Farming involves a lot of science.
The soil needs amending. Seed germination needs careful monitoring. The sun, wind, rain, and other elements are unruly variables in a complicated experiment.
As far as science goes, I fancied myself a pretty impressive 3rd grade ecologist. My major achievements included keeping my take-home hermit crab away from the dog, garbage disposal, and other deadly monsters, and I’m pretty sure my little sprout grew about a centimeter more than my sister’s under the classroom grow light (not that it was a competition). Despite those triumphs, I am not currently a student of biology, ecology, or any other ‘-ology’ that fits the Useful for Farming category.
I ran away from the hard sciences long ago, (around the time when we traded hermit crabs for chemical equations), and I have never missed them until now. Rather than memorizing periodic elements or different types of nervous systems for memorization’s sake, I now see science applied in a real-world context. Better yet, I experience science as it relates to fields in which I have vested interest and experience: education, public policy, human health, and more.
As the farm team creates a healthy agricultural ecosystem on our land, we are really building a giant outdoor classroom. As we manage both the plant-related and people-related sides of farming, we’re completing experiments that include variables of all colors, shapes, and scientific species.
The lessons learned in our classroom span across subject areas. Some days, I’m captivated as I listen to farm volunteers talk about their work in the Duke Hospital, Duke Chapel, or various graduate programs. Other days, I’m fascinated to learn about new methods for controlling pests on a particular row of crops.
In many ways, I feel like I am in third grade again. I get to learn by doing: the learning is hands-on, collaborative, and there’s no academic grade at stake. Through this learning, I have been tricked into thinking science is cool.
It’s surprising what the farm can teach you. My first lesson: we are all slightly less complex versions of our elementary school selves.