Sam Smith

For many years, your editor has been involved with Wolfe’s Neck Farm, a Maine alternative agriculture center that began as an organic beef farm started by my parents in the 1950s. Today, besides cattle, the farm engages in a variety of programs including a campground with over 100 sites, a day camp for hundreds of children, educational programs and welcoming thousands of visitors. It also started what would become the largest natural beef marketing alliance in the greater northeast.

The newest addition to the farm is Coastal Studies for Girls, a program which is leasing some of the buildings for the first residential science and leadership semester school just for girls.Even while construction is underway, CSG hasn’t missed the chance for some education, as reported in the Falmouth Forecaster:

||| Coastal Studies for Girls is joining with Women Unlimited and Wright-Ryan Construction to offer seminars throughout the fall and early winter to help the public prepare for cold weather and to help residents learn how to reduce home energy and heating costs. . . Lib Jamison, executive director of the nonprofit Women Unlimited, taught a group of participants to build a toolbox after the tour. Jamison said the organization helps to train and support women, minorities and disadvantaged workers by providing the training necessary to obtain a job with livable wages in the construction, technical and transportation industries. . . The school will be open for its first 10th-grade class of students in the fall of 2009 and applications are available on its Web site |||

There are no present plans for rehabilitation programs for people like Larry Summers, but the program does cite a recent Science article which reports that a new study, led by psychologist Janet Hyde of the University of Wisconsin, shows that there is no difference between girls’ and boys’ test scores on common standardized math tests. Among students with the highest test scores, white boys outnumbered white girls by about two to one. But among Asians, that number was reversed. Obviously, cultural values have a lot to do with the scores, which is why things like the coastal studies program are important.

Wending our way through the state and local legal hurdles to help create the program, one of the issues was whether education was compatible with agriculture. This question astounded me because it was something I just took for granted.

For example, the 19th century Morrill Acts funded land grant institutions – with actual grants of land – to teach agriculture, military tactics, mechanic arts and home economics – as well as classical studies.Politicians of the era understood that, given America’s huge size, you couldn’t have good agriculture without widely dispersed good education. Michigan State – originally the Agricultural College of the State of Michigan – was the first land grant institution, although its funding came from the state. The first federal land grant university was Kansas State.

Schools have been central to the life and landscape of rural families in America. There were once several one room schoolhouses within a few miles of the new coastal studies program. One small town in Maine had 14 schools in the 19th century. Typically such schools were placed about three miles apart, so they were hardly an oddity in the rural landscape.

You could not have had American agriculture without rural schools. They were inseparable. One study reports, “During the 1930s about one-half of all children went to school in rural areas, where the proportion of children to adults was higher than in the cities.”

Today, only about two percent of Americans have had any direct contact with farms. And I needed only to watch the hesitancy with which my Bronx granddaughter made her first acquaintance with a Maine beach to be reminded of how many in this country have little contact not just with the study of nature, but contact with its scope and variety.

In the 19th century, the problem was to bring education to the natural areas of America. Today, we need to find new ways to bring nature into our education – such as the Coastal Studies for Girls program – if we are to deal with the ecological crisis wisely and in time.

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