Girls on the Farm! to grow skills, confidence

CorrespondentSeptember 3, 2013 

  • Online

    Genesis Farm is located six miles west of Chapel Hill. For more information go to www.genesisfarmnc.com/

— When Trudy Matheny began renting a house on Jo Mac Road, she would sit on her porch, look out on the property and envision a small, sustainable farm.

Matheny eventually bought the property and brought Genesis Farm to life. Now she’s realizing a new vision – Girls on the Farm! (or GoFarm!) – a semester-long program in which girls ages 10 through 13 will spend up to three afternoons a week learning about sustainable agriculture.

Participants will help care for the farm’s animals, plant and harvest crops, and learn farm-based skills such as composting and fence construction. They will also receive hands-on lessons in animal husbandry, behavior, and anatomy.

“I want the girls to leave GoFarm! feeling confident and accomplished,” Matheny said. “I want them to learn real skills that they can build on and take with them.”

Adolescence can be difficult. Discovering and developing skills can give girls confidence during a time that’s often marked by self-esteem struggles and disorienting change.

“They’ll also be learning skills that aren’t traditionally targeted toward women,” Matheny added. “And I think that’s powerful.”

Tara Hewitt, the program coordinator for Genesis Farm, helped develop GoFarm! Before moving to North Carolina about two years ago, she worked for an environmental and agriculture-based education center in New Jersey.

“I sort of evolved in my practice from being an environmental educator to combining the concepts of the environment and agriculture,” she said.

Hewitt’s background so perfectly suits what Genesis farm is trying to accomplish that Matheny says it felt like she fell out of the sky. The two women connected instantly.

“We both believe that agro tourism is great, but we don’t just want to have kids out here to pick pumpkins,” she said. “We want them to learn how to grow the pumpkins.”

A retired biological anthropologist and professor, Matheny says the more she thought about farming the land around her home, the more the educator inside her surfaced.

“I started accumulating animals, and I just loved having them around,” she said. “I began thinking about how much kids enjoy animals and what a great potential there was to bring kids out to the farm.”

Matheny opened Genesis Farm to educational tours in 2007. It quickly became a popular field trip destination, but Matheny eventually began to feel as if something was missing.

“I thought, wait a minute, I want to teach more – I want to go more in depth,” she said. “It was then that I got the idea for GoFarm!”

GoFarm! is the latest addition to The Genesis Farm Educational Foundation, a nonprofit committed to advancing sustainable agriculture opportunities for women and youth through outreach, education, and networking services. Besides GoFarm!, the nonprofit also includes N.C. Women of the Land Agriculture Network and The Farm School for Women.

Matheny’s own passion for her farm and for the plant and animal life within it – both wild and domesticated – is palpable. She knows her animals well and can describe their personalities and habits. She even names them. An especially social, curious chicken is called Frieda Kahlo, after the Mexican painter. Her cows – a mother and daughter pair – are Moozart and Sister. She says she loves observing animals’ social habits and friendships

Though they will share their expertise and provide instruction, Hewitt and Matheny say they are eager for the girls of GoFarm! to develop their own interests, curiosities, and passions.

“We want to get a feel for what areas of the farm the girls are drawn to,” said Hewitt. “We really look forward to figuring out how we can keep tailoring each day to the interests they develop.”

Nelson: aan2118@columbia.edu

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