Walla Walla youngsters try hand at farmwork

Edison Elementary second-graders recently got a hands-on chance to learn about agriculture.

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Edison Elementary second-graders recently watched a demonstration of on cider making at Ross's Spring Creek Farm.

WALLA WALLA -- Second-graders from Edison Elementary School spent a recent school day doing hands-on learning on a working farm.

About 84 students were guests of Ross's Spring Creek Farm, owned and operated by retired educator Milton Ross. This marks the second year that Ross has opened his farm to Edison students for a day.

Edison teacher Kay Barga said the farm visit provided a great opportunity for learning outside the classroom. Lessons ranged from getting a general overview of the business side to growing and selling produce, to focusing on the science of plant growth, from seeds to blooms to fruit. As an added science lesson, the students conducted soil-testing directly on the farm, in a follow-up to work lessons learned at school.

Barga said students collected rose petals from the farm's rose garden, and corn leaves from a corn field that will go to classroom projects later this year. The corn leaves will work for an upcoming unit on the pilgrims and American Indians, while the rose petals will go toward making Mother's Day gifts in the spring.

Many of the elements covered on the farm have been studied in class, either in stories or textbooks.

Getting to see the release of pollen from tasselflowers will reinforce a story the students will read on pollination, Barga said.

During the visit, students got to snack on the fresh grown apples while taking in a story, and even had time to hold a relay race.

Ross said what is turning into an annual event came as a surprise to him, following the request of a former colleague and friend.

Ross's Spring Creek Farm has been in the family for three generations. But for more than 20 years, Ross worked as a speech pathologist and speech therapist for Walla Walla Public Schools.

"After having been in teaching for 20 plus years, and being retired, it gives me an opportunity to still be working with children," he said.

Opening his farm to children was not completely new when the request came last year. Years ago, Ross said he would invite small groups of special education students to the farm. As the model for special education teaching focused more on integration, Ross saw the student visits end.

Last year, Ross said, he was contacted by Mary Lynn Thompson, who is the current speech and language pathologist for Edison Elementary.

"She asked me one day, 'would you mind if I brought a few kids out?'" he said.

Ross agreed, and was surprised when closer to 80 students showed up at the farm.

"It was somewhat of a surprise, but it was a good surprise," he said. "We felt like we had enough nerve to try it again."

The farm, located at 3782 Old Milton Highway, has apple trees and corn, and assorted fruits and vegetables over about seven acres. There is also equipment for pressing apples into cider, which Edison students got to try their hands at during the recent visit.

"I think everybody had a good learning experience, and it was a worthwhile outing for the school, and for me, and for everybody," Ross said.

Ross said it will take until next year to see if the event truly becomes an annual visit.

"We'll approach it when the year comes around, and see if we are brave enough to do it again," he said.

Ross spoke praises of both Thompson and the teachers who helped coordinated the visit, and planned lessons around the day.

"They made it a real worthwhile event for children to learn, and get exposed to a working farm," he said. "I think they all had a wonderful time."

Barga, in an e-mail correspondence, also thanked Ross for his generosity making his farm available to students.

"All of the out-of-the classroom learning is a result of a man's openness to allowing 84 children and 20 adults to enjoy his glorious farm," Barga said.

Maria P. Gonzalez can be reached at mariagonzalez@wwub.com or 526-8317.

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