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Harvesting Alaska: The Learning Farm is teaching children about farm life, compassion for animals

By Rachael Penton Photojournalist: Beth Peak - 9:17 AM May 22, 2017

If you’ve got a little one, chances are they’re familiar with our native Alaska wildlife by the time they can talk. However, it may be a different story when it comes to common farm animals.

“I’ve brought animals into schools for years and I really found that they know very little about animals, especially farms animals, and they really don’t have much opportunity in Alaska to be around them. It’s kind of developed and I really wanted an educational program and not a petting zoo,” says Deborah Baines of The Learning Farm.

The Learning Farm is a full-fledged farm located off of Huffman Road. Baines has been running her farm there for 39 years. It’s filled with all of the typical animals one would find on the farm. There’s Arnold the pot-bellied pig, Bessie the calf, Salt the sheep, and plenty of horses, chickens, and baby goats. “This is their home. I want them to be comfortable at their home. We have nice animals that are used to being around children all the time,” says Baines.

For years, Baines took her animals into schools to teach students about farm life, but now the students come to her. Six years ago she turned her farm into The Learning Farm, and began hosting schoolchildren on field trips and summer camps. Students get hands on with the animals to learn the proper care and handling by doing things like harnessing and driving the horses or brushing the ponies. They’ll learn what animals eat and feed them. Then, they’ll learn where their own food comes from, by gathering eggs from the chicken house. In her “Scientific Adventure Camp” students will dive deeper into the science- learning about the circulatory, digestive, nervous, skeletal and muscle, and respiratory systems of animals.

In addition to learning about the animals, students also learn about the products that animals produce from start to finish. For example, students may milk the goats and then turn the milk into cheese. They’ll also grind wheat and bake bread to eat with the goat cheese at the end of the day. Other times, students will collect wool from the sheep. They’ll hand wash and carder the wool, and turn it into felt. “A lot of kids don’t know much about wool,” says Baines. “Most of our fabric is blends so they’re not even that familiar with wool.”

In addition to all the fun interacting with the animals and the hands on projects, Baines wants the students to take away a love and compassion for living things. “They learn here we respect the animals. We respect their space so we don’t scare them. That can be carried on with home pets- cats, dogs, rabbits” she says.

Allowing her animals to roam the farm stress-free is an important part of keeping the animals happy and the kids engaged. “I think the favorite is hearing how it positively impacted the kid, how excited they are when they leave here and they talk about it. Positively impacting children.”

For more information on field trips and summer farm camps visit: http://www.thelearningfarm.net/

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