Irvine (Rural Roots Canada) – An on-farm agriculture education program on the Neubauer Farm near Irvine, Alberta is about to morph into the Irvine School Agriculture Discovery Centre.

The centre which is being done in partnership with the Prairie Rose School Division will allow youth to learn about agriculture first-hand.

Nichole Neubauer, who is the founder of this initiative, says they have been building towards this with The Growing Minds on-farm agriculture education program.

Growing Minds

The first seed for the idea was planted when Neubauer convinced a kindergarten teacher to bring kids out to the farm around 15 years ago.

“We did some programming and planned some activities for the kids when they came out and truly it was magic,” Neubauer said.

She says it was magical because the kids dove head-first into the experience and learned so much.

“Seeing kids out in the garden, digging in the soil, finding worms, touching different leaves and different textures.”

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Instead of creating a bin full of dirt in the classroom, Neubauer says they wanted to fully immerse the kids in the experience so brought the classroom out to the farm.

“It dawned on me at that point in time that ag education is something that all kids should receive.”

And that was the start of the Growing Minds initiative, leading to the development of a program at Neubauer Farms.

Irvine School Agriculture Discovery Centre
Irvine School Agriculture Discovery Centre
Photo Courtesy: Nichole Neubauer @N_Neubauer

Another building block, in the journey to the discovery centre, would come in 2013 when the Neubauers would transform their yard so part of it could become an agriculture classroom.

The program picked up more momentum as a result.

COVID-19 Pandemic

She says they have seen over 20,000 students and their teachers at the farm in the past 15 years, meaning things have never really slowed down.

Since youth couldn’t visit the farm during the COVID-19 pandemic, it really Neubauer a chance to really think about what site-based ag education could look like.

She wanted to make it bigger.

“I wanted to take this to a different level, I wanted to educate beyond my gate and so I spent a good chunk of the last year developing a proposal of what ag education could look like if it was site-based, located right on a playground, right on the school.”

That’s when the pen hit the paper, so to speak, and she crafted a very in-depth proposal with a budget and infrastructure based on all of the trials and tribulations they had experienced over the last decade and a half.

When it was done she took it to the leadership of the Prairie Rose Public School Division, and they were thrilled with it.

Animals and Crops

She says the students on the farm will be able to work with livestock and crops.

“From a couple of feeder steers to a cow that will calve on-site, as well as some dairy cows, goats, meat, pigs, chickens, and market lambs.”

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Neubauer says even though there will only be one of each they will be able to educate about each animal whether it is about creature comforts or code of practice of raising them.

The learning won’t stop at livestock as there will be an open area where they will grow produce and also some small crop plots which will allow students to deepen their knowledge about the food they eat.

“What do lentils look like? What’s flax? what’s wheat? What are some of the crops that are grown in our area? And then we can expand it so much more and say, How do we add value to those crops? Where do they go throughout the world?”

Creating the Ag Leaders of Tomorrow

Neubauer says the Discovery Centre will be student led, creating many leadership opportunities.

There will be a rotating schedule where kids who live in the region come out and help on weekends to look after the livestock and crops.

Several farmers in the area have also stepped up to say they can help out if needed.

“We’re really embracing that because it is something that’s going to be really community driven.”

Explore

The discovery centre will not only serve as a school-based educational facility, but an interpretive site as well.

In the next year or so, Neubauer says they will be welcoming in the general public as well, since it is ideally located close to the Trans Canada.

“We’ll have a sign on the highway welcoming people to come and explore it.”

Neubauer says people are really hungry to learn more about where their food comes from and the family hopes this centre will help satisfy that hunger.