One of the reasons many families come to Swallowtail is our farm. The desire to have children in an outdoor space with opportunities for practical, hands on work was an integral piece of the founding vision of the school. Over the years, this vision has deepened, most significantly when Farmer Noah came to live at the property and began building community partnerships to grow and share food. We are proud to be in the third year of our CSA program, engaging the children in growing food for classes, families within Swallowtail, and the broader community. Our children’s involvement in farming also helps to root them into the traditions of this historically agricultural area and the traditions of many of their families. Because of this, the farm is an authentic and integral part of who we are, which is why we choose to call ourselves Swallowtail School and Farm.
At Swallowtail, children have the opportunity to grow with a piece of land, season by season, year after year. Teachers introduce activities as they are developmentally appropriate rather than pushing children to experience everything the farm has to offer in a single day, or even a single year. We don’t have to be caught up in the rush of achievement but instead can slow down and fully experience the natural cycle, actually feeling the time it takes for a seed to sprout, or a single row of beans to be harvested. By watching other classes at the farm, they can revisit those experiences again and again, first in anticipation and later in reflection and memory. The younger children look up to their older peers as they help with farm chores such as packing the CSA boxes with Farmer Noah. The older children watch the kindergarten at play and remember their magical connection with the natural world.
While at the farm, children are able to immerse themselves in the continuous cycle of nature’s creative processes - from root to flower to fruit to seed - in countless beautiful and diverse forms. The abundance and diversity of natural materials is perfect for building structures, playing imaginative games, designing fairy and gnome houses, and a thousand other things. In addition to the space for imagination, the varied farm work and landscapes inspire and require creative thought. The children are constantly presented with problems requiring novel solutions - for example: “How do you move rotting straw bales down the hill if they fall apart when you lift them?” In solving these problems, the children work as a team, brainstorming together, testing their ideas, and re-evaluating when something doesn’t work.
Our farm also helps us connect to each other and to the larger community. Farming is universal. Its commonality can help bridge language and cultural differences. On a philosophical level, the diversity of ecological relationships can be a segue to understanding human and social diversity. In practice, working together with our hands brings people together. We see that in our work with community partners, with an ever-increasing network of people from diverse backgrounds who have formed connections through our farm. We see that in our students when the nature of the work opens new pathways for connections. It is often the case that those who are not drawn together in the classroom can begin to build a friendship in the space and the work of the farm.