Freight Farm Yields Greens and Ideas

Step out of the cold into the warm, fragrant interior of Rivers’ Freight Farm, and you’ll find yourself transported to a futuristic landscape. This self-contained hydroponic farm in a reclaimed trailer has really come into its own this year as a hothouse for greens, and a hotbed of innovative curriculum projects, especially this past week. From sixth graders to seniors, and lunch-time diners, too, the impact of the Freight Farm was felt on campus.
“The Freight Farm is BOOMING with plants right now as we are trying to get all the plants from over break harvested,” said Director of the Freight Farm and Middle School science teacher Emily Poland. The sixth grade science classes have been regularly sowing, transplanting, monitoring, and harvesting a variety of greens since early fall. Check out this recent video Ms. Poland recently made about the program.
“Most of Monday’s harvest went to the cafeteria for use on the salad bar, but we used 8 of the 11 different varieties we grew over break in a ‘leaf shape and feel’ test as well as a ‘taste’ test in the sixth grade, “ said Ms. Poland. An earlier harvest in mid-November was shared with Middle School faculty and students at an afternoon ‘Sample Session’ of favorite family recipes. Guests were given the chance to taste-test a variety of greens and vote on their favorites; votes were tallied and preferences noted—a great real-world math problem! Next week’s harvest of greens will go to the Natick Service Council where the middle school community service group volunteers.
The Freight Farms is being used by more than just the sixth grade science classes though. On Friday the AP Environmental Science class took a turn in the Farm. Michaela Francesconi ’18, who had an internship last summer at the Freight Farm headquarters in South Boston, walked a group of classmates through the operating systems of the farm before they helped harvest some the mature greens and herbs. Her focus during her internship was on growing strawberries and hops: read more on her blog here.
“We are doing our unit on agriculture right now,” said AP Environmental Science teacher Chris Dalton, “and it was a great opportunity to get the class into the Freight Farm. They are learning about sustainable agriculture, organic farming, and genetically-modified organisms, and the Freight Farm operation is a part of our focus as an example of sustainable farming. The students are supplementing their studies with an independent research project on the difference between organic and synthetic fertilizer through their own experiments. They are in the process of planting seeds using different types and levels of fertilizer, and will monitor growth of the plants over time.” The plan is to share their research conclusions with the sixth graders.  
On Wednesday, Ms. Poland worked with Humanities teacher Ari Kaplan in her sixth grade classes, supporting a research and summary skill-building activity based on sustainable farming.
“The sixth graders are preparing to start a long-term, multi-stage research project examining the voyages of Christopher Columbus from multiple perspectives,” said Ms. Kaplan. “A key skill involved in this project will be summarizing research in their own words. This week, we learned about five criteria for evaluating internet sources and tested our knowledge in an internet scavenger hunt.
“Since the sixth graders have been enjoying their projects in the Freight Farm, Emily Poland and I thought that it would be interesting to give them the chance to learn more about sustainable farming while practicing their research skills. We settled on the topic of food deserts, as this is a problem that Freight Farms were designed to combat. I selected three different articles relating to food deserts, all with slightly different intended audiences, publishers, angles, etc., and the students were tasked with evaluating each one. In class, we went over the pros and cons of each source, emphasizing the importance of usability (is the source sixth grade-friendly?), and in the process we were also able to discuss what we had learned about food deserts. They will now be working to summarize one of the articles we read using a new protocol we're learning in humanities.
“It has been wonderful to see the enthusiasm and ownership the sixth graders have brought to their work in the Freight Farm, and it's important to me and (I think I can speak for her on this!) Emily to find ways to meaningfully connect all they're learning about how the Freight Farm works to what they're learning in each discipline. I think focusing on a topic related to the Freight Farms helped the research skills I presented stick in their minds, as they brought a lot of passion and focus to our discussion.”
“This research unit serves as a lead-in to our culminating project for the Freight Farm,” concluded Ms. Poland. “The students will be doing a four-pronged entrepreneurship project: figuring out supply and demand data for the cafeteria, coordinating donations to the Natick Service Council, starting up their own May Farmers Market—if approved, and investigating a seed plug growing project so that kids can take plants home in the summer to transplant into their garden. Hopefully they will fall in love with making their own food.”