Two busloads of preschoolers descended on the 170-acre Farm at Glenwood Mountain in Vernon last Tuesday morning for a field trip that, in its fifth year running, has become an annual, and well-orchestrated, spring ritual.
Farmers Steve and Candice MacLean greeted the 60-odd visitors from Walnut Ridge Primary School. Today’s visitors were classmates of their daughter, Cooper, the youngest of their five kids and “the boss,” said Steve. Steve led the way to the first stop, where the kids, age 3 to 5, took turns mixing chicken feed from bins of locally sourced soybeans, corn and oats. “They smell like peanuts, right?” said Steve of the soybeans, quickly reassuring: “Don’t worry, they’re not nuts.”
Next stop: say hello to ambassador pig Wiggie, short for Wigdor. The attention span of this group is on the shorter side, so Steve didn’t get into the backstory: that someone dropped Wiggie off a few years ago without telling the MacLeans; Steve found the piglet chasing their cows and causing a ruckus, and it took about a week to catch him.
Then to the brooder for the day’s most exciting event. The kids peep into the brooder where 475 baby chicks are kept warm under lights, awaiting their turn to hold one. This requires attentive adult supervision – particularly this year. That’s because the chicks are a bit older than usual because the timing of spring break delayed the field trip, and therefore more of a flight risk. All hands on deck here – farmers, teachers and tagalong parents alike – to see that chicks are neither squished by overenthusiasm, nor that they wriggle free of little hands to get trampled by a scrum of little feet. Steve switches out the chicks between groups of kids, so that none get too much love.
Jayden Barrett, 5, reported that the chick he’d just held had “really soft fur, and bumps... because the bones.” He had held chicks before, he declared knowingly.
Just as everyone was getting chilled by a sharp wind on this unseasonably chilly morning, it was time to see the greenhouse. Contented sighs came from parents upon entering the sun-warmed space, which felt like Mexico. The kids meandered past some 1,000 seedlings – a host of vegetables as well as flowers that will grace summer weddings – set on shelves just about face-high for this crowd. It was hard to heed Steve’s admonition not to touch the baby plants.
As the last group filed out of the greenhouse, Steve appeared walking fast from the opposite direction with a feeder so the kids could “help feed the chicks.” Then the kids themselves needed their snack before boarding the buses back to school with a little farm dirt on their sneakers.
It’s something of a highwire act keeping 60 preschoolers’ attention for an hour and a half. But the reward, said Steve, is well worth the effort: “Seeing the kids engaged, learning about farming, where food comes from.”
A second group of 60 preschoolers would be coming by in the afternoon. Today’s visit wasn’t the first of the season’s field trips, nor would it be the last. Early in April, the MacLeans spent an afternoon with a group of middle schoolers from Glen Meadow making healthy snacks – granola and trail mix – for the kids to take home.
For her part, the boss loved having her class over. Cooper, 5, who goes mornings to Walnut Ridge, “always tells her teachers and classmates about the farm,” said Steve, “so she loved showing it off to all of them.”