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Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources

A growing relationship…

Old School Farms lies at the foot of some radio antennas in south Oklahoma City.

It’s operated by Santa Fe South, a fully accredited, multi-campus public charter school serving pre-K through 12th graders.

Located near one of the school’s campus sites, this swatch of urban prairie claimed by the farm previously was a wide plot of fallow land before being transformed as part of a clever educational strategy pursued by SFS and aided by an innovative partnership between the unique educational institution, Oklahoma State University and the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service.

The roughly three-acre spread has evolved into a thriving small-scale enterprise. More broadly, it’s steadily rounding into SFS Superintendent Chris Brewster’s vision for the farm.

“This is an effort to reintroduce small-scale agriculture to our kids at the same time providing, hopefully, a demonstration farm for urban agriculture and high-efficiency gardening in an urban environment,” said Chris Brewster, superintendent for SFS. “[Students have] got these 30-foot-wide beds they’ve prepared. They learned about soil, aeration of soil and all the practical preparation, and then they planted. Just watching them watch it come up was remarkable.”

Although SFS has a gardener who tends the farm and raises fruits and vegetables, Brewster said the bigger impact has been on the students who’ve been a part of the initiative and interacting with OSU experts.

Throughout the school week, SFS classes can be found tending the farm flourishing with vegetables, herbs and other crops. The literal fruits of their labor are prepared and served as part of the school’s food service.

“Kids who would never eat a salad all of a sudden thought, ‘well, I’ll probably try this,’” said Brewster. “They literally scarf it down.”

For most of the students, it’s their first exposure to agriculture, farming and horticulture. Though there may be smiles and laughter, make no mistake, it’s work for them.

“It’s mostly 6th graders who come through and they use the school farm as part of their science curriculum,” said Justin Moss, OSU Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture associate professor, Huffine Endowed Professorship, and Extension specialist. “They’re learning about plants, soils, water and how to grow things. They’re learning about horticulture and agriculture. In addition, we’re talking a lot of about water, the importance of water, water quality and water quantity.”

SFS established Old School Farms three years ago.

The partnership between the school and OSU launched two summers ago when Shelley Mitchell, an assistant Extension specialist in the university’s department of horticulture and landscape architecture, helped SFS 6th grade teachers integrate the farm as well as urban gardening and horticultural concepts into the science curriculum.

Mitchell also assisted students in planting various crops.

Meanwhile, trained volunteers with the Oklahoma County Extension office’s Master Gardeners program began visiting the farm several days a week to guide students’ efforts.

Then, earlier this year, through the horticulture and landscape architecture department, OSU was awarded a two-year, $91,000 educational grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to advance the partnership’s aims.

“The majority of funding will go toward initiatives that support the students in learning about plant science, water quality and water conservation,” said Moss, who noted that part of the funding will be directed toward helping students cultivate culturally related crops. “The idea is that culture will be a major part of this. The majority of students are Latino, but there are several cultures there, African-American, Native American as well as Latino.”

Interestingly, there’s also a research component built into the partnership.

Moss hopes to gather and compare the perceptions students and their parents have of agriculture as they’re exposed to it through the farm and other outreach efforts by OSU experts and programs.

Calling this a long-term investment, Moss said 6th graders will be queried on their perceptions throughout their SFS career as a way of gauging if and how their views about agriculture change over the years.

“We want to get a sense of where their mindset is, and also the mindset of their parents and families, in terms of their perceptions of careers in horticulture and agriculture and some of the barriers for them to enter in these careers,” he said. “From our side in the department of horticulture and landscape architecture, we’re also interested in what we can do to break down any barriers to this being a viable career opportunity for those students.”

Moss summarized the ever-expanding partnership between OSU and SFS as a unique and exciting opportunity to work the school and its students.

“We’d like to show some kids who maybe aren’t exposed to the world of agriculture, which is important to our state, that there are viable careers in this area and you can be successful,” said Moss, who stressed the importance of cultivating the interest and attention of today’s students, who also are tomorrow’s plant scientists.

“Getting the next generation of plant scientists, horticulturalists and agronomists to come through our system and hopefully return that knowledge to benefit our state is important,” he said. “We’ve got to excite the next generation or we’re going to lose out.”

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REPORTER/MEDIA CONTACT:
Leilana McKindra
Communications Specialist
Agricultural Communications Services
158 Agriculture North
Oklahoma State University
Stillwater, OK 74078
Phone: 405-744-6792
Fax: 405-744-5739
Email: leilana.mckindra@okstate.edu

Oklahoma State University - Stillwater, OK 74078
405.744.5000