Seoul, Vancouver, Boston, New York: I spent the majority my life in cities. I feel more comfortable around grey skyscrapers and speeding taxi cabs, than bugs, wild animals, and evergreen trees.
Perhaps you can imagine my surprise when I started at Proctor Academy, a small, experiential boarding school in Andover, New Hampshire — out of nowhere, deep in the woods as far as I was concerned. Culture shock, if you will. The school emphasizes students’ relationship with nature. Clubs like Proctor Environmental Action organize trips to local farms to discuss organic agriculture, and AP Environmental Science is one of the only handful of AP-level classes offered. All students must attend the wilderness orientation during their first year, when faculties lead small groups of students into the White Mountains, hiking and camping for four days out in the wild. Students get lost in the woods, swim in the river, cook their foods over portable gas stoves, set up tarps and sleeping bags, get drenched from the heavy rain while making friends with their new peers and mentors. You get the idea.
For city kids, Proctor Academy is an eye-opening experience. Some love it, some hate it, but four years at Proctor impacts you. Once you learn to love and care about the mother nature, you can’t unlearn it. It stays with you in your subconscious, impacting daily decisions like using plastic or saving energy. I’d recommend the school for everyone, most definitely.
Unfortunately, not everyone can attend Proctor Academy. Private boarding schools are expensive and Proctor is no exception. Although the school offers various scholarship programs, for low-income urbanite families, sending kids off to a boarding school in New Hampshire for four years is a luxury that they cannot afford.
I believe urban agriculture can help abridge that educational gap. Although whether or not urban farms can be economically viable is a difficult question due to variables like exorbitantly high price of land, it can most definitely function as a place of learning, where city folks can build connection with nature through hands-on experience.
Battery Urban Farm in Manhattan is a perfect example. Since it started as an educational farm in 2010, it has grown significantly in its social impact. This year, the farm taught 2,700 students from 50 New York schools about the importance and the logistics of agriculture. The first step in solving problems of food security and agriculture is to educate people on the issue. And the best way to learn is through doing. What’d be a better way to learn about irrigation than by watering your own plants? What’d be a better way to learn about the soil conditions than by running your own hands through the land?