Posts Tagged ‘education’

A Day in the Life of a Hard Bargain Farm 5th Grader

August 29th, 2018

By: Kayla David, Outreach Coordinator

For those of us to have walked the paths of Hard Bargain Farm, it is no wonder to us why Alice Ferguson first fell in love with these rolling hills, forests, meadows and wetlands. The land is so much more than dirt and rocks. Each student that comes to Alice Ferguson Foundation’s Hard Bargain Farm walks in the footprints of the young adventurers who came before them. For many of those students, this trip is their very first outdoor experience – and what an experience it is! A day at Hard Bargain Farm is never the same twice, but it might look something like this:

Rising early, the students dress and make their way down a winding path towards the gleaming solar panels of the Cafritz Environmental Center where they eat breakfast, family-style. Once everyone is fed and watered, the students hit the trails that wind through the property.

Along the way, the students stop at a meadow to learn about the migration of local wildlife,  their adaptations, and the resilience of nature as they inspect a few milkweed seeds (or as we like to call them milkweed fairies), and blow them into the wind. Their next stop is at the swamp, where they use dip nets and buckets to dig down into the leaves and muck to discover the life there. Squeals of excitement are heard when they discover a crayfish hiding in the mud.

“If we want to examine it, someone has to pick it up and put it in this bucket,” explains the educator. Looks of disgust and fear cover the faces of the students. Finally, a nervous but determined little hand reaches forward and grabs the small crustacean. Joy erupts all around, and now each student is in line to prove they are just as brave.

Once the students finally reach the river, they gaze out across the water at Mt. Vernon and imagine what life would have been like before this land was developed, before pieces of plastic washed up daily onto the shoreline. In this moment, the students see with their own eyes both the rich cultural history of the area, and how their actions – at their school, in their community – might impact the world around them.

Then, out of nowhere, and osprey swoops down, catches a fish and carries it to a nearby tree to enjoy. The students gasp and exclaim in excitement. After watching the bird for a little longer, it’s time to head back. As the Hard Bargain Farm educator herds the students back on the trail, the most important words of the day are spoken.

A student exclaims, “Aw, I don’t want to leave.” 

The Number One Plant to Avoid Outdoors

September 16th, 2013

By Keith Roumfort, Program Manager, Bridging the Watershed

“Three leaves, let it be.”

“Hairy rope, don’t be a dope.”

Such mnemonic sayings help people avoid one of the concerns for the average hiker: poison ivy. Poison ivy, a North American native that isn’t a true ivy, likes to grow in disturbed areas. Despite its name, it’s not poisonous, but the urushiol oil that lies in
plant gives humans an unforgettable rash.

To avoid that itching experience, it’s a good thing to know how to spot this common plant on outdoor trails.

Look at the edges (margins) of the leaves
Poison ivy has compound leaves, a cluster of three leaflets that form the leaf stemming from a petiole (“leaf stem”). Many other similar plants have compound leaves of three leaflets as well, so to help identify the plant, you can look at the edges or margins of the plant as well as counting leaflets.

Plant leaves are usually symmetrical, a mirrored image on both sides. Poison ivy’s margins on the leaflets can be symmetrical and asymmetrical on the same plant.

poison ivy margins
The margins can be smooth (entire) or jagged (toothed).
poison ivy symmetry


Fall Changes
Throughout fall, clustered berries ripen from green to a pale, light yellow. Often the seed-containing berries are gobbled up by birds before winter sets in. The leaves are deciduous, turning yellow or sometimes red before falling to the ground.
poison ivy berries 1
poison ivy berries 3


The Perennial Hairy ‘Rope’
No matter what the season, but especially during bare winters, the vines are easily visible. The vines may creep over the ground, on walls, and up trees. As the vines mature, they get thicker and covered with dark hairy-like structures that anchor the vine to the surface. Beware as the vines may give you the rash.
hairy rope 1hairy rope 2


Tips to remember if you are exposed:

  • Don’t infect your eyes or mouth as urushiol oil can spread the rash internally.
  • Don’t burn poison ivy because you can inhale the rash-inducing smoke.
  • Wash the exposed skin with plenty of cool water without the water getting to other areas of your body. Warm or hot water can open up your pores to the oil. Be careful in removing exposed clothing and cleaning it.
  • A person with a rash is not contagious. The urushiol oil has already been absorbed into the skin. Only contact with residue oil can spread the rash.
  • If the rash gets worse and/or lasts for a few weeks, see a doctor.

