Brookside School Farm

Brookside Farm is a 1 acre, certified organic, Community Supported Agriculture and education site at Brookside Elementary School in Willits, CA. The farm distributes fresh produce to area residents and school cafeterias.  Additionally, the Farm incorporates hands-on activities for the K-2 grades at the elementary school and after school (Willits Kids Club) programs through the on-going development of the "Kids Garden."  

  • To learn about the latest happenings at the Brookside Farm, read the blog here!
  • For more information contact the Garden Coordinator Antonia Partridge at antoniap@mcn.org.

Overview and History

Brookside Farm is a school farm, CSA and demonstration site at Brookside Elementary School in Willits, CA. The elementary school serves K-2 grades, and Head Start preschools are also on the campus. A local non-profit, North Coast Opportunities, is the fiscal agent of the farm.
Brookside Farm was established during 2006 after Jason Bradford, a parent of two students at the time, noticed an unused field and proposed the project. In January, the school district approved setting aside about 1 acre of the school property to develop a mini-farm that would grow organic food and serve as an educational center. Because Brookside Farm is a demonstration site for how to integrate renewable energy into food production, storage, processing, distribution and preparation, The Post Carbon Institute hired Chris Hansen to work on farm development. By the end of 2006, fencing was complete and cover crops were sown.
During winter 2007 fruit trees, grapes and berries were planted. A subscription-based Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program was established by spring 2007 with 10 members. The CSA has provided the bulk of the funding for establishing the farm infrastructure, with the help of several local businesses too. The Little Lake Grange sponsors Brookside Farm, and in return fresh produce is provided for their annual Harvest Festival.

In 2008 the CSA program continues, but with a portion of the farm's food now going to the school cafeteria and preschool kitchens. A grant from the Community Foundation of Mendocino County helped establish a "Kid's Garden" within the farm under the direction of John White, the school's garden enhanced nutrition educator. The Kids Club of Willits also uses the farm during summer camp and their after school program. A project of the non-profit Willits Economic Localization, the Grateful Gleaners, brings produce to Brookside Farm for redistribution to the schools, or to process in the on-site solar food dryers. Monthly gardening classes with Antonia Partridge meet at Brookside School and come to the farm for demonstration. In 2009, these classes will be offered through Mendocino College.
Are you interested in sustainable agriculture, local food systems, and the health of our children? Brookside Farm is working on the forefront of a wave of interest in these issues. Keep reading to learn more.

The Need For School Farming

Purpose: Student Health Crisis and Educational Opportunity
Educators are increasingly aware of how nutrition and physical activity influence the learning process. Students fed a balanced diet of high quality foods are more likely to be able to pay attention, cause fewer disruptions to others, and be ready to learn. Opportunities to develop sturdy bones, strong muscles, efficient hearts, balance and coordination also positively impact academic achievement. The common sense wisdom comes down to this: a healthy body is better able to support the development of a good mind.
Because of long-term structural changes in U.S. society, including the rise of the fast food industry, the health of many children is at risk.1 These health risks threaten the ability of schools to maintain standards of excellence. However, the crisis also presents schools with an opportunity. Responding to difficult social conditions by embracing novel solutions can lead to positive transformation within schools and their associated communities.2

School Role: Creative Educational Opportunity
More than just food is involved. School farms are platforms for creating positive, systemic improvement in the total school environment, including feedbacks among physical health, culture, and academic performance.
Directly related to education is the fact that children are very tactile beings who learn faster and retain knowledge better when they are physically and emotionally engaged in the subject. A school farm provides a dynamic, living laboratory of objects and processes that lend purpose to the abstractions of the classroom.

The Vision

School Farming: Background and Benefits
American culture sprung out of Western European agrarian traditions and our current diets reflect this -- being dominated by grains such as wheat and corn. However, industrialization of agriculture and the automobile infrastructure have combined to make highly processed, high calorie foods overly available to a basically sedentary population.
Brookside Farm works within the framework of the agrarian tradition, but "relocalizes" the means of production. Many people appreciate the quality and diversity offered by farmers markets and homegrown vegetables. This appreciation extends beyond nutritional values to include recognition of the beauty of farms and the personal relationships among farmers, the land, and the community fed.
Because of this ingrained interest, many schools with adequate land now produce some of their own food and receive tremendous support from the community. Experience thus far in Willits and elsewhere has shown that students will accept unfamiliar food when they are part of the cultivation and food preparation processes.3

The clear benefits to students are:
1. High quality, healthy food
2. Knowledge about the local environment and their place in it
3. Physical activity assisting in aspects of production, processing and preparation
4. Pride from accomplishment
5. Less disruptive behavior and better concentration
6. Improved learning in the classroom

Brookside Farm Vision: Three Years from Today
Brookside School Farm has become a source of healthy food and pride for the students, staff, district and community. The farm has improved the school's organization and infrastructure, resulting in positive changes in the culture and climate, and academic achievement.

