Utah Department of Agriculture and Food

A Visit to Valley Academy Charter School

Utah Department of Agriculture and Food Commissioner LuAnn Adams and state entomologist Kris Watson dropped in on the third graders of Valley Academy Charter School in Hurricane last week to talk about ranching and insects.

Unexpectedly, however, Principal Tracy Stevens shared with the Commissioner and Watson some of the school’s newest attractions. Leading them out to the schoolyard, the guests saw children clamoring for a better view along the school’s back fence – and no, it wasn’t a new swing set or monkey bars that captured their interest.

This school is host to a unique agriculture curriculum – several farm animals are being raised in the back, including pigs, horses, donkeys, a calf, and even some chicks that are preparing to hatch. Along with the carefully-supervised daily access to the animals, kids are educated about their diet and care by animal program manager and maintenance supervisor, Leon Gubler.

“I have received nothing but 100 percent support from the kids and parents here,” said Gubler, who has been managing farm animals his entire life. “The sad reality is that in this day and age agriculture is so far removed from a large part of society that kids don’t always know where their food comes from.”

As if that wasn’t enough, the school also has its own experimental garden with ambitious plans to expand into a community garden and pumpkin patch. Hands-on classes are taught by Stephanie Lindhardt, a parent to children at the school and a certified permaculture designer.

Permaculture design, as she explains, is the creation of a holistic ecosystem that intermingles native trees, perennials, and annuals to create a more efficient and productive garden. Here, children can choose from all kinds of work assignments to keep the garden running such as digging, planting, thinning, weeding, composting, and much more.

“I want the kids to develop a new relationship with food – how it’s grown and what they can do with it,” said Lindhardt, who on rainy or cold days will take the class indoors to learn other things such as canning, butter blending, and veggie scrap sprouting.

Principal Stevens is rightly proud of the school’s agriculture double-win, teaching children valuable lessons through a self-sustaining program. Vegetables from the garden, for example, will be used for a small salad bar on the school’s lunch menu and to help area low-income families. Discarded lunchroom food is used to feed the pigs.

“It’s so heart-warming to see these kids exposed to simple yet powerful messages about agriculture,” said Commissioner Adams. “There’s no better way to learn about animals and vegetables than to have a hand in their growth.”

For her part, Commissioner Adams shared with the class her own experiences as a real-life rancher. She talked about where food comes from and all the wonderful food that can be made from farms and ranches.

Watson then took his turn, discussing the difference between good bugs and bad bugs. He showed them several cases of specimens and challenged them to identify one of the more damaging invasive species, Japanese beetle.

“I thought it was a lot of fun. I was amazed at how many questions these kids had and how smart they were,” said Watson.

The visit was one of several the Commissioner has committed to doing periodically in an effort to help educate Utah school children about agriculture – ranching, farming, insects, soil, and more.