Spending time outdoors can be lots of fun no matter what the activity with just a bit of common sense and precaution. Some people may claim to be immune to poison ivy, but like other forms of immunity, it can be lost. The best way to prevent the itchy surprise after a hike is to be aware of where you are walking and develop sight recognition of poison ivy.

History of Evening Chores

December 21st, 2012

By Ann Bodling, Children’s Garden Associate

It was drizzling as I headed down to the barnyard.  The sky was grey, dusk was early and most of the chickens had decided that staying indoors and dry, was preferable to being outdoors and wet. They didn’t seem to mind being closed in a tad earlier than usual.  Our laying flock includes Red Stars, Black Stars, White Rocks and Barred Rocks laying brown eggs in various hues, Leghorns laying white eggs and, Americanas laying lovely eggs of blues and greens. The chickens are housed in four coops built long ago, having sheltered literally dozens of generations of laying hens who have roamed the chicken yards, shaded by towering sycamore and sweet gum trees.  Like previous generations and the generations to come, our flocks roost on the old roosts and lay their eggs in the old nest boxes.

As is often the case on weekends, the farm was quiet and I was alone with the animals – a rich, sweet, peaceful aloneness in which everything felt exactly right, exactly as it ought to be.  As I made my way into the barnyard, the animals were waiting for me.  The watch-geese, I call them, have the loudest voices on the farm and sounded a raucous alarm that the evening routine was about to begin (someone has to do it, I suppose, and they have taken the responsibility to heart).  I gave the donkey his hay in the pasture, allowing the geese and I to scoot into their pen at the back of his stall. I closed them in and as they greedily gobbled their corn, I called to the turkey, already on his way to his own quarters. Eager for his own rations, he unhesitatingly marched into his pen and I latched the latch, leaving him happily pecking his way through dinner.

Turning my attention to the evening milking chores, I gathered the washing solution, washcloth and milk pail and headed in to Annie and Marmalade, already in place and munching blissfully on the fragrant hay. I breathed in deeply and smiled.  Though the world is filled with many wonderful scents, I don’t believe there are any finer than that of warm cows and good hay. I looked around the small old milking barn wondering how many cows had previously stood in the stalls that are now occupied by our cows, how many hands milked those cows, and how many gallons of milk had fallen  into shiny metal pails, just as I was doing and others will do after me.

Living and working on Hard Bargain Farm has allowed me to step into the history and the continuum of this place.  Wherever I look, be it barns or houses or the fields and woodlands, I am aware of those who have gone before, living their lives and taking their sustenance from this land. I am grateful to be a part of that continuum and for the opportunity to do the same.

A Holiday Ode to Our Animals

December 7th, 2012

By Lori Arguelles, Executive Director, Alice Ferguson Foundation

This time of year we are bombarded with holiday images. There’s Santa, of course, along with reindeer and sacks of toys; Sugar Plum Fairies and nutcrackers dance through our heads as well.  For me, some of the images I can’t get out of my head are from a classical holiday song that’s got something for everyone—from the jewelry lovers to the nature lovers and everyone in between.  I think that the imagery is so powerful for me this year in part because for the first time in my life I’m actually privileged to KNOW some of those eight maids-a-milking, six geese-a-laying, and even three French hens!  It’s a beneficial byproduct of leading an organization like the Alice Ferguson Foundation where the working farm aspect of our facility, containing a wide array of animals,  is one of the many things that make a visit here such a memorable experience.

Let’s face it, there’s something special about animals. They accept us for who we are.  They don’t care about what’s in our wallets (though they do love carrots in our pockets!).  And the notion of naughty or nice is totally different from their perspective.  A colleague told me recently about a student who participated in a field study at our Hard Bargain Farm Environmental Center.  This student was clearly one who had been deemed ‘naughty’ by teachers and even fellow students, which is a label you can carry for a long time, even if it’s not accurate any more.  This student clearly felt the mark of his status, which is what made his words all the more powerful as he bonded with one of our playful goats and said “Wow, Sparkle really just likes me for me.”

Some students don’t have success in a traditional classroom.  Their brains simply aren’t wired for it and because classroom environments don’t always have much space for alternative thinkers or kids with too much energy they get a ‘naughty’ label that’s hard to shake.  Here at the Alice Ferguson Foundation, we  get the gift of seeing these students excel in our environment—in nature!  We get the gift of knowing that we’ve helped a child see themselves and the world a little differently.  We get the gift of creating a lifelong memory for this precious child.

As “The Twelve Days of Christmas” continues to play on repeat in my head, flashing images of our animals and the smiling faces of students, I am reminded of how grateful we are here to receive these gifts and to, in turn share them with you.

I’ve got to go…Sparkle is looking for treats and I don’t want to disappoint!