Last week, my daughter Ruby (age 6) and I went to visit our local apple orchard. We are lucky to have one less than 2 miles from our house and are able to visit often. In season, we try to go there to buy our week’s apples (we eat a lot!), as well as other seasonal produce. When we lived in the city, going apple picking used to be an all day affair. We’d bundle up for a day in the “country”, excited for hayrides, hot cider, cinnamon doughnuts, and of course the fresh apples! As a kid, it seemed that these farms were so far away from us, but as an adult, I realize how close they really are, and all it takes a little planning to get out there. The rewards of a pick-your-own orchard are numerous- connecting to the source of our food, getting the freshest produce available, meeting the people who grow our food, and just getting out into the fresh air!
For me, both as a teacher and as a parent, field trips like these provide a place and space for kids to do research. Visiting a place and talking to people is not just something to do or see, but an opportunity to learn something about the people in our community, the earth and nature, science, art, or history. The trip itself becomes a primary source for kids (and adults alike) to learn more about our world.
Visiting farms and orchards also connects directly to Spoons Across America’s mission of educating children about the source of our food. It’s one thing to tell kids that apples grow on trees
, and that trees grow in an orchard, but it’s a much more immersive and concrete experience when kids directly experience what it’s like on a farm, see the boughs laden with fresh fruit, and feel the old apples turning back to the earth right at their feet. And nothing brings home the message of freshness of local produce better than eating a crisp apple or sweet pear right off the tree branch. (We even tried eating one while it was still on the tree!)
Prior to our visit, like any good food explorer, Ruby sat down at our kitchen table to develop her questions. She had some specific ideas about what she wanted to find out, and I helped her to craft questions that would give us more information, and not just a yes or no answer. The art of writing questions is hard, and as adults we tend to “step in” and give suggestions, but allowing kids to ask what they are really curious about
, and give them the freedom to be independent is important.
Ruby’s questions were pretty typical for a 6 year old, and the answers somewhat brief as her writing skills weren’t up to the task of transcribing all she had learned. But again, it’s the process of being there, and meeting the people who work on the farm, seeing the trees growing, the tractors bringing in bushels of fresh apples, that’s most important.
We met Elizabeth Stuart (Betsy) on sunny and cool day in early October at Stuart’s Farm in Granite Springs, NY. She has a wide smile and welcomed us warmly, even as she greeted visitors and weighed pecks of apples and pumpkins from the many customers that had also come to the farm that day. Here’s a bit of Ruby’s interview:
Ruby: How many different types of apples do you grow?
Betsy: We grow about 25 varieties!
Ruby: What kind of apple is the most popular?
Ruby: How do you grow them?
Betsy: We plant trees that take 5 years to produce apples. They are planted in the Spring when they are 2 years old, and then need 3 more years to grow before they produce apples.
Ruby: Is it hard to run a farm?
Betsy: It’s very busy. There are different things to do in different seasons. Even in winter, when the farm is closed, we are getting ready for the Spring. We have to plant trees, prune trees, etc.
Ruby: What else do you grow? Do you grow tomatoes?
Betsy: We grow all sorts of vegetables including corn, tomatoes, peaches and string beans. Most of the produce is only available at the farmstand, but we sell tomatoes to restaurants locally and in New York City. I loves to go the deli nearby and have a sandwich with tomatoes, knowing that they were grown right on this farm! We also have cut your own Christmas trees in the winter.
Ruby: How old is the farm?
Betsy: It has been around since 1828 and has been family run since then. I’ve been here for about 40 years after I married my husband.
Ruby: How many people visit the farm each year?
Betsy: About 20,000 people come each year, including about 75 groups of school children like you!
Ruby: What is your favorite part of the farm?
Betsy: I like the changing of the seasons. You can see the leaves changing from the top of the hill.
After talking with Betsy, Ruby and I went into the pumpkin patch and picked out our Halloween pumpkins. We bought some apples from the farmstand and then went home and made my favorite Harvest Muffins. While they baked, Ruby used legos to recreate what she had seen on the farm… complete with red apples on the trees and a lego princess figure for Betsy!
We encourage you to find your own local orchard or pick-your-own farm and visit with your children. Find out what’s growing near you, and encourage your children to ask questions to the farmers or owners. Let them learn about the harvest, and the food cycle from the people who are directly responsible, and then go out and enjoy the literal fruits of your labors!
Check our our Harvest Taste Test activity from Food Educator, Catherine Lea, online this week. Or learn more about how apples grow in this Coloring Book created by Food Educator, Elina Bank.
Want to find your local pick-your-own farm or orchard? Check out www.localharvest.org for one near your home or city.
In the NYC area? Go visit Betsy at Stuart’s Farm and tell her we said hello! http://www.stuartsfarm.com/
Listed below are the questions that Ruby wrote. Have your children write their own and discover what they are curious about!
- How many different types of apples do you grow?
- What kind of apple is the most popular.?
- How do you grow them?
- Is it hard to run a farm?
- What else do you grow? Do you grow tomatoes?
- How old is the farm?
- How many people visit the farm each year?
- What is your favorite part of the farm?
At Home with Spoons
by Ali McDowell, Director of Programs and Partnerships