Farm’s school program ramps up

by Joni Astrup

Associate Editor

Most students heading back to school this fall will learn in traditional classrooms inside school buildings.

But in Elk River, there’s another educational institution of sorts — the Oliver Kelley Farm. This Minnesota Historical Society site anticipates more than 11,000 students will take a field trip to the farm this school year, according to Ann Olson Bercher, the farm’s program supervisor. The Kelley Farm is a working mid-1800s farm that offers students hands-on experiences.

Kelley Farm staff and a group of school children worked the fields with a pair of oxen.

Kelley Farm staff and a group of school children worked the fields with a pair of oxen. Star News file photo

Field trips for children of all ages are available at the Kelley Farm.

“We offer tours year-round,” Bercher said. “While the growing season ends, life on a farm continues through the winter months, and 19th century winter farm life is a real eye-opener for 21st century audiences.”

This fall, the Minnesota Historical Society is launching 16 new field trip lessons at historic sites, including two at the Kelley Farm.

In one of the new Kelley Farm lessons, students will learn how the Civil War affected farm families with the “Minnesota’s Civil War Farms” program. The other new field trip lesson is titled “1860s Farm – Then and Now.”

Bercher said the “Minnesota’s Civil War Farms” was developed in response to teacher requests for such a program.

The interesting twist is that the U.S. Dakota War was also affecting Minnesota farmers and families during the Civil War era, she said

“Many farms suffered a loss of labor, but at the same time, there were opportunities for selling wheat and wool,” Bercher said. “The challenges for farm families were immense.”

Students left the Kelley Farm barn during a field trip. Star News file photo

Students left the Kelley Farm barn during a field trip. Star News file photo

The Civil War program is for students in sixth grade and above.

“1860s Farm – Then and Now” is a revitalized program that continues to serve a first- through third-grade audience, but includes more attention to critical thinking and problem solving by the participants, she said.

The farm also has several other existing field trip lessons for ages 3 through grade 12.

The Kelley Farm offers teacher immersion workshops as well. Bercher said they have had two so far with six teachers in each. They were during the summer and lasted for three days.

“Teachers got an opportunity to experience the daily activities of farm families. They also received artifacts and program materials along with a DVD of their experiences to use in their classrooms,” she said.

Kelley featured in social studies textbook

Oliver Kelley in 1875. His farm in Elk River is a historical site.

Oliver Kelley in 1875. His farm in Elk River is a historical site.

There’s a page devoted to Oliver Kelley in a newly revised social studies textbook for Minnesota sixth-graders called “Northern Lights: The Stories of Minnesota’s Past.” The book includes a photo of Kelley and talks about his role in the founding of the Grange, a nationwide farmers’ association.

“Northern Lights” was created and published by the Minnesota Historical Society and meets all new sixth-grade state social studies standards.

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