This is where I need to point out that Rhonda has a gift. Not just for growing plants but in her beautiful way of explaining ecology. It’s more like listening to poetry, really. She leads us to the coop. “Animals grow plants and plants grow animals,” she says, in explaining the connectedness of ecology.
The kids watch the chickens, my favorite part, and learn how chicken manure is an organic fertilizer for plants, helping to feed them, and in return those plants provide food for the chickens. “The chickens are a community in themselves,” says Rhonda. “They take care of each other. Roosters look out for hawks and other predators while hens lay eggs.”
“The bees are a community, too,” Rhonda adds, moving toward the bee boxes. A swarm, along with a with a queen, will leave the nest and set up a new hive in the trees to help the odds of the hives survival, which is sadly getting more and more difficult for honey bees. “Gardens need to coexist with the larger ecology and bees are really important to the ecology of the world.”
We pass the pond and she explains how everyone in the valley shares the same water. We discover that she uses solar power to run the pump, which pushes the water up the hill and is used to water the farm with the most minimal amount of impact to the earth.
We see seedlings growing in the greenhouse.
We take time to eat an apple and sketch the chickens.
We plant sunflower seeds in containers made from newspaper! I’m pretty sure my daughter is the dirtiest kid in the bunch.
On the bus ride home, I reflect on the idea of community. How we don’t always realize they’re there, we take them for granted, we forget the ways in which we make a difference in them but then… something happens. Loved ones die, events change, people move, and suddenly our eyes are forced opened, again. We see ourselves, not as a singular entity but as a part of a larger unit, one that relies on the unique abilities of each individual. Sure, we may feel our roles are small but they’re important and they make a difference. Sometimes in bigger ways than we could ever imagine. I think when we see ourselves as all connected, we find friends we never knew we had.
Thank you Rhonda for sharing your farm, your time, and your wisdom!