In 2006, when the FBEN was first taking root, the Delaware Nature Society’s Coverdale Farm Preserve was around the table with 10 other organizations as they realized they all had the same idea: to start an organization that would support and nurture farm-based education programs. The FBEN has grown since then, gaining members from around the world, and the educators at Coverdale Farm are still very much part of the Network! We took a moment to catch up with Ashley Harrell, Assistant Education Coordinator, to learn how her path led her to Coverdale and what excites her most about her work in farm-based education at this 352-acre farm.
What’s special about Coverdale Farm?
Coverdale Farm is part of a larger non profit organization - The Delaware Nature Society (DNS), which connects people with the natural world to improve our environment through education, advocacy and conservation. At Coverdale we introduce people to not only where their food comes from, and the everyday process it takes to produce it but also that it can be done in a sustainable way while practicing environmental conservation.
Why not just farm, why also teach?
I've grown up around farms. I started riding horses when I was two, and at ten started spending my summers at my uncle’ss cattle ranch in Montana. I was a 4-H and FFA kid. I initially wanted to go to school for Equine Management, but after becoming involved with the FFA as an alumni, realized my passion was teaching others about environmental and agricultural practices and issues.
What do you like best about your job?
I've been a "Teacher Naturalist" for Coverdale Farm for the past 15 years. My role as a TN is to delivers agricultural based programs to a wide variety of audiences. I also worked with public visitation, helping to "tell the story of Coverdale". This spring season I was hired on as the Assistant Education Coordinator. My responsibilities now include managing the Teacher Naturalists, giving them the information and tools they need to effectively deliver the programming and Coverdale message. I will also be working with the local schools, organizations, clubs and community to promote Coverdale and our programming. The thing I love most about my job is spreading the passion I have about agriculture and its relationship to the environment.
When and how did you get into farm-based education?
I interviewed with the Delaware Nature Society when I was 18. I had just graduated from high school and took both agriculture and environmental paths in the FFA. They had an ad out that the Nature Center was hiring so I put in an application and resume. With my background, they asked if I would be interested in joining the team at their new farm site. I was beyond excited to and I have been there ever since!
How did 4-H and FFA shape you?
Growing up in the 4-H and FFA greatly influenced my path. Before both of them I was just horses, horses, horses. Joining the 4-H opened my vision up to livestock and production. While in my local 4-H, my "project" was raising, caring for and showing Holstein heifers, which taught me a lot. I already understood the husbandry, having grown up riding and caring for horses. But learning all of the uses and management strategies for both dairy and beef breeds really made me want to learn more about the cattle industry and production agriculture as a whole. Being part of the FFA really helped shape me into the individual I am today. I had an AMAZING advisor, Keith Walker, he allowed each of us to learn, and grow in our own ways and paces. He taught us to question everything. I learned how to be a leader, speaker, presenter, and eventually an educator through the lessons he taught us. While many groups try to limit a students "focus", he really let me explore everything the FFA had to offer. I did course work in (of course) Equine Science, Animal Science, Environmental Science, Floriculture, Landscape Management, Greenhouse Management and Public Speaking. I ended up graduating high-school with 21 science credits - the needed amount was 3. I was also an FFA Officer - the reporter (stationed by the flag...) and went to local and national conventions. By having a wide range of scope, I was really able to make the very important connections between Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. Keith had me teach mini lessons to underclassmen for credit, as well as come back as an Alumni to mentor current students. That's when I found my passion for delivering the message of the importance of Agriculture, and its relationship to the environment.
What is your teaching philosophy?
I base my teaching philosophy around the importance of connect people back to their food and fiber, using sustainable agriculture practices. People as a society have become so far removed. We teach a wide range of audiences, many of which have never been on a farm. So I try to teach with pure passion in hopes to spread the importance of the message to my audience. I love that Coverdale has a philosophy of working with the land instead of on it.
What piece of advice would you most want to give beginning farm-based educators?
The best advice I can give is to keep learning and adapting yourself. Learn new methods and teaching styles. Learn new breeds and crops. Learn new practices and their benefits. Always keep evolving.
If there was one thing you could change about the food system, what would it be?
Education. The world's population is currently 7.5 billion people. In our society today, many of these people do not realize the impact that agriculture has on their lives and environment. They are so far removed from "the source". I think that as farm-based educators, it's so important to improve people’s understanding of where their food and fiber come from, the processes needed to get it to them and the impacts on the surrounding environment.
When you’re not hard at work, how do you enjoy your time?
I'm on another farm! I just can't seem to stay away! I currently own my own horse that I keep at a private farm close to my house. If I am not with him, then I am usually at the local park with my 3 dogs. I also spend a lot of time fishing and camping. It really rare to find me inside once the weather is nice!