By Gabi Zabel, Education Specialist
I’ve been an educator at the Alice Ferguson Foundation’s Hard Bargain Farm for a number of years, and I can tell you right off the bat that it never gets old. There’s always something new to see and do!
Let me take you on a field trip to our farm – with words!
Our educators arrive at the farm before you do so that we can get everything ready for the day – unlock doors, gather supplies for the activities we’ll do, and talk about the plan for the day (which usually changes! It’s good to be flexible!). You and your friends are on the bus, maybe talking excitedly about what you might see or do with us, or perhaps taking a charge-up nap to be ready for all the fun things in store. Finally, the bus turns into the gate – you’re here!
An educator boards the bus and welcomes you to Hard Bargain Farm. They explain how the day will go, and they tell you about the fancy composting toilets at the The Morris & Gwendolyn Cafritz Environmental Center. They are super excited that you’re here! You get off the bus, put your lunch in the waiting cart, and head to the bathroom – it was a long drive! In a few minutes, the educators call all of the students together and split you into a few smaller groups. Ten kids in a group is better than thirty! At last, the fun begins!
First stop is the barnyard. There you meet Opal, our Jersey dairy cow, and her friends: the goat Ball family (Gumball, Goofball, Snowball, and Lucille Ball), and the two “sheepishly shy” Hog Island sheep, who stare at you from the other side of the pasture. You learn about farm animals, what they provide to humans, and how agriculture affects the landscape. A woodpecker flies overhead, and your educator excitedly points it out and tells you about how it lives. One of your classmates finds a bug, and you learn about the small things that live around us.
Your group then moves into the barn, where you talk about fibers and wool in the main room, and hay in the hayloft upstairs. Your educator opens up the root cellar, where you see a wolf spider and a ton of camel crickets. Creepy! You find the chicken coop and learn all about eggs and even meet one of the chickens.
At the top of the hill, you see the white farmhouse where Alice and Henry Ferguson lived, and a gorgeous view of DC off in the distance! A bald eagle flies overhead – perfectly patriotic! Your educator explains that you are standing on the world’s best rolling hill, and you tumble down to the bottom, just like a raindrop flowing towards the river. Finally, you head back to the Cafritz Environmental Center for lunch.
Once you sort your trash into the appropriate bin, it’s time to go on the next hike! You take a walk through what your educator calls the wet meadow, a newly-developing marsh that a beaver family created by damming the creek. You use nets to catch some of the critters, called macroinvertebrates, that live in the water. Your educator helps you identify them: dragonfly nymph, damselfly nymph, cranefly larva, riffle beetle, crayfish – so many things live in the water! You learn that the animals that live in the water can tell us about how clean it is, and this marsh seems pretty clean. All of the educators at the farm get excited when students catch macros
Once you finish talking about the macros, you continue hiking down the trail. As a group, you talk about adaptations, erosion, habitats, watersheds, the food web, and all sorts of other topics. You eventually reach the boardwalk where you look out on the Potomac River and the marsh. You see Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington, and a ton of cattails. It’s a beautiful location! You even see a pair of ospreys flying over the marsh! You continue your hike as your educator points out some of the plants and animals that live in the marsh, woods, and swamp.
Finally, you make it back to the Cafritz Environmental Center. You’re tired, but not ready to go home yet. There’s so much to see and do! You ask your educator if you can come back some day, and they tell you that you could grow up to be an environmental educator and work at Hard Bargain Farm too! You get on the bus and head back to school to go home. You chat excitedly with your classmates. Someone in the seat in front of you seems to have fallen asleep from the busy day. Your educators, however, are telling each other all about the awesome things you saw today and the insightful and interesting things you said. They are looking forward to tomorrow, when a new class will come to visit the farm! Every day brings different experiences, from the wildlife to the students. There are so many things to share with kids and adults alike. As educators, we love when kids start their visit apprehensive about being outside, but become comfortable and excited about it by the end. We can’t wait for the next group of students to visit Hard Bargain Farm!
Below are some thank you notes from students who visited Hard Bargain Farm on a school field trip this past Spring: