Imagine being a teenager, living here in rural Southwest Colorado. During the week you spend much of your time in the classroom reading about history and ecology and aren’t sure how it all applies to your life. Then one day your teacher says, “We’re going out to a local farm to take what you’re learning here and apply it to the real world”.

Hands on the Land

The students in Casey Simpson’s US History and Matt Robinson’s Ecology classes at Southwest Open School (SWOS) are doing just that. SWOS is known for its experiential approach to learning and knows that students learn best when they have the opportunity for hands on learning. As a part of four field trips 17 students from SWOS recently spent the afternoon at MLC’s 83-acre “Fozzie’s Farm” out near Lewis, Colorado.

Soil conservation was the focus, as Travis Custer from High Desert Conservation District demonstrated the difference between healthy and unhealthy soils. Travis took samples of both and applied water to show how erosion accelerates on unhealthy or barren soils.

Students took soil and water samples to test back in the classroom and dug trenches to study the different layers of soil beneath the surface. With the results of these tests and a day of digging in and mapping the land they are helping to establish a baseline report that will determine the future uses on the farm and in the process connect them to this land.

History and the Dust Bowl Era

History and the era of the Dust Bowl was the next topic as Chuck McAfee, who grew up in the area, shared the history of his family being forced to move from Nebraska in the early 1900’s after many years of drought. His great-grandparents homesteaded and began farming in Lewis, Colorado. Chuck shared how he has seen the impact of long term drought, erosion, and industrial farming practices diminish the quality of the soil and the productivity of the land in our area.

Chuck’s message brought home to students how important sustainable farming and ranching practices can be in preserving healthy soils and preventing the dust bowl disaster from happening again.

Casey Simpson said “It has been inspiring to be included in ground level planning and developing a vision for the property. The students had a great time collecting soil and water samples and are already showing concern for the parts of the farm that are clearly unhealthy (which they dubbed the dead zone).”

The Future of Farming

The students had a great day at the farm and walked away with a deeper understanding of what it takes to create and keep a farm healthy and productive. Now they want to be a part of the future of the farm. The students shared how they would like to be the ones planting the trees and cover crops, putting fish in the ponds, and helping with the harvest.  In the future perhaps some of these students will become the next generation of farmers and ranchers loving the land and growing the food for our tables.

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