Environmental Studies Program


Date of this Version

Spring 5-2011


When Europeans began settling in the United States, farmsteads were built across the Great Plains. Out of necessity, these had to function in a self-sufficient manner; meaning the people had to produce their own food, use local materials, and be energy efficient for their transportation. Parents had to teach their children how to do all of the practical work it took to maintain their lives. This was the foundation that America was built upon. Having completed the first decade of the 21st century, the time seems right for a mental re-settlement that follows some of those same principles. Teaching our children practical skills like growing their own food and using hand tools to give them a general sense of self-sufficiency is a must. A general awareness of one’s natural surroundings no longer exists in an age where a teenager can adeptly use a computer but can’t cook a meal from scratch, where a child can identify an Angry Bird but not a purple martin, an age where children play in an organized sport year-round but never build a tree house.

As a remedy, my proposal is an integrated farm/school/bicycle shop located near Lincoln, Nebraska. This ‘21st Century Educational Farmstead’ will incorporate the mainstream educational goals (mathematics, English, science etc. all aimed toward academic preparation) with exposure to the natural environment. The foundation for teaching will be framed within bicycle shop- and farm-based activities. This framework will provide an education grounded in real-life activities that are relevant to the student. It’s the difference between an elaborate math word problem involving two trains traveling through a tunnel, and determining the ideal irrigation rate for the vegetable garden in July—one has no real repercussions outside the classroom, while the other determines the success or failure of the students’ hard work.

This 21st Century Educational Farmstead will be built around a small-scale (relative to modern farming) organic farm that is designed in a manner that a school can be easily integrated, and will include a bicycle shop. The bicycle portion will provide a format for teaching science, especially physics, as well as health education and hands-on mechanical skills plus arguably the most energy efficient way for a student to travel to school. Both the farm and bicycle shop will function as businesses, in that they will not require outside funding in order to operate.

Integration is a crucial part of this proposal. All of the aspects of this 21st Century Educational Farmstead already exist in some form somewhere in the United States. There is a major movement towards healthy, farm-fresh produce in school lunches, there are small-scale organic vegetable farms across the country, there are a handful of bicycle shops in Lincoln, and plans for zero-net emission schools exist throughout the country. However they do not exist together. The prospect of integrating the base concepts of these innovations has great potential. With this in mind, I will explore several case studies that will serve as the blueprints of the proposal. Local examples will initially be used to display the community involvement prospect, then more geographically distant models that more closely represent the level of integration.

Two farms near Lincoln, Shadow Brook Farm, located at 2201 West Denton Road, and Robinette Farm, located at 17675 SW 14th between Sprague and Martell, will serve as models for the farm portion. Re-Cycled Bicycle shop in Lincoln at 2756 East South Street will be examined, along with the now defunct Walton Trail Company, to show the bicycle shop portion. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Cedar Point Biological Station will show the benefits and mechanics of nature-immersed learning. The ZNETH house in Omaha is an example of how engineering and architecture students could contribute to the design of sustainable buildings. Prairie Hill Learning Center, near Roca, is a center for Montessori education using a farm environment and mixed-age learning projects, and with an environmentally conscious focus. Prairie Hill is the closest existing model of education to the 21st Century Educational Farmstead school proposal in the Lincoln area.