Every year during their 18 day field trips, the middle schoolers of Arthur Morgan School create a blog, documenting their trip. The students post pictures and write about what they did each day. They get to choose what moments they want to highlight and show off to their parents and friends at home. The blog is an awesome opportunity to reflect on what they are learning and articulate their feelings about their journey.
Right now the Food Justice Field Trip is in on the road and will soon be heading back to North Carolina. In their own words, here is what our students have to say about the trip so far!
Today was a driving day and pretty chill. We did morning sing in the meeting room because we are all bubbled and our COVID tests were negative. A bunch of people were crying. We all got packed up and the trip that’s going to Arizona left and then we finished getting ready and we left. We drove for 5 hours and got to Red River Gorge and we just chilled. We knocked down a couple of dead tree branches so they couldn’t fall on us at night. Someone brought a weird freaky monkey that will most likely get left somewhere or get kicked by me if someone tries to scare me with it. It feels good to be able to hug everybody and not wear masks around each other. I hope there’s a basketball court somewhere that we are staying on this trip.
This morning we woke in our slightly dew covered tents in our campsite in Red River Gorge. After a quick breakfast, we headed out on a hike out to Courthouse Rock. Along the way we witnessed many wonderful views so high up that we all agreed the trees below us looked like broccoli (we were still very careful near the edge though). Once we got to our destination, we climbed around a bit and settled down to eat our lunch. We decided to take the long way down and go through Double Arch with even more magnificent views. After roughly six miles we were all exhausted but agreed it was worth it even if we all needed a nap. When we got back to our campsite, we decided to play some board games and rest a little. We played one game as a big group and played for over two hours right up to dinner. After some delicious burritos we built a fire and the Dungeons and Dragons role playing discussion began. We’ll see how that goes. I think it will be a relatively big part of our down time.
Today we woke up again in Red River Gorge and had a breakfast of oatmeal before heading out on a three and a half hour drive to Modoc, IN, during which we stopped at a mechanic shop to look into a strange noise that had been bothering us for several days. It turned out to actually be a loose bar on the roof rack which we quickly amended with some electrical tape. Then after some more driving we arrived at our destination, which was the home of ex AMS staff Rachel and Johno. They very kindly allowed us to stay in their house since they were both vaccinated and also provided us a delicious dinner of chili. Finally, we settled down for the evening to get enough rest for the long day tomorrow.
It was a slow wake-up at Rachel and Johno’s house this morning. We had bagels and eggs for breakfast, some from Rachel and Johno’s own chickens. We went to the Union Go Dairy farm, a Concentrated Animal Feed Operation, where they milk a bunch of cows. They had 1750 cows that they milk 3 times a day for 7 minutes each time. On average, each cow produces 93 pounds of milk a day. We saw how the cows knew exactly where to go and followed a certain routine. All of the milk goes to these really big barrels that then gets pumped into trucks and taken to Dannon. Over the course of their 15 years in business, they’ve had to throw out milk three times, twice because there was a trace of antibiotics, and once because a bird flew into the milk while the hatch to the truck was open. They told us that a truck-load of milk costs $9000. They said that there’s a 99% chance that at least a drop of their milk would be in any Dannon product with the “non-GMO” butterfly on the label. The cows were really close together, especially when they were in line to get milked. All they did was lay down, eat, and walk a short way to go get milked. They had beds made of sand but they were starting to replace their metal stall dividers with flexible, plastic ones so it would be more comfortable for the cows to lay down. We saw all their feed and how it gets ground up in really big piles and they have a huge machine that grinds it, mixes it all up and plops it down next to them.
We also saw their big poop pile. They filter out the sand from it so they can reuse it in the cows beds. They dry some of it so that it can get it transported out of there more easily, and they dump most of it into a big pond they called “the lagoon” that has 21 million gallons of manure. They said that’s from 18 months of dumping. Once it’s full, they pump it out and spread it for fertilizer and it smells really bad around here.
