Brief Review: Fields of Learning – Sayre and Clark, eds. [Vol. 4, #22]

October 21, 2011

 

A Brief Review of

Fields of Learning:
The Student Farm Movement in North America.
Laura Sayre and Sean Clark, eds.
Hardback: The University Press of Kentucky, 2011.
Buy now: [ Amazon ] [ Amazon – Kindle ]

Reviewed by Sarah Winfrey.

It sounds almost idyllic: students stream out of classes, where they’ve worked and wracked their brains studying everything from math and science to English and Spanish, and head straight for the fields, where they use their hands and lithe young bodies to coax produce out of the ground. Add to this picture an image of these same students sitting down, several hours later, to a meal featuring the fruits of their labors, and you have what many people think of when they bother to think of a student farm at all.

However, as usual, the idyllic picture doesn’t tell the whole story, and that’s where Fields of Learning comes in, to fill in the gaps. Much goes on behind the scenes of a student farm and this book touches on everything from funding a farm to what it takes to start one to practical aspects of integrating what goes on with the farm into the rest of an institution’s curriculum. It will mostly interest those who have been part of a student farm (whether as student, faculty, staff, or in another role) or those who are looking to start one, though those focusing on educational trends will find information of value, too.

The book covers all of the main periods in the student farm movement in the United States. Essays written by faculty, graduates, and students of schools that have student farms are placed in order by the date when each particular farm was started. In this manner, the book discusses the roots and beginnings of the student farm movement, its rejuvenation during the “Back to the Land” movement in the 1960s and 70s, how student farms have come of age during the 1990s, and the more recent upsurge of these farms after the year 2000.

Most of the individual essays speak, first and foremost, to what the particular school whose representatives wrote the essay did to make their farm happen. Thus, there is much discussion of school politics, including in-depth examinations of how student farms have been funded through the years. Many of the essays also include testimonials or portions written by students who worked and sustained part of their education on the farm, which serve to explain and illustrate many of the points discussed in other parts of the essay.

In general, this book is a solid celebration of the student farm movement. It highlights the high points but does not shy away from the lows, nor does it gloss over many of the difficulties that schools have had funding their farms and finding students who are interested in working them. The book’s honesty will appeal to many readers, especially those who have been involved in student farms or who are currently involved in attempts to start one, because their struggles will not be dismissed.