Lessons in Farm-to-Table Education from Scandinavia

Lessons in Farm-to-Table Education from Scandinavia

AGC’s Innovation Fund offers educators the opportunity to develop innovative learning practices through travel, study, and pilot programs. AGC’s Sustainability Coordinator received an Innovation Fund grant to study  farm and culinary education in Oslo, Aurland, and Copenhagen.  Click here to make a donation to support AGC’s Innovation Fund.

Farming and Cooking in Scandinavian Education 

My name is Marney Coleman and I am the Sustainability Coordinator at the Academy for Global Citizenship (AGC). In this capacity I work to embed sustainability into our school curriculum, culture and operations. One of my favorite parts of my job is engaging students in our school garden and cooking activities. As part of our work to develop a model sustainable Learning Hub on Chicago’s Southwest side, we are conducting increasingly in-depth visioning for the future of garden education and the role of student programming in an on-campus production farm. I am incredibly excited about the plethora of possibilities that exist around deepening student engagement in the agricultural components of this future campus.

This fall, I had the privilege to travel to Denmark and Norway to study best practices in student-centered agricultural and culinary programs. This research trip was made possible by a grant from AGC’s Innovation Fund, which exists to support AGC educators in collecting and developing best practices in global learning. 

I visited three different organizations during my time abroad: Haver til Maver (Copenhagen, Denmark), Geitmyra (Oslo, Norway), and Sogn Jord- og Hagebruksskule (Aurland, Norway.) During these excursions, I was able to observe and participate in a diversity of programming, including a 5th grade cooking and gardening class, a Kindergarten gardening class, a multi-aged special education cooking class, and a farming course for young adult learners. Each visit provided insights and inspiration that expanded my thinking on the possibilities within agricultural and culinary education.

My learning can be best distilled into three major takeaways: 

Lesson #1: Students must allowed to take managed risks, with clear expectations.

Cooking Haver til Maver
Haver til Maver students making soup.

 

 

This was a theme at all three organizations I visited. I was impressed to see students of various ages starting campfires independently after watching a demonstration, chopping veggies unassisted, and washing veggies outside on a cold and rainy day. What I learned from observing how my hosts approached these activities is that when students are allowed to take managed risks, they become more comfortable with the outdoors and culinary skills. 

This was especially apparent in Haver til Maver’s approach to incorporating outdoor exploration as part of their school visit model. Haver til Maver is an educational organization working within 40 local schools gardens in Denmark. In their own words: “children sow, grow, cultivate and harvest their own vegetables… Afterwards they cook their vegetables in the outdoor kitchen and turn their vegetables into a healthy and tasteful meal.” I was lucky enough to be able to participate in this farm-to-table approach with a group of inquisitive 5th graders at one of Haver til Maver’s sites in Copenhagen. The learning garden I visited was located on the grounds of an old castle!

In between their cooking and gardening sessions, students were able to engage in free nature-play in and around the garden. I was amazed to see how familiar the students were with this beautiful space that they visit several times a year. Students showed me their favorite climbing trees, where to find the best plums, their favorite places to look for birds, and how to play on the outdoor swing and balance bridge. I asked the facilitator what the physical boundaries were for students’ exploration. She gave me a knowing smile and replied, “as far as where they can still hear the bell,” gesturing to a large iron bell which served as a signal for students to return to the program. She explained that this is inherent to the Haver til Maver programming and pedagogy. Students are granted trust to explore in the garden and kitchen. They learn from experience how far they can go or how to master knife skills. 

During my visit, students made a soup which is traditional in Denmark for the fall. Students worked in teams to create small outdoor fires, chop vegetables (with real kitchen knives), and independently follow the recipe in their groups. When I expressed my surprise, the facilitator explained that as part of the program, students are trained throughout the sessions to reach this precise point, knowing that they have to earn the privilege and responsibility to use these tools. By the time they use the kitchen knives, students are well practiced in knife skills after using plastic knives. While there is always risk in using sharp kitchen tools, this becomes much more managed as students are trained up to use them.

This lesson provides a great “true north” direction to aspire to not only in the integration of outdoor play in our future campus — with the outdoor farm, learning greenhouse, and campus landscape as areas for exploration — but also in AGC’s current cooking and nature-based curricula. 

Lesson #2: Engage the community.

farm store_Sogn Jord- og
Produce and goods for sale at the Sogn Jord-og Farm Store

 

 

During my time in Copenhagen I was fortunate to meet with Haver til Maver’s founder, Søren Eljersen. Outside his work with Haver til Maver, Søren is a sustainability entrepreneur and founder of a  sustainable meal kit company called Aarstiderne. Søren newest project is called Bangaarden. In cooperation with the municipal government, Søren and his team are working to turn an old railcar factory into an ecological and gastronomical hub. With an on-site garden, as well as ‘food incubator’ spaces for individuals to rent space, the hub offers on-site courses in fermenting, cooking, as well as a long table for people to share food together. This emphasis on community — learning, growing, and eating together — gave me so much inspiration for what the community-based spaces of AGC’s future campus could be like. I dream of hosting community dinners at a long table featuring AGC-grown, on-site fermented foods or renting out our commercial kitchen to local food entrepreneurs. 

