On Friday, Cheryl Grant's class from Wild Flower Academy in Nelson came to Joybilee Farm. There were 26 students grades 1 to 6, with their siblings, plus parents and Cheryl -- 50 people. The field trip was to start at 11am but the cars arrived at 10:15 -- we were scurrying around, setting up indigo vats, putting flax breaking equipment in the greenhouse, looking at the sky and wondering if the sun would continue to shine. And I thought, 45 minutes early? This is going to be a long day.
But I wouldn't have missed it!
Cheryl's class was the best group of school age kids we've ever had on the farm. They were intensely interested in learning everything we could tell them about organic farming, raising sheep and goats, locally raised clothing, the economics of raising wool, making your own wool roving for felting and spinning, linen culture and processing, indigo chemistry and the environmental impact of chemical dyes and the unique cultural beauty of Japanese shibori. The field trip speaks to the issue of the environmental impact of clothing and how we can live with locally grown, locally sewn clothing and textiles. It teaches that clothing comes from farms, too. It touches on history, social studies, science, math, phys ed, and art.
We created 4 learning centres and divided the class into four groups. Each group had 7 or 8 students plus their parents -- 12 to 13 people -- and moved through the 4 stations at 45 minute intervals. The day was divided with 2 stations in the morning, a 45 minute break for lunch and 2 stations in the afternoon -- finishing at 2:45. Over the lunch break and after the last session, students continued to work in the indigo vats to complete their shibori dyed cotton fabric.
The stations included a farm tour. Robin took the students to the pasture area, visited with the lambs and kids. There were photo ops with the llamas. I asked one group if they got any llama kisses and one girl said that two llamas kissed her on both cheeks at the same time and her mom took her picture. He spoke to the issue of chemical agriculture and its environmental impact. He talked about growing clothing -- wool, linen, natural dyes and the need to rethink the cheap imported clothing with its high environmental and cultural impact. And the lambs and kids put on a great show as they rushed to the fence to greet the human visitors. There were lots of questions from parents about how to make a living doing what we do.
linen processing area. We set her up in the almost completed, greenhouse with two flax breaks, a doukhobor tartar comb to act as a hackle, and a huge quantity of water retted flax. Evelyn demonstrated the steps of rippling or taking the seeds off the flax stalks, breaking using two flax breaks -- a coarse one for the initial breaking and a finer one for scutching. And the students used the comb as a hackle, finishing the job with a Flick carder. Evelyn is a retired home ec teacher, as well as an organic farmer, and was a great sport in taking on this challenge, learning the process herself, as she worked with the students.
For more about this process come to the Joybilee Farm Linen Festival on August 6.
I had the topic of wool -- my expertise! The students, at school, had needle felted an angel at Christmas and wet felted around a plastic egg for Easter, all using commercial roving. I showed them how they could use a flicker brush, or cat brush to comb wool locks, stack them and pull them into a roving. I showed them hand carding but the technique is more complicated to learn than I had anticipated, so by the third group we had abandoned the use of the hand cards. I set up an Ashford Wild Carder and the kids were thrilled to try it out. I had a basket of washed fleece on the table, some natural white, some indigo dyed blue and some sunshine yellow dyed with golden rod. The students picked their own combination of colour and carded up some roving. Then I had a batch of goat's milk and honey soap, unpackaged, just waiting to be made into woolly soaps for the kids to take home. We used wet felting techniques, like they had already done with the egg. Some students were more successful than others. Those who carefully carded their wool had better success than those who had been less thorough. But all students had a woolly soap to take home at the end of our session. I sent a small bag of fleece locks back with Cheryl, to repair any soaps that didn't quite work so that there would be no disappointment for the students when they got back to class on Monday.
Sarah had her specialty -- natural indigo -- to teach. She spoke about the chemistry of natural indigo, indigo precursors in plants, the reduction vat and demonstrated various shibori (tie dye) techniques. Students were given a strip of cotton fabric (prewashed and ready for dyeing) and went to the resist table to clamp, twist, tie and fold their piece of fabric. Each piece was immersed in the vat for 5 minutes, and oxidized for five minutes -- 3 times -- for a light medium blue. The 45 minute time was just short of what each group needed for the project. I gave Cheryl a pattern for the origami bag, so that the students could sew their strips into a bag when they get back to the class.
For more about this process come to the Joybilee Farm Indigo/Woad dye day on July 23rd.
The hand wash station was essential. Students visited the hand wash station after each learning station and the drain bucket overflowed more than once. We will have to give it a permanent drain before the next field trip.
All told, it was a very successful day. The comments from the students: "This was the very best, most interesting, and funnest field trip we have ever been on."
"I'm coming back this summer for the Indigo Dye Day if I can. I love it."
"I love the animals, and the wool and the indigo dyeing. Thanks."
From a parent: "That's the cleanest, best smelling outhouse we've ever seen. How do you keep it from smelling?" (I answered, "natural wood ashes")
Even though our brochure says, "No pets please" several dogs arrived with the class. I was at first dismayed after having our beloved milker mauled by the neighbor's Rottweiler last year. But these dogs were just as well behaved as the class. We requested that they walk them only on crown land -- Joybilee Farm is surrounded on 3 sides by crown land -- and not leave them unsupervised, but we had absolutely no problems with doggy doodoo or bad behaviour from the dogs either. It was a very pleasurable day, good weather, teaching what we love and being appreciated for what we do best.
Thanks, Cheryl, your students,and families, for a very memorable day.