Espenscheid Ranch is one of my favorite places in Montana. I’ve been there to help plant, harvest, and save an abandoned garden from weeds. I’ve hiked through the ranch’s hills and marveled and how fast the garden grows and the seasons change.  I’ve gotten to know the incredible people who work the land. And after all these visits, there’s still no sweeter sound or sight than sixty 1st and 3rd graders wandering about and asking questions:
Dick and Patricia Espencheid
“Where can I find the broccoli??”
“Is this a good muching carrot?”
“When is it time to dig for potatoes?”
“Can we bring a chicken egg back on the bus?”
It was only the second week of school and I was able to bring two 3rdgrade classes, one 1st grade class, and ten high school helpers over to the ranch for a visit. Last year I organized a similar afternoon field trip, but having been in town for just one month, I scrambled furiously to sort through the confusion of permissions slips, transportation, schedules, and the names of teachers and farmers in a new community. What a difference one year of relationship building can make.
There were three different stations that all of the classes visited. We learned how to harvest potatoes (like a treasure hunt because the plants give us clues of where to dig), why it’s ok to munch into the carrots we just dug up (no chemicals ever go into this organic farm), and how to raise chickens, turkeys, and ducks!
There were no lesson plans for any of the stations. Instead, I wanted this first exploration to be driven by the students’ curiosity. I will have plenty of scheduled lesson time in the Youth Garden and in the classrooms this coming year, so the field trip was all about creating an open space where students had the freedom to discover a camouflaged grasshopper, examine a buried beet, or yank up that stubborn carrot.

We learned as we traveled through rows of weeds, leapt over ginormous kale, and “snuck” bites of ripe tomatoes on our way to the next station.
Fall was undeniably in the air, and since returning from FoodCorps orientation a few weeks ago, the cooler temperatures have been nagging at me. They’ve been reminding me that our first frost is just around the corner and that there is much work to be done in the cafeteria. But during our morning at the ranch, I was able to step back and take on the spirit and curiosity of my students. I was able to simply enjoy the beauty, knowledge, and nourishment that one of my favorite places has to offer.