This particular takeaway was extremely evident at Sogn Jord- og Hagebruksskule, an agricultural school in the small town of Aurland, Norway. The school is truly at the heart of this small community utilizes the community in much of its pedagogy. For example, the school’s approximately 60 adult students work with the municipal government on a compost collection initiative. Businesses and individuals in the municipality drop off food and yard waste at the school, providing organic material for agricultural students’ composting study! The beauty of this program is not only its mutually beneficial nature, but that it brings community members into the school, allowing them to see programming in action and to understand the value of the school. Additionally, the school hosts a farm store, featuring produce and value-added products from the farm, alongside products from local entrepreneurs and school graduates. I was so excited to see so many students and community members shopping and to learn that many in the community see the farm store as a hub of fresh food. It gave me so many ideas for what the farm store on AGC’s campus could be, and ways to make our current student-run farmers market more engaging for our local community. Lastly, the school has a full-production greenhouse where students learn to propagate plants to sell to the town. During my visit they were getting poinsettias ready for the holidays! 

Another inspiring community connection at Sogn Jord- og Hagebruksskule was the long-standing partnership the school has with the local public elementary school which is located just across the street. My tour guide Jorunne has been bringing students from the local school to the farm for many years to experience nature and learn about growing cycles. Jorunne has also created a curriculum scaffolded on both experiences and content. This partnership is well known and highly valued by the community. A family that hosted me during my stay in Aurland told me that they had moved from Oslo with their two young sons in large part because of this high-impact partnership with the farm. This partnership inspired many ideas in how our future campus might collaborate with our community as well as how we might further develop the K-8 agriculture and culinary curriculum based on our specific context.

 

Lesson #3: Signage, clothing, and organization are critical.

Geitmyra_Kinder
Kindergardener dressed for muddy weather at the Geitmyra farm.

 

Last, but certainly not least, I was most excited to learn from the logistics of how each of these programs worked! What do students wear in muddy or cold weather? Where do they keep their materials? How do students move throughout the farming and cooking spaces without overcrowding? A big takeaway for me was that consistent systems, procedures, and communication are key. 

This was a theme I observed in all of my visits, but was particularly evident at Geitmyra matkultursenter for barn. Geitmyra is a Norwegian food education non-profit which explores the farm-to-plate cycle and cultural identity through food. Geitmyra has three different centers and I was fortunate to visit their first center in Oslo. During my visit on a chilly, rainy day I was able to tour the kitchen and garden spaces, to participate in both garden programming for kindergarteners and culinary programming for a multi-aged diverse learner class. On my tour I observed a wonderful variety of developmentally-appropriate outdoor and indoor spaces. Outdoors there is a sheltered yurt with a capability for a fire designed for younger students to warm up after a chilly day on the farm. Additionally, there was an outdoor “worm theater” for young students to observe worms at work. For older students, there was a plethora of outdoor cooking equipment such as a smoker for fish – a local culinary staple, and a stone pizza oven. Indoors, Geitmyra staff and facilitators were proactive in thinking of the diversity of students they serve by designing adjustable-height table-top burners, allowing students of multiple heights to actively engage in cooking. 

Each organization I visited had a very organized system for materials. “Every item has a home” was a common mantra. Even in the outdoor cooking space I visited at Haver til Maver, which had a very small storage area, was immaculately organized. Student teams were responsible for washing and putting away their own equipment. They maintain an outdoor three-bin wash station, which was extremely effective! This added responsibility on students ensures that the space stays tidy for future groups and that facilitators can focus on teaching, rather than cleaning. 

Lastly, a great takeaway that I observed was organization of student clothing. At Geitmyra, local Kindergarten students participate in programming on a regular basis. When I arrived at the farm on a cold and rainy day, I was surprised to see the group of Kindergarteners ready to participate in an hour long outdoor program. Their teacher explained to me that each child kept has a set of outdoor clothes at school. These kids came prepared! There is a Scandinavian saying, “there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes” and these students demonstrated that tenfold!  These smallest farmers in boots and snowsuits were happy to harvest potatoes and carrots in very cold weather. Equally important, their teachers were just as prepared and unfazed by the less-than-ideal weather conditions. Modeling outdoor preparedness and excitement for all weather was key to the program’s success.

Overall, this trip provided so much inspiration, insight, and perspective into the world of farm and culinary education. This experience has inspired me to deepen my work and coaching of  staff both now and at our future campus. I would like to express my most sincere thanks to the AGC Board of Directors for their support of the AGC Innovation Fund and to our founder Sarah Elizabeth Ippel for connecting me with organizations abroad. Additionally, my learning would not have been possible without the friendly and helpful hosts at each organization I visited: Daniel Hervik and Søren Eljersen at Haver til Maver, Renate Fuglseth at Geitmyra, and Jorunn Barane at Sogn Jord- og Hagebruksskule. I would finally like to thank the Danish and Norwegian students and teachers who shared their experiences with me during my visits. 

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