Agricultural Studies at Montana Academy

Over 10 years ago now, a former student, we’ll call her Alex, was assigned to my Agricultural Studies class. Some students choose this class – a Social Studies elective that we offer during the Spring and Summer blocks – because they know that we spend two class periods per week outside, in the school gardens, learning how to grow food. While they like their screens and other modern conveniences, many of our students already appreciate being outside, thanks to wilderness programs, prior family and life adventures, and other opportunities to appreciate beautiful natural areas.

So, many students come into Ag. Studies class with a pretty positive attitude. But not Alex, who made it clear that she was put into this class by her Team Teacher, and she was not looking forward to it.

The main reasons we started the Agricultural Studies class in 2006 were: 1. To introduce our students to how food is grown; 2. To provide our kitchen and salad bar a supply of fresh, locally and organically grown vegetables and berries, sometimes served the same day they are harvested; and 3. To provide our students with the opportunity to experience a sense of accomplishment and a feeling of confidence that comes from the very tangible experience of nurturing living creatures from seed to ingredients in today’s meal.

The novelty and fresh air of working outside in our gardens eventually leads to the fun of harvesting baskets of vegetables to deliver to the kitchen. Many students also find gardening to be meditative, and to facilitate relaxed and open conversations with others while they garden together. Students develop a sense of pride at contributing to a program that they come to understand is among the most extensive school gardening programs in the state of Montana. (It doesn’t hurt that we have year-round school, and a fair amount of available land, although our climate is quite a challenge.)

As you’ve probably guessed, Alex ended up enjoying her time in our school gardens. She thanked me for offering the class as she shared with me the pleasant surprise of realizing that she actually felt happy to head to the garden and more motivated to contribute to our work than she ever imagined. I like to think that her time in the garden made some contribution to Alex becoming a much more invested, responsible student, and a noticeably happier person during her time in Lost Prairie, Montana.