Loudoun 4-H Brings Students to a Working Farm

6/1/2013 7:00 AM
By Shannon Sollinger Virginia Correspondent

LEESBURG, Va. — Five busloads of fourth-graders from Pinebrook Elementary School in the rapidly urbanizing southern reach of Loudoun County, Va., spent May 22 not in the classroom but at the farm.

It was a first for most of them.

The occasion was the sixth annual Loudoun 4-H Agriculture and Natural Resources Days at Temple Hall Farm just north of Leesburg.

Farm manager John Moore predicted that over two days, nearly 500 children would get a taste of farm life and the outdoor world of bugs, reptiles and bees.

“We are teaching more urban children about our rural economy and about where their food comes from,” said Loudoun 4-H program technician Kim Monroe. “Some kids don’t know chickens lay eggs and that milk doesn’t really come from a carton at the grocery store.”

The plan, Monroe said, is that the fourth-graders will learn more about the natural resources around them.

Students spilt into groups of 10 and spent the day touring the 18 stops of the ag and natural resources trail, all manned by volunteers from community and park groups and naturalists. There was also a hands-on introduction to several species of snakes, turtles and friendly bugs.

Joe Becek hosted children at the Aldie Mill stop —Aldie Mill started grinding grain in 1809 and is now, like Temple Hall Farm, part of the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority.

Becek guided his guests through grinding rice on a quern stone, similar to the larger millstones. “Students can see how a millstone works,” Becek said. “They put the grain in on the top, turn it counter clockwise and turn the grain into flour or corn meal at the bottom.”

Not long ago, he pointed out, a Loudoun County farm wife would start her day grinding flour or corn meal for breakfast.

“I think this is cool because we don’t normally see stuff like this every day,” noted one student. “I think it’s really neat how they grind up all the corn and make it into other products so we can make cakes and pancakes.”

And where does his flour at home in the subdivision come from? “I don’t know exactly, but maybe from a nearby mill.”

“We’re here to educate the kids in Loudoun County about farming and the heritage and history here in the county,” said Moore. “There are so few farms any more in the county. It’s a great opportunity to share that experience with them.”

The finishing touches were put on the farm’s exhibits the week before the event, Moore said.

The new visitors center is a gold level LEED certified building, heated by geothermal and constructed from beams and wood from historic barns in the area and from timber felled and milled on the 286-acre farm. It now houses Curtis and Dot Poland’s threshing machine and their vintage Case LA tractor.

Other exhibits included a cider press and historic photos, including one of A.V. Symington in the barn with potatoes. “There’s a lot of information about wheat and corn, about planting and harvesting and an interactive exhibit,” Moore said. A small tractor seat and steering wheel included a “wheel of facts” offering new facts and history with each turn of the wheel.

Temple Hall practices modern farming and keeps the historic equipment on display, Moore said. At harvest time, he pulls the antique thresher outside and uses it to process the farm’s wheat. The farm is home to a pair of oxen, some modern Angus cattle and a small herd of heirloom and endangered Belted Galloways, several goats and one Oberhasli Swiss dairy goat and a flock of four-horned Jacob sheep. There are also several very vocal peacocks.

Teacher Jennifer Matner accompanied some of her fourth-graders to the Soil and Water Conservation District soil tunnel.

“This fits right in with our curriculum,” Matner said. “We’re doing plants and animals right now so it correlates perfectly. We also just like to get them out on field trips. Kids learn best, I think, when they’re outside and really experiencing things.”

The Soil and Water Conservation District’s Chris Van Vlack hoisted a basketball, a tennis ball and a golf ball to illustrate that grains of soil come in different sizes and that determines how much water can pass through them. He then had the students line up as grains of soil to demonstrate how sand, silt and clay either let water flow through it or trap it.

Then it was on to a crawl through the soil tunnel. Roots hanging down corresponded to carrots, onion, sunflowers, corn and tomatoes, and plastic and cloth replicas played the role of wetlands plants “growing” above.

“Hopefully they’re learning at all these stations, learning more about natural resources and agriculture,” Van Vlack said. “Specifically in Loudoun County, but all over the place.”

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