In the afternoon, we went to see this really great guy, David, who told us about all of his farming equipment that he uses on his 1800 acres of land. He farms corn and beans and he is mostly a no-till farmer. His corn seeder could hold an actual ton of corn seed. While we were there, he let us climb on all of his equipment and he turned it on and showed us how it worked. There was some colored corn on the ground that we were told not to mess with because it was covered in pesticides which was scary and disturbing. Afterwards, he took us right up to the base of a windmill on his land.
When we got back to Johno and Rachel’s we did some work projects for Rachel’s sister, who is an organic farmer. I cut a whole bunch of honey suckle and a lot of the group pulled garlic mustard, which we used for a delicious pesto pasta dinner. And we also had salad from their garden. It was a very busy day!
Today, we woke up at Rachel and Johno’s at about 7 am and scrambled to clean all of our things up and leave their place cleaner than we found it. We ate breakfast then left just before 9. We then began our 8 hour drive to get to Viroqua, Wisconsin at the end of the day. We looked at the beautiful scenery of the farmland all around us and the windmills turning in the breeze. We had few bathroom breaks and ate our lunch standing up under a small shelter from the rain, just to be quick. The day wasn’t very exciting but we did play dungeons and dragons for the first part. We mainly kept to ourselves for the second part. This was our longest driving day—about as long as the other two days combined. We arrived at around 6:30 and met up with Levi and Rory, the two people who are living in the house where we’re staying. We prepared and ate dinner with them, along with Jacob, the director of Thoereau College, around a fire in the backyard where the chickens roam. Then we set up all of our sleeping gear in three big, connected rooms and peacefully fell asleep.
Today we’re here with I, the bread god, to explain our day to you. Anyways, today we got up, ate breakfast, and then went on a walk to a high school kinda similar to AMS and we got a tour of it and an overview of how it works. We went by an outdoor concrete area where some students and staff were setting up a circus tent to use as an outdoor classroom and they roped us into helping them so we were there for a lot longer then we expected. After that we sang birthday songs for Connor because it’s his birthday and then toured a greenhouse place and the people there told us about it. Then we went back to the place we’re staying in and ate lunch, and then went on another walk and sat outside while people working at Organic Valley talked to us about the history of Organic Valley. They also took us down a mysterious, magical seeming stairway and hallway covered with mysterious paintings, tiles, fabrics, lights, and messages to go to a theater where a woman also talked a lot about the history of her organization for a while. She raised a lot of money for a building that people could get jobs and she helped employees and gave people food.
After we were done, we all wanted to go to see this giant bookstore with a lot of books so we went there and hung out and looked at books for a while, and they had a rule that people under 18 could get a free book so we all got free books (except the staff hahah) although some people bought books as well. Normally, they are closed on Mondays, but they opened up just for our group and we had the place to ourselves. We were all tired by then so we went back to our house and hung out for a while, then ate stir fry for dinner and had some dessert as well today since it’s Connor’s bday.
Early this morning we woke up and quickly began packing up. By eight thirty we were in the van heading towards Mora, Minnesota. We stopped for a quick vending/bathroom break halfway through our drive, and before we knew it we arrived at SapSucker Farms. Immediately upon arrival we ate lunch and talked with Jim and Debbie, the owners of the farm. After eating they lead us on a tour of their farm showing us their chicken coop, hoop houses, orchard, maple syrup processing house, bee houses, and wash station.
After learning a little bit about the farm we spilt up into work project groups tackling different tasks around the farm. One group collected and washed about a hundred eggs. Another one trimmed invasive plants and some folks cleared brush from the walking trails behind the farm. We then walked down to their barn where we learned about how they ferment apples from their orchard, making cider. They also make/sell root beer, ginger ale, honey, maple syrup, eggs, kombucha, and food. They very kindly gave us all root beer. We sat in the barn drinking delicious root beer, while learning about the founding of the farm and the community support they receive. Dinner and a walk through the trails followed. Now we are all sitting around a huge bonfire singing songs.
