What would it look like if the school experience was turned inside out?" Gregory found community within The Ecology Center– and a school with a different value system. A value system that he believes allows children to look through the eyes of a farmer rather than a factory worker.
"It starts with the kids having their hands in the soil and their feet firmly planted in the earth. Instead of brick and mortar, you have the complete ecosystem of all the plant and animal life coming together to model sustainability that we want our children to become and drive forward."
The Ecology Center's education programs create authentic experiences connecting children with all five senses to growing and eating food. It highlights the value of soil and seeds while teaching them to explore the beautiful patterns in nature. Where does a fig tree come from? How do I harvest a fig? How do I give the fig back to the community? Here, the children begin to imagine how all landscapes can become regenerative through the hands and the heart. They harness practical knowledge, such as math, history, social studies, art, and problem-solving, through direct interaction with their environment. Aside from field trips and summer camps, The Ecology Center hosts three main education programs within their sustainable village– Microgreens, Farm Raised, and Rad Traditions.
Microgreens is quite remarkable. Children up to three years experience their first time on a farm, observing what is growing around them, touching and tasting all that is good. Through the hands, they become a part of the cycle of growers and eaters. They learn to mimic the natural relationships between plants, animals, and their parents.
"They climb the trees, touch everything, smell everything, and what they're encountering here is sort of the opposite of what they'd encounter in a grocery store, a library program, a hospital, or any other sanitized environment. They are experiencing thousands and thousands of biomes, and they're also experiencing adults who are working on themselves who are meeting and talking about creating and designing an inner space to be worthy of imitation so that the child grows like a garden, not like a construction site. The parents learn to become gardeners of children."
Farm-Raised allows a child to go on a journey where they will use their hands to create–to write, draw, paint–to make things beautiful. There is an emphasis on the heart by finding ways to care for the community and share the abundance. Once the children are old enough, they begin an apprenticeship under a farm and culinary maestro that teaches the intelligence of the tools needed to make a meal.
"They become leaders in the ability to communicate how to make the Earth a better place, how to make people better off, and then learn how to share their talents with others."
In their teenage years, they begin looking for places in the world where they can make a meaningful difference. The community created at The Ecology Center becomes a hub of exploration into other areas of sustainability- from business to design, virtually any path they wish to follow.
Rad Traditions, in contrast, is available for children who do not attend the farm school all year round. This program moves into projects celebrating art in its many forms– visual, ceramic, culinary, agriculture, and "wild arts."
"We want to provide an opportunity using these wonderful traditions that people understand […] the actual experience for the children is about the food. They're experiencing that the world is a place of goodness; they're experiencing that the world is a place of beauty, and then we explicitly connect them to food. We teach them all about regenerative principles; we teach them permaculture ethics. So we are very explicit in leading them into a relationship with food that we believe will be therapeutic."
The Ecology Center has successfully created an eco-village with food at the center. Gregory states, "We are modeling a sustainable village; we are not modeling a sustainable factory. So in order to model a sustainable village, the village needs to be present in some way, some shape, some form- at all times." This community has come together to shape the next generation of environmental leaders and will transform the food system as we know it.