Terra Nova students learn science through farming – The Cedar Mill News

By Bruce Bartlett

As we locked down at the start of the COVID pandemic in the spring of 2020, students had to leave the farmland at Terra Nova High School, the Beaverton School of Education (BSD) located on Bonny Slope at Thompson and McDaniel (in the former Bonny Slope School). Students, teachers and local farmer/County Commissioner Greg Malinowski have worked over the years to create three acres of fertile soil from a hard playground.

Students of Terra Nova
Terra Nova Students in 2018

As a result of the hiatus, the fields became a thorny jungle as Canada thistles grew taller and taller. Unable to simply witness this kind of garden deterioration, I met Principal Michael Crandall and Teacher/Farmer Joel Whitmore, who were struggling to keep the weeds at bay and offered to help along with a handful of other volunteers.

The tall thickets of thistles and weeds were repeatedly cut down to the ground. The time has finally come for me to turn to cultivation. John Russell of Bonny Slope Blueberry Farm lent us his powerful little tractor and I began to till the soil on a rotational basis. The 50-pound coffee bags used to mulch the paths rotted, but the strong (damn) nylon strings they were sewn with did not. I must have stopped 50 times while tilling to cut the tines on the tiller, but by the spring of 2022 the soil was ready for the return of the students.

Terra Nova Hoop and Greenhouse Homes
Terra Nova Hoop and Greenhouse Homes

Terra Nova has two farming areas: garden beds for each student to grow the plants they study in class, and separate beds for vegetable production. Originally designed to grow produce to be sold at the Cedar Mill Farmers Market, their production beds now send containers of vegetables to local food pantries. Crops are rotated and beds are replanted several times during the growing season. In the summer, interns are hired to manage the farm chores alongside the instructors (and enthusiastic volunteers.)

The Terra Nova logo was designed by a student

Students can enroll in either the Biology/Sustainable Foods or Applied Chemistry/Sustainable Foods majors offered at Terra Nova. These project-based courses are taught at the school, which provides a working farm, carpentry workshop and industrial-scale kitchen. There is no cost to join the program and boots, gloves and tools are provided. An annual plant sale subsidizes part of the program’s costs.

Terra Nova is open to any student who attends a BSD high school (Aloha, Beaverton, Mountainside, Southridge, Sunset or Westview). Buses take students to school. If more students apply to the program than space is available, a randomized lottery system is used to select students.

Field Biology is a rigorous course that covers the basic principles of modern life through the lens of sustainable agriculture. Students work outside on the farm and inside the classroom learning field biological techniques. Course content includes all BSD Biology standards: biochemistry, cellular processes, genetics, evolution, sustainability, and ecology.

Applied Chemistry is available to physics students in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) program and includes all BSD standards in chemistry: intermolecular forces, structure and properties of water, kinetic molecular theory, equilibrium and climate change.

Started in 2010, Terra Nova grew out of the spirit of two programs previously offered by the Northwest Regional Education Service District, the Cascade Education Corps and the Outdoor Leadership Program. These outdoor environmental education programs gave students valuable training and hands-on experience in leadership, teaching, and environmental issues. This real-world learning provides an opportunity to develop personal, team-building and problem-solving skills for students who do better outside of a large school.

BSD had to close the program in 2012 due to budget cuts, but it was restarted in 2014 and has been active ever since. Today’s students are self-motivated and prepared to work outside for parts of the course. They plant, grow and harvest fruits and vegetables in their own garden beds to learn hands-on how chemistry and biology concepts are an integral part of all the food we eat every day. Critical thinking, research, communication, and analysis are emphasized, and technological, historical, political, and environmental aspects of chemistry and sustainability are addressed.

A collection of funny video testimonials is provided on Terra Nova’s Facebook page.

It’s hard for me to understand the motivation, but in April 2022, Terra Nova was looted. Their brand new BCS cultivator, farm implements and hand tools, plus solar panels and storage batteries from their greenhouse were stolen over the weekend. They were fortunate that insurance reimbursements and a slight budget surplus paid for the equipment replacement, but several time-critical cultivation activities were postponed, so I did one more tillage that kept the fields and nursery beds ready for spring planting. This spring, 120 students attended Terra Nova, and the satisfaction I got from volunteering to help make that happen is priceless to me.

Readers are encouraged to make donations to the school. Items needed are listed on their website and can be dropped off at the farm during school hours.

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