It’s not often that you come across a farm in a city school. So when you walk into the Gems Metropole School in Motor City and find a modest garden being transformed by the students into a beautiful fruits and vegetables farm, including an indoor hydroponics space, with resident chickens and rabbits, it’s an amazing lesson in sustainability.
“When the idea of a school farm was first brought up, our initial thoughts were of building a small manageable vegetable patch,” says Nav Iqbal, principal and CEO of Metropole.
Strong community links
“The benefits of incorporating an active farm in the school has been an amazing achievement, providing fantastic learning advantages to our students and creating strong community links. Our mission has always been to create a positive environment where we educate not only our students, but also our school families about the benefits of sustainability. This has been an exciting journey, one that we have only just begun,” he explains.
Research has shown that school farms with livestock enrich the academic curriculum effectively across various subjects such as science, maths, english, geography, business studies and social and personal development.
Farm Fresh, the farm at Gems Metropole does this in more ways than one. “Where else could you teach the importance of crop rotation in geography, the life cycle of a living animal in science and calculate the financial running costs of our farm in maths? The teaching and learning opportunities seem endless and that is the beauty of the practical elements of having a farm,” says Iqbal.
Farm Fresh presents the opportunity to experience different seasons and promotes the importance of sustainability. “The nature trail provides opportunity to discover our native flora and fauna with a variety of habitats. It allows the children to become Nature Detectives, track down evidence of the birds and mammals that call the farm home. We value the importance of teaching students where our food comes from – and that’s where our produce and orchard come in. Children can sow seeds or harvest fruit and vegetables, while learning about healthy eating.”
Beyond the classroom
Children in different year groups enjoy the farm in different ways. Year 2 student Hala El Gamal loves visiting the farm with her teacher Ms Beth. For her it’s the sheer joy of seeing her peppermint plant grow and watching over the chickens and feeding them. For Year six student, Leon McCann, the farm teaches him the importance of sustainable food growth and irrigation by using the water systems. Year 13 student Shanessa Fernandes looks at the farm as an eco-friendly, sustainable student-enterprise that advocates plant and animal welfare through the ever-growing family of rabbits and chickens. Fernandes has been involved in designing the farm’s branding and visual identity.
“As our farm grows so does the passion within our children. The one request we cannot quite provide yet is from our younger students – the addition of a camel to our farm. Well not quite just yet…” says Iqbal in good humour. Students are now adapting their learning from the local community to the global stage, tackling even he United Nations Sustainability Goals.
“Growing our own medicinal herbs, fruit and vegetables is a step in the right direction of creating an open dialogue across our school about social responsibility and how we can make positive changes in the world. By being a part of the global discussion, students can make a real difference. The introduction of the weekly farmers market, where we share out produce with the local community has excited everyone involved,” adds Iqbal.
On any average day in school, you will find KS3 art students working on producing merchandising for the farm or the KS5 business students holding weekly meetings to discuss the growth potential of the farm. “We have environmentally friendly totes bags that are branded with our farm fresh logo. Students regularly visit the farm to gain inspiration for their creative designs and thoroughly enjoy being involved in this new social enterprise initiative!” says Iqbal.
The farm, Iqbal explains, teaches students lifelong skills that they will take with them into their future education settings such as organisation development, time management and team work. “All of these topics are linked directly back to their course and encourage further understanding and therefore greater success in exams!”
So how do teachers make the farm a part of the learning environment? “Teachers sign up to use the farm each term as part of their curriculum mapping. They make educational cross curricular links so that the learning is meaningful. Secondary students are timetabled and use it as part of their project learning. The farm is also used as part of our masterclasses extracurricular activities. The Farm is not just for students, many of the support staff and teachers spend time in the farm and use the produce and we are planning to be able to extend the farm accessibility to the wider community later in 2021.”