Green Team Goes to Hilltop Hanover Farm
Connecting with each other and the earth
Students crack open iris and milkweed pods in Hilltop Hanover Farm’s classroom, and collect the seeds. Others gather around tables with sturdy screen tops, rubbing small ironweed flower heads between their fingers to release the seeds into the basin below. As they work, sheltered from the wet and cold wind blowing outside, a sense of community and connection emerges.
The students are members of John Jay Middle School and High School’s Green Team—a district-wide club designed to help teachers and students advance sustainability initiatives. The November 1 field trip, the first collaboration of the school year, was chosen purposely.
“We want to draw students together and encourage a relationship with the natural world,” said Melissa Brady, the Staff Developer for Steam and Sustainability, who set up the trip.
heading out to the fields
When the rain stops, students head outside with Hilltop's Education Programs Manager Jo Moore and Native Plants Program Manager Emily Rauch, Brady, and John Jay High School's Green Team Advisors Jill Hirshfeld and Krista Munger. While Hilltop Hanover is best known as an organic vegetable farm, the group will lean into the county-owned property’s other focus: propagating native plants.
They walk by fields of pruned-back ironweed and iris—the plants they had been deseeding. It is only one step in the farm’s work of producing native plants for local land conservation and restoration, the students learn.
Protecting seedlings with mulch
Thinking through the goal, getting the job done
“We’re doing an experiment,” Rauch tells the group when they arrive at an empty field. Upon closer look, they see long rows of three-inch grasses. She asks the students to cover the Blue Stem seedings with small clay pots, spread rich, moist mulch around them—as deep as their index fingers—then remove the pots. “Our goal is to protect, but not bury, the seedlings.”
The students ask questions, collaborate and get the job done.
As they shovel and spread mulch, conversations range from the beetles that ruined the farm’s potato crop last summer to the purpose of growing native grasses. “Native grasses stabilize the soil,” said one of the farm workers. “Blue Stem’s roots go over five feet down. They are also a host plant for insects our ecosystem needs."
Back in the farm classroom, over lunch, the students chat easily. When asked what they like about the day, the rewards of being actively engaged in the farm emerge.
“I loved the hands-on work,” said Alexa Roberts, a sixth grader. “We didn’t sit around watching.” Others nod, and add the meditative and satisfying aspects of deseeding, problem-solving together in the field, and meeting other members of the Green Team.
“It was great to be outside in the crisp weather,” said Ilirijana Ahmetaj, a junior. “My classes are stressful, and it was nice to have a break.”
"Engaging with the natural world helps students understand and care about the systems we rely on," said Brady and the Green Team Advisors. "It also provides opportunities for critical thinking as well as a restorative break. We are eager to offer more experiences like this!"