Unit 3 – Unique contribution of organic farms

Can organic farms contribute to integration of refugee children?

On farms where the farmers open their farm and become engaged in working with children and youngsters, refugee children can also find an opportunity to rediscover some familiar elements from their mother country and perhaps demonstrate their skills and knowledge. One farmer told how to small boys among a class waved him over as they were brushing the cows. “Are they cows from Pakistan?”, they asked. He thought a moment about his rare breed of Norwegian cows with white hides and said, “Yes they are.” A girl from Somalia discovered familiar plants in the farm garden and used the plants to make food for her new classmates. An adult refugee from Syria who himself was given the opportunity to work on a farm as a part of language training soon took his children with him and sang as he worked.

The work tasks on the farm provide an opportunity to be seen in another way, to make contact inspite of language barriers, but also to achieve language skills. Just as the practical work inspires youngsters to write and tell about what they have done on the farm in their mother tongue, the refugee children also want to communicate in the language of the country they have come to. Learning words through sensory experience and achieving visible results is an important stimulus for language training.

Some of the young refugees, especially those who come alone without their families, have never been to school. Not only the language, but the whole idea of learning sitting still on a school bench, is foreign for them. There are examples of projects with farm work where the chance to contribute in a meaningful and visible way serves as a bridge to a new country and a new way of life.  

What is the unique contribution of learning on organic farms to vital questions of global concern?

Since the 1960s when Rachel Carson published her concern for the environment in the book “Silent Spring”, the idea of human beings as a destructive force in nature has become almost an axiom. We have learned, and as teachers, taught, about pollution in the air, in the rivers and oceans and arrived at the global climate crisis around the turn of the century. At the same time, it is widely documented that children and youth spend much less time in nature. George Monbiot, an English writer and columnist for The Guardian, calls this the second environmental crisis. We protect what we hold dear. How can children get access to a caring relationship to nature?

Organic farms offer a unique chance to have near and significant contact with nature. We need positive experiences of human care in nature such as these farms can offer. Human beings are certainly responsible for many natural disasters, but mankind has also created the cultivated and varied landscapes, the fruitful gardens filled with cultivated plants, the swaying fields of grain as well as our livestock and animal companions. Let children get to know and appreciate the positive potential for partnership with nature in organic farming. Connection to these farms can give comfort, joy, and hope for the future. It can contribute to reviving faith in the future. Martin Luther is quoted as saying, “if I knew the world would perish tomorrow, I would still plant an apple tree today”. The opportunity to contribute on an organic farm offers a unique chance to experience the joy of working with nature, on nature’s premises. Is this not the foundation for education for sustainability?

This guide is comprised of six modules. In the next module, Part 2, you may read about how to prepare visits to organic farms. Examples of types of activities and tasks that promote learning are in Part 3. Part 4 takes up the integration of refugee youth through farm visits and Part 5 deals with promoting farm visits. The last module, Part 6, airs experience and ideas around financing the visits to the farm.

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