Like most preschools, it seems, our first field trip of the year was to a “pumpkin patch.” It’s in quotation marks because we’re an urban preschool and actual pumpkin patches are a little out of our reach geographically. For the past couple years, we have made the longer trek to an actual pumpkin patch where we cut the squash from their vines, but given the logistics of hauling 20+ kids into the countryside in a world of economic and environmental considerations we stayed closer to home this year.
Thomas is probably the only kid who missed the slightly more authentic experience – he’d been looking forward to using a pair of “loppers” on a pumpkin vine, a dearth we will more than make up for next week at school when I bring my own loppers in for the kids to try out. The huge cedars in my front yard have dropped lots of twiggy parts lately, so we’ll have plenty of disposable lopping material at hand.
In fact, from a child’s perspective, yesterday’s was a perfect preschool field trip. Our guide, Farmer Adam, understood his age group. The farm animals looked well cared for, and the one-day old piglets were a treat. We got to touch the pygmy goats (Maya posted some cute photos of them over at Crumbs & Quibbles). The entire operation is compact enough that weary legs weren’t a problem. And, at the end, there was a grassy field dotted with child-sized pumpkins to take home.
In other words there was a ton of material to bring back into class, which is one of the main purposes of a good field trip. Next week we’ll try to “extend” this shared experience in more ways than just bringing in my loppers. For one thing, we’ll be visited by Old Bessie, a cow made from a pair of saw horses, a 2 X 4, and a paper mache head. We’ll hang latex glove udders full of water from her belly so the kids can “milk” her through tiny pinprick holes in the finger tips. We’ll also construct a “hay maze” from gym mats stood on end. At Circle Time, we’ll compose our own song about our favorite parts of the field trip, and of course, sing a little “Old McDonald Had A Farm” because it’s fun to make animal noises. And, finally, we’ll continue our exploration of pumpkins, 10 of which have been living with us in the classroom for the past week.
Yesterday I ran into Teacher Matt who, like me, was wearing his safety backpack while chaperoning his 3-5 preschool class on a pumpkin patch field trip. We’re all out there taking our kids out to see the pumpkins. In fact, my informal survey of the children found that more than half have either already been to a pumpkin patch/farm with their families or are planning an excursion. It’s an annual rite that may be more widely shared among this generation than cutting their own Christmas trees, dying eggs, or eating turkey and cranberry sauce sandwiches on the day after Thanksgiving.
Growing up, there are few memories more vivid than those of our family summer vacations to my own aunts’ and uncles’ farms on the Kansas-Nebraska border, where we fed the pigs, collected the eggs, and drove the tractors. Today, they still farm that land, but they are almost a novelty these days as family farms have been consumed by giant agribusinesses that operate more like factories. I would never want to take a group of preschoolers to see a real farm today. I think it would scare them.
For much of the country, places like the Fairbank Animal Farm represent an American ideal that has already more or less faded into the realm of legend and myth.
But there are glimmers of revival, at least here in Seattle. Weekly farmer’s markets have sprung up in nearly every neighborhood, where local produce growers sell to their neighbors. Many of these “farms” are in backyards and pea patches. Most of them seem to be operated by recent immigrants. Several of our preschool families are raising their own chickens and most had robust vegetable gardens this summer. I don’t know if it’s the economy, a reaction against corporate food manufacturing, health concerns, or a combination of all three, but people aren’t ready to leave the soil. It feels like a kind of quiet revolution.
Maybe in the future we’ll all be farmers and the field trip to a pumpkin patch will just be a tour of our own backyard.