Mercy Montessori is home to Cincinnati’s only farm-to-table and microeconomy learning programJessica Baltzersen The inaugural Farmessori program at Mercy Montessori encompasses a farm-to-table learning concept that empowers junior high students to be environmentally educated, economically savvy and conscious members of the global community. The newly renovated fifth floor at Mercy now houses an immaculate microeconomy classroom that comprises of a workspace for students to learn about gardening, food choices and how to run a shop.
The program aligns with the Erdkinder (German for “land children”) philosophy that was developed by Maria Montessori. The Farmessori is modeled to reflect Montessori’s vision, which includes student involvement in constructing a garden, growing their own food and using that food to create a business. The proceeds will then fund further projects and contribute to members within their greater community.
This summer, students, parents and alumni worked together to create a fenced-in garden space that consists of raised garden beds, rain barrels and a greenhouse. With the produce and herbs grown in their on-site garden, seventh and eighth grade students will create products such as homemade teas and smoothies to sell in their shop.
“There is so much power in growing your own food,” says Lisa Klus, assistant principal and director of the microeconomy program. “It gives students the foundation they need to be contributing members of society.”
Each junior high student is a part of a group, or “green team” where they manage different, integral parts of the program: the produce managers harvest vegetables such as spinach, peas, carrots, radishes, cilantro, kale and arugula; the tea managers grow lavender, chamomile, lemon balm, mint and spearmint; and the shop group is in charge of the microeconomy that is working to build a website, an order form, a budget and a business plan. Other student-led jobs include setting up rain barrels for watering, composting, creating an irrigation system and planting perennials.
“In creating this microcosm of society, we believe that students will see their worth from the responsibility and expectations that they take on through their work—on the land and in our shop,” says Klus.
The Ecolab play area, located in a wooded area behind the school, benefits the younger children at the Montessori. It includes a stage area and seating, a bird watching station, water tables, worm bins, a compost system and other eco-friendly equipment that junior high students and alumni built. Additionally, junior high students lead classes and share information about the Farmessori to younger students. This “passing down of responsibility” ensures the program will continue to run effectively after each class continues to the next grade.
“In watching them carry out this work, I can see them as adults. I can see them in their future careers. I can see them bringing people together for a common cause and giving back to society,” says Klus. “That vision is the belief in practice that Montessori pictured for the adolescent learner.”
The Farmessori program has expansion plans that include the integration of farm animals, beekeeping, an outdoor classroom, further development with products in their shop, and more partnerships with local community organizations.