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City kids learn to do while growing FarmWise


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July 29, 2014 | 02:14 PM
The day starts with songs.

And those songs are sometimes in foreign languages.

But the 23 kids, ages ranging from 4 to 14, don’t mind. Sitting on chairs, a well-worn sofa or on rocking chair’s in Bente Goldstein’s living room, the children rock, sway, tap their toes or even stomp their feet to the rhythms of songs in Swahili, Norwegian and the pidgin English of the Caribbean.

Songs lift the spirit, said Goldstein.

Gray-haired and grandmotherly, she speaks and sings with a Scandinavian accent (she is Norwegian by birth), is attentive to the children and they seem very comfortable with her.

These aren’t just farm songs. There’s a paean to the Great Lakes, a song about a Norwegian farmer in Telemark, a Bahamanian rhumba and a song about a mother’s savage daughter who runs barefoot, laughs too loud and howls at the moon.

A grand piano fills a corner of the room and it’s covered with sheet music.

It’s a Friday, the fifth day of one of Goldstein’s FarmWise summer camp programs. The kids have been singing these songs for four days, and they pretty much got their choral chops down.

On this afternoon they’ll sing these same songs for their parents.

But this isn’t a music camp.

About an hour later the youngsters move from chorus to chores.

Goldstein’s husband, Walter, is head of the Mandaamin Institute in the town of Lyons. Walter, through Mandaamin, is researching varieties of naturally-bred corn, some with enhanced nutrition, some with the ability to grow during drought or in poor soils.

‘Hobby farm’

The Goldsteins own a 35-acre “hobby farm” in rural Elkhorn, about 10 miles north of Lake Geneva on Kniep Road.

Walter, who stopped by in the afternoon, said he was impressed with the impression FarmWise was having on the children who attend the camp.

“It’s the look on the kids’ faces,” he said. “It’s like they got hit by a bolt from the blue. They’ve had their eyes opened to life.”

Bente Goldstein is trained in the Waldorf method of teaching and has taught at Waldorf schools. She and some of her colleagues developed a farm-based education system, she said. She’s been doing farm-based education for at least the past 14 years, she said.

The Waldorf method of teaching involves hands-on learning, Goldstein tells a visitor. She said first graders in Waldorf schools are taught knitting, which combines learning, planning and hands-on application.

And hands on is what the youngsters learn at the FarmWise summer camp.

The program introduces children, most who come from urban households, into the lifestyle and work ethic of the traditional Midwestern American farm.

The children learn by doing everything themselves.

Goldstein calls it “an I can experience.”

And the youngsters are carefully coached and watched by a staff of three, Goldstein, Maggy Rhein, Missouri and Emily June Breffle, Colorado. Also there to help out was Ben Goldstein, the Goldsteins’ oldest son, who had brought his son Louis to the FarmWise camp.

Campers 12 and older with three years of summer camp under their belts can be helpers, Goldstein said. Mira, 14, and Hazel, 13, both of Milwaukee, were official helpers.

Nora, 10, of Chicago, who is in her fourth year as a camper is an unofficial helper.

“I don’t live near any farms and I really like farms,” Nora said. “I like doing farm work.”

Livestock and farm pets are tended daily.

A chance to do

It’s important that children get a chance to do, and to sometimes fail, Goldstein said. And the failing part is important, she said. Children need to learn that there are consequences, she said.

A knot slips open and suddenly a sheep darts for freedom and has to be chased down.

Or, a chicken winds up a meal for coyotes because it was accidentally locked out of the hen house.

And not every chore is pleasant. Everywhere there is the richly aromatic offal of farm animals.

Poop is a part of life, Goldstein said. And it’s important for the health of the animals and the humans that the droppings are cleaned up and properly deposited.

As Ben Goldstein put it, mucking out a barn or stable is a way of thinking of the animals’ comfort.

“If you were a cow, you wouldn’t want all those flies buzzing about, would you?” he asked, as he and Evan, 10, of Waukesha, scraped shovels along the floor of the milking barn and then depositing their shovel loads into a pile, which will later become fertilizer.

Farm-born musicians

Ben is a professional musician, a violist, living in Norway with dual American and Norwegian citizenship.

His two brothers, Hans of Los Angeles and Elias, who lives in Indiana, are professional musicians. All three were raised on the Goldstein farm. Asked how their farm-loving parents produced three professional musicians, Ben said the decision was a practical one. Practicing their music allowed the brothers to skip some chores.

Teacher Emily June Breffle, from Colorado, showed youngsters how to handle a folding pruning saw, with plenty of warnings and directions to keep fingers and limbs from the cutting edge of the blade. Each child opens and closes the saw once. And then each makes a few cuts into a green branch for practice under Breffle’s watchful eye.

“The point is to get the kids to feel they could run the farm themselves,” Goldstein said. “How do they know they can do it, unless they do it?”

The rules are simple. Everyone tries everything at least once. Even the food. One mouthful is considered a try.

Pizza day

Friday is pizza day, and FarmWise cook and chef, Julie Drigot of Little Prairie, also a Waldorf-trained teacher, makes the pizzas in a modern, electric stove. Having worked as a docent at Old World Wisconsin in Eagle, Drigot said she knew what it was like to build her own cooking fire.

“It’s quite an experience,” she said.

Goldstein also mentions that modern technology is wonderful, as long as we don’t let technology obscure who we are as people.

At 2:30 p.m., after the chores, the snack, lunch and another music practice, parents begin to arrive for their youngsters’ farewell-to-the-farm performance.

Before they officially leave, each child is given a diploma, and Goldstein had a kind word and compliment for each one.

Outside, as they prepared to leave, parents said their children loved the camp.

Rich Hill said that his job as a consultant has nothing to do with farming or rural life. He said he and his wife, Lynn, believed their children, Nora and Ezra, 12, weren’t experiencing everything there was to life.

“It gets kids to know the land and what farming is all about,” Hill said. “And Bente is a pied piper with the kids. It’s well worth it.”

The Hills and another Illinois family, the Abends, stayed at Timber Ridge Lodge, Lake Geneva, while their children attended camp.

“We’re all from an agricultural background,” said Robin Abend of Wheaton, mother of Kyle, 11. She said she heard stories of farm life from her grandparents. She wanted her kids to “dip their toes” into the farm lifestyle, even if it is for just a short while.


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