Students are healthier because they are eating better, they are more physically active, and they simply enjoy the beauty and wonder of the farm environment. This has improved their attitudes about school, and life in general, and this shift enhances their ability to learn. Students are continuing to improve academically and the teachers are finding more creative ways to enrich their curriculum by using the farm as a living classroom. Students practice their spelling by making labels and signs. They practice their math by counting the harvest and selling produce at their farm stand. Just about any discussion in science is made tangible by going to the farm. The crops planted provide a window into geography and history, e.g., potatoes originate from the Andes of South America, sunflowers are from North America, corn is from Mexico, sorghum is from North Africa, and wheat is from the Middle East. Kids are eager to gain practical life skills, and they now learn how to produce their own food, how to store it, and prepare it for meals while reinforcing their basic academics. Some are more drawn to the biology of the farm, such as the worms in the dirt, while others like the mechanical aspects, such as how the solar dryer works.
The influence of Brookside Farm goes beyond the campus. The healthy habits students learn go home with them. Parents meeting their children after school are often led to the farm and shown the vegetables and fruits their own kids have harvested that day. The kids are eager to share this food with their families. Many families begin their own gardens and new patterns of eating take hold.

 

Viability

Small Farms: A Growing Business
American farms are often on the order of 100s or 1000s of acres, but most farmers in the U.S., and certainly worldwide, work on small farms. Commercially viable farms of less than one to several acres are becoming more common recently -- even in the U.S.4 Nearly all of these new small farms employ "organic" methods.
Mendocino County agriculture has shifted from a diverse food system to specialization in the areas of animal husbandry, viticulture and fruit trees. However, within Mendocino County there are a number of small farms that grow a wide variety of food crops. Live Power Community Farm in Round Valley, for example, uses 5 of its 40 acres each year for seasonal vegetable cultivation and yields enough to support the produce needs of 160 families for about 6 months.5 The Oz Farm outside of Manchester has about 7 acres in production, half in orchards and half in seasonal cultivation.6 Ecology Action has "mini farms" of about an acre on both Pine Mountain and Ridgewood Ranch.7 These contemporary examples plus historic records show that much more agricultural diversity is possible in Mendocino County than most people alive today realize.

Small farms employ full to part time professional farmers and can be economically viable when supported at the community level. With their high quality labor, small farms are able to manage crop diversity, adapt to change rapidly, and be delightfully creative. While more and more large farms are going out of business, every year more small farms are born.
Small farm success relies on direct relationships to consumers, thereby bypassing commodity brokers, shipping agents, food processors and the overhead of supermarkets. For fresh foods in the U.S., a typical farm receives only about 20 cents from a dollar spent at a retail store, and this percentage has been steadily declining for decades.8 As energy and fertilizer costs have risen within the past few years, on-farm costs have climbed at the same time distribution and marketing costs have, causing many farmers to ask if they can afford to grow food.9 By contrast, farms able to short-circuit the larger food system have remained economically viable.

Future Goals: Local Food System
The long-term goal is to develop a diverse array of products from a polyculture system that will demonstrate how a local food system is possible, and creates many interesting vocational opportunities. Farmers are just the beginning of a system that includes trades related to energy, storage, transportation, processing, food preparation, and recycling.
By being in the town, associated with the education of students, employing renewable energy to process food, and selling produce through a CSA and direct to school kitchens, Brookside Farm will charm and inspire the community. This kind of project gives hope to those familiar with the liabilities of our global, industrialized food system as it creates a tangible alternative.

Visit the Garden

Brookside School Farm is located at the Brookside Elementary School at 20 Spruce Street in Willits, CA.


View Brookside Elementary School Farm in a larger map

Logon