Over the past couple of weeks at the UM FLAT, Casey, Stephanie and I have been hosting field trips for the kiddos at Clark Fork School to come and learn about what the FLAT does by engaging in hands on projects like pizza making in the cob oven and creating “seed balls” out of clay, soil and seeds.
When I first thought about interning at the FLAT this spring, I had environmental education in mind. These field trips demonstrated exactly that. Even with an age group so young, it was clear that the things we would be teaching them about at the FLAT would be important to their greater understanding of their surroundings and the natural world, while also promoting sustainability in their own lives.
We greeted the preschoolers as they walked up the narrow sidewalk on Fifth Street, inviting them in to look at the compost and the garden. I was surprised by how much they already knew about the two. “What kinds of things do you put in the compost or grow in the garden?” I would ask. “Egg Shells! Carrots! Cucumbers!” These preschoolers knew it all, and didn’t hesitate to explain how some of them had a garden and chickens at home, too.
After walking around the property and explaining to them how the cob oven, greenhouse, hot box and other previously made FLAT projects function, we got to work on creating seed balls and homemade pizza in the cob oven.
At the seed ball making station, little hands were covered in a clay mess as they mixed clay, potting soil, water and yarrow seeds together in a bowl. We explained to them how yarrow is native to Montana, and showed them some of it growing in the native plant garden. After creating their own individual ball of the seed and clay mess, we let them dry over night and later returned them to Clark Fork School for the students to take home and throw in their own yards in hopes that yarrow will sprout from them soon.
On the other side of the yard, the kids were eagerly creating their masterpiece cheese pizzas that would later go into the outdoor cob oven made of straw, rocks, clay and dirt. We explained to them how the oven is not the same as their oven in their kitchen, and opened the door to show them the fire burning in the back: no electricity. Sauce covered smiling faces ran around the yard, feeding the chickens dandelions and poking in and out of the greenhouse.
The wonderful thing with a hands-on environmental education project such as this is the opportunity to learn that it presents to everyone involved. Not only did the kids get to learn about how their seeds would one day become bright green grass growing in the yard, but parents and teachers accompanying them learned about other FLAT projects like the cob oven and rocket stove, inspired to try to build their own at home. In using previous student-built projects such as the cob oven and greenhouse to teach young students about sustainability, we were able to come full circle and really embody what I see the purpose of the FLAT to be: an example of sustainable living that will encourage others to do the same.
Aspen Anderson, FLAT intern