Students learn about sustainable agricultural practices through an innovative partnership between the Werklund School and Highfield Regenerative Farm
Students learn about sustainable agricultural practices through an innovative partnership between the Werklund School and Highfield Regenerative Farm

Aug. 22, 2022

From farm to table to the world

Werklund School pre-service teachers consider grassroots, local, and global impacts as they take lessons to the field

It’s a warm, summer morning in Calgary, and sunbeams are streaming across the mounds of soil at the Highfield Regenerative Farm. Clouds are threatening in the distance, but on this morning, the sun is coaxing young plants to sprout as they are carefully tended by a group of Grade 1 and 2 students.

While the children are experiencing important lessons about where food comes from on this visit to the unique farm in a section of Calgary’s industrial southeast, they’re also being encouraged to think beyond their own kitchen tables to bigger topics such as urban farming, food security and even global sustainable development.

This may seem like a bit of a departure from a typical classroom lesson plan or even the average field trip, and it is. As part of the Werklund School of Education’s course work for pre-service teachers, the learning taking place at the Highfield Farm is the brainchild of four recent graduates.

The eight-week Interdisciplinary Learning course has been recently redesigned to become the Design For Learning course which will be offered for the first time this fall as a way for Werklund students to use design to look deeply at interdisciplinary learning for their students. This section of the course was developed as a pilot by Stephanie Bartlett, PhD candidate and instructor in the Werklund School, and will become a regular section of the course in fall of 2023.

Unique in that it provides students a much deeper experience into interdisciplinary learning, Bartlett’s class focuses on practical or direct place-based examples for learning, replacing previous curriculum in which the undergraduate students built theoretical models, designing lesson plans that integrated interdisciplinary elements, yet all done without access to real-world foundations.

“We want the students to have a lived experience,” explains Bartlett of the interdisciplinary nature of education. “And there’s a way to do that in the world.”

Community partnerships are the catalyst

In partnership with the Calgary Stampede Foundation, the class begins with a meeting on the Stampede grounds with an Indigenous Elder, where students learn about place and relationship building. In the following days, they spend time listening to the stories of the land and learning new ways of sharing. They meet various Stampede partners to understand more about the deep ties and connections the Stampede shares with the broader community.

“I want the students to have deep conversations, to figure out what topics come out from the lived experience of storytelling at the Stampede,” says Bartlett.

By the end of the second week, the students have a good sense of the impact of community engagement at the hyper-local level, understanding how one organization has the capacity to impact many.

The next step is to take their ideas global. They are asked to consider the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and how a local initiative can contribute to achieving worldwide objectives.

At this point, says Bartlett, the students start to think about specific projects. “We (the Werklund School and the Calgary Stampede Foundation) help them think about the topics they’re interested in. We ask them to tie their ideas to the UN SDGs. Based on the big questions they’re asking, we set them up with people in the community they can learn more from.”

Working alongside the community partners, the students formulate a question to develop for the younger students to consider. And in the final week they present to the partners how they would teach the experience to those young students and invite the partners to offer feedback.

Highfield Farm provides interdisciplinary learning environment

In the case of the Highfield Regenerative Farm, Grace Bogowicz and three other students in the class saw the perfect opportunity to offer place-based, experiential learning. With common interests in building sustainable cities and communities and reducing experiences of inequality, Bogowicz, along with Kristin Berthelsen, Graeme Olson, and Connor Summach visited the farm and set their sights on building a program at Highfield.

“It’s using a space that lay vacant for many years,” Bogowicz explains. “They focus on community building through their incorporation of volunteers and their hosting of many community events throughout the year.

“And the food that the farm grows is all donated, so they really contribute to reducing food insecurity in the city as well as closing up local waste loops.”

Watching the students, both from Werklund and those in K-12 schools, learn about how they can impact the world around them — and the world well beyond — is exactly the goal of the course. And Bogowicz says it’s a lesson in seeing education in a more broad, holistic way.

“This course was incredibly immersive,” she says. “ It didn’t follow the traditional structure of other courses I had taken. We were really encouraged to take responsibility and ownership for our own learning, and to follow our passion and our curiosity. In other university courses, this is not always an option. The learning process was very experiential, very hands on, and very collaborative.”

“Ultimately, this course really sheds light on the concept of learning by doing, of taking one’s learning into one’s own hands through the process of inquiry.”