Patricia Fleming, looking at the demonstration garden at the Earthwise farm in Agassiz. (Grace Kennedy/The Observer)

HOMEGROWN: Kent farm focuses on teaching through nature

Earthwise hasn’t been in Agassiz long, but is committed to teaching kids and adults about nature

Of the 58 acres of land at the Earthwise Farm down Golf Road, only one is used for farming. But every inch is used for teaching, from the mountain face to the cedar grove to the moist wetlands to the rows of organic blueberry bushes.

“We are kind of showing new ways of looking at land use … in relation to farms,” said Patricia Fleming, executive director of the non-profit farm. “We want to show by what we have here that it is possible to have this compatibility between the ecology and the agricultural productivity.”

Earthwise, a non-profit based in Delta, has only been farming its land in Agassiz for the last four years. Originally donated from the John Westaway Society, a now-defunct organization that used the land as a religious retreat, Earthwise is now cultivating organic produce and rehabilitating natural habitats on the property.

RELATED: Earthwise Society expands into Agassiz

Surrounded by the mountainside, natural woodland and stream is the site’s one-acre farm, which includes a small plot of vegetables and fruits, a hoop house primarily used to grow heirloom tomatoes and a garden of blueberry and raspberry bushes.

This organic farm is managed by Monique Olsen, the caretaker who lives on site. During the growing season, Earthwise also employs young workers to teach them about organic farming.

“As a teaching farm, we do want to encourage young people to go into farming with an organic model,” Fleming said. “But it’s also a teaching farm that’s focused on kids.”

In the fall of 2018, Earthwise piloted its first “outdoor school,” an opportunity for kids between the ages of six and 10 to learn about the environment in a natural setting. This spring, Earthwise will be hosting a similar school, taking place over 10 weeks from April 22 to June 24.

“People really understand these days how important it is for our young people to connect with nature and feel part of nature,” Fleming said.

RELATED: Earthwise plants on Earth Day

“The outdoor learning experiences allow kids to learn by discovery,” she added. “It’s not like they’re having to memorize something, but they’re understanding and discovering by being outside … and just getting curious about what’s going on out there.”

Organized by Olsen, the school will give students a chance to explore the property each week: observing native plants along the Miami River, discovering the importance of ecosystem diversity, learning about the composition of healthy soil and figuring out how to harvest from nature.

The first fall school saw eight kids come to the farm, and Fleming said she hoped more would come to the spring school.

“We really think that education is a key to helping us have a more sustainable planet in the future,” she said. “We’re just trying to help kids, when they’re really young, understand the connections between themselves and the natural world.”

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The hoop field at Eartwise’s farm in Agassiz. The hoops will later be covered to grow plants like tomatoes, but right now it’s left open for some of the earlier plants. (Grace Kennedy/The Observer)

Earthwise farm has a five to eight acres of hazelnut trees on its property. Most have succumbed to blight, although Earthwise is hoping to bring them back. (Grace Kennedy/The Observer)

Earthwise farm has one acre of farmed land, but 48 acres of various ecosystems, including a cedar forest and wetland. (Grace Kennedy/The Observer)

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