I had a moment today to snap a few pictures...of our bi-weekly ESL (English as a Second Language) and literacy class that is part of the Fresh Start Farms farmer-training program. In this class, we focus on basic literacy and oral competency for the farmers, zeroing in on skills needed to run a successful farming business, but also opening up the classroom space to create a foundation of literacy and English that will allow for future educational, vocational and social opportunities for these students in their new communities.
Working the land is more often than not, a common language, though without basic conversational skills, and without numerical competency, the refugee and immigrant farmers that arrive in Maine and other states, are often at a disadvantage when it comes to securing economic stability, and accessing basic rights to protection and social security.
We structure the curriculum in order to confront certain challenges of maintaing a small business as a pre-literate adult. Our culture here in the states, and especially in the marketing world (even for small farmers), is 100% reliant and dependent on text and literacy. Everything from writing vegetable names and prices at the farmers market, to reading and writing checks and ordering seeds, is based on textual models that can be bewildering to someone who not only comes from another language, but comes from a culture based on a system of meaning that is not rooted in print. We work with dialogue and vocabulary, using skits, movements and grids, in order to attach the memories with more tangible lessons. Learning to hold a pencil correctly, and learning to read a grid from left to right and up and down have turned out to be valuable lessons.
- Here we are learning vegetables by their first letter. Solidifying this is key to being able to write the whole vegetable name from memory.
I broke the semester down into five seperate learning blocks:
- Vegetables We Grow (with the intention of gaining oral competency in 34 vegetables and literacy in 20 vegetables by the end)
- At the Market ( using farmers market scenarios to learn important dialogue and quick change making)
- On the Farm (learning the vocabulary of production...compost, row, bed, shovel, irrigation etc.)
- Record Keeping (ordering seeds, reading checks, writing invoices for wholesale and CSAs, tracking all sales using accurately written numbers, grids and math!)
- Ongoing Lessons (weather, writing the date, filling out forms...)
- We learn the names of the months by talking about the cycles of the growing season...
- We learn basic counting through adding coins and dollars while simulating farmers market exchanges...
- We learn how to ask, answer and clarify questions through role play and go fish (with veggies) games...
- We learn basic functions on the calculator by adding, subtracting and multiplying vegetables at market.
- We often learn about each other as we ask questions and get in return, often compelling stories in English about exactly how to grow a tomato plant from seed, the differences in the growing culture between Somalia and Maine, and some of the trials and tribulations that still stir in their memories about their home countries.