The idea of “having fun” comes up frequently among Rainshadow Farm co-participants. During the interview process in the research phase of our collaborative curriculum design, when we created and began implementing our learning ecologies/workshops, every co-participant mentioned “having fun” somewhere in the interview process. I had fun. I cannot imagine that busy people would continue to drive back and forth across the 50-some mile width of our Valley to Rainshadow Farm in the absence of it being “fun.” Some might continue attending monthly farm workshop events during the primary research phases out of a sense of obligation or personal responsibility – and some of them, out of a sense of loyalty to the work and each other – but I doubt that there would be a thriving and ongoing monthly farm day happening if this work and these projects were not fun. People do continue to want to work and learn at the farm: participating in and leading the learning ecologies/workshops, visiting and sometimes working on other farms, and enjoying each other’s company.
The principle of learning ecologies is phenomenological, and includes moving beyond abstract thinking such as “I think that…” to “I can…” It appears that learning ecologies as community pedagogy can encourage touching, perceiving, and experiencing the environment deeply, including the entire array of inhabitants of the environment. The experiential, phenomenological, and active nature of learning ecologies as farm pedagogy stretch learning from a passive mode to learning that leans toward productive action within an environment.
Rainshadow Farm c o-participants spoke of new-found feelings of competency and mastery in the learning process. One farm day member said of the learning ecology workshop format, “the process is effective because it is a simple way to show people from various backgrounds how to collaborate and learn by doing.” Another said of the learning at the workshops, “it sticks.” This corresponds to the words of another co-participant who maintained that he “gets more info from these meetings than he does from traditional classes or texts.” Educators and educational psychologists frequently speak of the value of relevant fun in the role of learning and teaching – the effectiveness of the learning/teaching process when it is enjoyable rather than rote learning or drudgery. When discussing what we liked best about the collaborative curriculum design for learning ecologies, one co-participant responded immediately and enthusiastically with “The freedom! We all guide it and it moves at its own pace.” Experiential farm pedagogy as freedom and fun. What a way to move into sustainable learning and learning as sustainability in the coming years!
The land itself is a curriculum. Ecological relationship can be realized by spending time on the land, observing it, and working with it to obtain food. Social relationships may be built by spending time on the land together with other people, as people have done for hundreds of thousands of years. A learning landscape that is agroecological may generate an education in sustainable food systems that is thoroughly place-based. In beginning to know a place like Rainshadow Farm deeply though many seasons, people may begin to foster their abilities to deeply connect with other places as well. Beyond the apparent success of the collaborative farm pedagogy design project what is more interesting and hopeful is the desire for such a learning group to exist in the extended Victor Valley region. I had not envisioned the breadth of the workshops that Rainshadow Farm’s co-participants developed. I never imagined the periods of chaos that swirled around political differences would be as smoothly resolved as they were at each farm day.
The development of learning ecologies on Rainshadow Farm could serve as a reasonable model of process curriculum for transformative farm pedagogy anywhere, keeping in mind the needs of the people and the land. This research was conducted with a small group, so the results are more suggestive than conclusive. Still, we have found that direct experience through farm pedagogy may, in fact, help a group of people become more aware of their socioecological world and the collaborative nature of the learning ecologies can foster socioecological intelligences on many levels.