Ephesus Elementary Showcases Black Farmers for BHM
CHCCS teachers have opened new avenues to innovative instruction during Black History Month this year, and one exciting example is the rich and layered unit, “Food Nourishes Us,” at Ephesus Elementary School (EES). The Black History Month committee* worked hard to develop the month long curriculum for all EES students, PreK through fifth grade.
In class discussions and read-alouds, teachers asked questions like “Where does my food come from?” “How have Black Americans nurtured and sustained their communities with healthy food?” and “Does everyone have access to the food they need?” Students learned basic history about the growth and decline in numbers of Black American farmers, and they read passages from Black activist and farming expert, Leah Penniman’s writings.
During the second week of February, each grade level learned from a guest Black farmer who represents different aspects of agriculture and markets in the Triangle area. The presentations came from Bond’s Endless Greens, Faithfull Farms, Perkins Orchard, Tall Grass Food Box and Sankofa Farms.
The majority of students across grade levels seemed transfixed by their “farming teachers.” They learned about Donovan Watson’s start as a four year old at his family’s business, Perkins Orchard. He became the manager at 20, and now at almost 27 years of age, his business is open 7 days a week, 11 hours a day from March till December. When a student asked Watson what his favorite part about Perkins Orchard was, he answered immediately, “Connecting to my community and providing something people really need. I’m modernizing the image of an old guy on a tractor in overalls.”
EES students in fourth grade had already studied the Perkins Orchard website to learn more about North Carolina agriculture, and they were quick to name the fruits and vegetables grown across the state. Most of them looked duly impressed when they heard Perkins sells between 20,000-25,000 watermelons each season. One student asked Watson how hard he works, which brought a big smile from the young businessman. “I’m up at 5:00 in the morning and head back home around 10:00 p.m. I guess I work pretty hard.”
Gerald Harris, co-founder of Tall Grass Food Box, explained how the year old business sprang up in response to the pandemic. He talked about the concepts of food insecurity and food equity, noting the mission of Tall Grass is to “build a better place for all to live.” The business operates as a hub of support for Black farmers, many of whom had an abundance of produce and nowhere to sell it last spring. Tall Grass organized vegetable boxes, built a community of subscribers and hosted a series of Black farmers markets in the Triangle.
Kamal Bell, founder of Sankofa Farms, described many aspects of his farming operation, but he really captured the students’ attention when he talked about his bee hives, and the process of “dropping everything when a swarm escapes.” Bell said, “I feel kind of like Batman coming to the rescue.” Sankofa Farms Agricultural Academy is a year round intensive educational program for a small number of local teenagers, who learn the nuts and bolts of farming, as well as strategies for responding to numerous challenges that arise for farmers.
Students have been writing thank you notes to the presenters and their enthusiasm reflects how much they learned from the sessions. A fourth grade student wrote, “Dear Perkins Orchard, Thank you so much for teaching me all about farming!... I am so inspired that you started your business really young and I hope this business keeps succeeding! You’re a really nice person and I hope to meet you in the future.”
Another fourth grade student wrote, “Dear Perkins Orchard, I loved learning about the history of Perkins Orchard and how you were putting goods in the baskets when you were only 4! What a commitment!”
In addition to the presentations and read-alouds, all EES students received pea seeds and soil to take home, provided by the PTA.
EES Black History Month Committee:
Rachel Ethridge, Teia McCall, Courtney Sears, Jan Alston, Brian Moyer and Marne Meredith