We woke up on Sapsucker Farm and we helped water about 100 apple trees by hand to say thank you for letting us stay. We got in the van and drove around two hours to Duluth, Minnesota and visited the Damiano Center, which is a community kitchen. They also have a free store and a bunch of different programs to help folks with low or no income. They showed us around the building and we got to see their creepy attic, which was fun. Then we drove to the Quaker Meeting House that we are staying in. It used to be a Unitarian Church and it’s got lots of windows that are covered in marbled, orange glaze that casts golden light into the building and makes you feel like you are glowing. We set up our stuff and had dinner with our hosts. They fed us a pile of meat and some local Minnesota wild rice and some curry. It’s been so long since I had a meat pile. Afterwards, we played a game called salad bowl that we are all now calling the fancy grass game.
Today, we went to Red Cliff Fishery and got to see what they do. They work with tribal members who fish and they get their fish and process it. Some of it they smoke and some of it they sell raw, but a lot of it gets donated so that people in their community, especially their elders, can have healthy food. They had a giant smoker and that was pretty cool. There was this guy named Justin who was really fast at cutting the fish and getting out all the bones and the scales. Then we went to a playground to have lunch and we brought some of smoked trout from Red Cliff to try and it was really good. After lunch, we hiked to a place where we could see some sea caves below us near the Apostle Islands. It was a good day.
Days 11 and 12
On Saturday morning, we packed up for our 1.5 hour drive to Finland, Minnesota. When we got there we met with David Abasz at Round RIver Farm, and we talked to him about sustainability in growing food and in life. As soon as we got there, we did a scavenger hunt based on food, energy, shelter, and water. We then talked about how their farm is taking steps to do those things sustainably (e.g. their buildings are made from reused materials and natural materials found on the land, they are harnessing wind and solar power for their electricity and irrigation—even using a wind-powered water pump to draw water up from their well). After we talked, we went down to their lake to eat lunch and talked more about the farm and the community of Finland and the role David has played in some of the other places we were going. Then we went to the Agro-Ecology Center and met with Stefan.
Stefan talked to us about their special greenhouse that’s designed a bit like a solar oven, storing heat in its thermal mass below ground over the course of the day and letting it out over the course of the night to keep it warm. Then he showed us around the garden they have, talked about the layout, and explained some tests they were doing to figure out ways to help plants to sustain the cold Minnesota winters. He showed us their bees and talked about the role they were playing in the farm ecosystem. When Stefan first started working the land, it was a big swamp, but he built a pattern of swales and hugulkultur mounds to divert the water and drain the area while also building up top soil. He talked to us a lot about permaculture. He was using grape mash from a nearby winery combined with layers of wood chips to build up some of his beds and he was growing wine cap mushrooms in some of those beds.
In the late afternoon, we visited Sugarloaf Cove on the north shore of Lake Superior. We heard there were really cool rocks there. When we got there, there were beaches with millions of rocks and we sorted through them and found our favorites. Some of us explored the larger rocks and climbed on them. From the top we saw some beautiful views.
At the end of the day, we came to Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center to stay the night. Farmer Sarah showed us around and we filled up our water from the farm. We explored, played tag and Bananagrams. The place we are staying is huge. It’s their dorm building, which is made in a way that is sustainable and meant to last a long time. We also got to learn about the trees that went into it and the plan for the building. It even has screens that track its energy and water use and stuff like that.
The next day (Sunday), we spent the day helping out on the farm. We did a lot of weeding and tilling and spreading compost and broad forking and we planted a whole bunch of asparagus. We also started and ended the day with a short hike from the dorms to the farm and then back. Over the course of the day, Sarah talked about the program here and all the types of classes and learning experiences that happen here as well as what they do on the farm, where their food goes, and what kind of work she does with food systems, specifically farm-to-school programs.
At the end of the day, we watched the sun set from the observation deck over a huge view of the land here. It was really beautiful.