SSA Farm

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The SSA Farm is an Academy-wide sustainability initiative, with garden plots located at all four Shady Side campuses. The SSA Farm was born on the far fields of the Senior School campus in 2012, and expanded to include gardens at the Middle and Junior School in 2013 and at Country Day School in 2016. The farm is integrated into the curriculum and student life in grades PK-12.

Farm Goals

  • Sustainability – To provide fresh produce to the SSA dining halls, and to patrons of the weekly on-campus Fox Chapel Farmers Market
  • Experiential Learning – To provide unique, hands-on learning experiences for students in multiple disciplines, including science and economics
  • Leadership – To provide leadership opportunities for Senior School students, and to encourage mentoring of younger students
  • Community – To create a community of volunteers with common interests that spans the entire SSA community

Farm Facts

  • 600 pounds of vegetables are harvested annually from the SSA Farm plots on all four campuses.
  • 75% of the summer harvest is sold at the Fox Chapel Farmers Market; the rest is used by the cafeteria for SSA Summer camps.
  • 70% of the fall harvest is used by the school cafeterias; the rest is sold at the Farmers Market.

Interdisciplinary Connections

The SSA Farm curriculum provides interdisciplinary, hands-on, experiential learning opportunities for PK-12 students on all four campuses:

Senior School

Selling Produce at the Farmers MarketThe Senior School maintains a large 40' x 100' garden on the far fields of its 130-acre Fox Chapel campus. Several egg-laying hens also reside at the Farm. Students maintain the garden year-round.

Interdisciplinary Connections

  • In the spring and fall terms, students may choose PE Farm as their athletics option and earn PE course credit for working on the farm. PE Farm students spend their afternoons planting, weeding, watering, harvesting and maintaining the garden.
  • Students can serve as summer interns at the SSA Farm, tending the garden, harvesting produce and selling it at the SSA Farm stand at the weekly Fox Chapel Farmers Market.
  • Students can serve as co-directors or managers of the Fox Chapel Farmers Market each summer, learning valuable management, marketing and community relations skills.
  • Environmental science students run soil sample tests, as well as examine mycology and the effects mushrooms have on bioremediation and human health
  • Health courses utilize fresh SSA Farm food in the nutrition unit, learning about where food comes from, nutrient density in local and whole foods, and food access.

Middle School

Middle School GardenThe Middle School maintains eight raised garden beds and a native pollinator garden on its 35-acre campus in Fox Chapel. In 2014, the school won a $2,000 School Garden Grant from the Whole Kids Foundation to fund enhancements to the garden, including gutters for the garden sheds to enable the use of rain barrels and cold frames to keep the garden growing in the winter. Students help to maintain the garden during the school year, while volunteers tend the garden in the summer.

Interdisciplinary Connections

  • In the spring, students can choose Farm as their athletic/activity option and earn credit for working in the garden each afternoon. In the fall, a student Harvest Committee tends the garden. Tasks for both groups include planting, weeding, watering, harvesting and garden maintenance.
  • Sixth and seventh graders study the role decomposers and pollinators play in our food system through demonstrations in vermicomposting. They learn about the farm's sustainable growing practices and explore our native pollinator garden.
  • Seventh graders learned about ecological restoration, plant genetics and biodiversity by planting American Chestnut seeds.
  • Seventh graders learned about seed vitality and plant biology through a time-lapse seed planting project.
  • The Science Olympiad team restored a native and endangered species of ginseng through a planting project on campus.

Junior School

Junior School ChickensThe Junior School maintains five raised garden beds on its seven-acre campus in Point Breeze. Several egg-laying hens also reside on campus. Students help to maintain the garden and care for the chickens during the school year. Volunteers tend the garden in the summer.

Interdisciplinary Connections

  • All PK-5 students have the opportunity to help tend the garden beds and care for the hens, and in turn learn ecological and biological principles.
  • Science class topics including the plant life cycle, beneficial insects, animal biology, nutrient cycling and taking food from seed to plate. Students learn about farm and food science innovators and inventions through hands-on lessons about techniques such as milling , fermentation and food dehydration.
  • Pre-kindergarten students harvest fresh food from the garden for weekly cooking lessons correlating with their "Letter of the Week" curriculum. PK students also plant kale seedlings in class and transplant them to the Senior School farm each spring.
  • First and fourth grade buddies learn about Mesoamerican agricultural practices by planting chinampas (floating garden beds) and starting their own salsa garden, from which they make pico de gallo.
  • Third and fifth grade science classes learn about scientific experimentation by designing and conducting seed experiments to test independent and dependent variables of plant growth.

Country Day School

CDS gardenCountry Day School maintains a U-shaped raised garden bed, which was a gift from the fifth grade class of 2016. Students help to plant and maintain the garden during the school year.

Interdisciplinary Connections

  • Throughout the spring and fall, students plant, maintain, harvest and cook crops from the garden.
  • In conjunction with science classes, students learn about biology of pollinators through explorations in the garden and at the nearby Senior School farm.
  • Students visit the Senior School farm and learn how chickens provide nutrients and pest control to the farm.

The Fields of Learning at SSA

Nov. 10, 2016 Faculty Blog Post by Gianna Fazioli

SSA Farm Students, Fall 2016As the Shady Side Academy farm season comes to a close, I am left with feelings of rejuvenation, gratitude and excitement. Thinking back to the opening school days when I had just started as the SSA Farm director, I recall how I expressed that the farms are each dynamic educational resources within the Academy. I referred to them as fields of learning. Taking what I knew about Shady Side, I began envisioning how the farms could become living laboratories through an integration not just within the sciences or into our cafeterias, but across the entire academy. And now, as I watch the PE farm students harvest the final heads of cabbage from these fields and the leaves fall down around us, I know there is so much more we will reap from the curriculum that I sow in the semesters to come.

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