The Harley School’s Microfarm: Student-led RedesignApr 8, 2018Senior Capstone project by Davy Brooks ‘18Microfarm redesign in progress.Overhead view of the microfarm redesign. About Harley’s Capstone ProgramThe Capstone Program offers Harley seniors an experience typically reserved for college or graduate school students. In the spirit of our school motto, Become What Thou Art, the Capstone Program provides students with an opportunity to pursue an untapped talent or explore a subject they’re passionate about, under the guidance of a faculty advisor. As an alternative to the three-week Senior Internship at the end of the school year, seniors may now opt to do a Capstone project that begins earlier in the year.According to Harley faculty members Jocie Kopfman and Seth O’Bryan, who oversee the program and serve as project advisors, Capstone projects tend to fall into two categories: (1) long-term projects focused on a particular topic or issue, or (2) the pursuit of a special gift or natural talent that the student has not yet fully explored. Each Capstone participant must fulfill the following requirements:Create a final product or portfolio Provide ongoing documentation through written reflection or a journalPresent the Capstone project to an audience of students, peers, faculty, and parents Davy answering questions in the microfarm.About the RedesignDavy Brooks didn’t realize they had an undiscovered passion for gardening until Edible Ed class and the Food and Farm lab which offered them an opportunity to shadow a faculty member from planning for planting season through the actual planting itself. As a new student at Harley in 10th grade, Davy quickly found that the Commons offered them the opportunity to dig into their interest in sustainability in many ways—from learning about agriculture, to furniture design, to becoming involved with the Harley honeybees. “Out of everywhere in the school, it’s the place that feels the most like home,” Davy says of the Commons. By their senior year, Davy was able to spend long chunks of time on Commons projects, choosing to take a year-long Edible Education independent study. There were no shortage of possibilities around which to focus, but the one Davy found most compelling was the redesign of Harley’s Microfarm. At the outset of the year, the Microfarm included one central area with nine long rows for growing crops, surrounded by a grassy border. After calculating all of the potential growing space that was not being efficiently utilized within the Microfarm, Davy was excited about the challenge of coming up with a new layout that would better suit the Harley Edible Ed program. For its redesign, Davy kept three guiding principles in mind:Make in interestingMake it engagingBetter space utilizationmicrofarm poster“The main inspiration for the overall design was a labyrinth you could walk through with plants as the walls of the space,” said Davy. “I wanted it to be interesting to walk through and physically be in as well as to look at. As local permaculturist Patty Love noted about her own circular garden, a curved path forces you to slow down to navigate, encouraging a more mindful approach.” The idea of a garden rooted (pardon the pun!) in permaculture—a system of agricultural and social design principles centered around simulating or directly utilizing the patterns and features observed in natural ecosystems—was also intriguing. By emphasizing native plants and those that are well adapted to our area, while making sure they have a purpose and benefit the landscape, ideas around the types of plantings took shape. Now, in addition to the more traditional and familiar annual vegetables like tomatoes and lettuce, the farm features an array of perennial veggies and fruits: rhubarb, asparagus, sorrel, Turkish Rocket, perennial onions, currants, jostaberries, blueberries, and more. They provide a “cool opportunity” to eat and learn about them. One main goal of a school garden is to make the hands-on learning engaging for all ages. One annual tradition that has tied Grade 3 students to the Microfarm has been the Harlic Garlic program. Each year, tGrade 3 students sell the garlic that was grown the previous year (and harvested over the summer), and at the end of the fall, they plant another round of garlic for the next class. This year they also had the chance to help prepare the soil in brand-new beds for the garlic. Many other grades had the opportunity to get involved this year as well: nursery students planted beans under Davy’s leadership; kindergarten students planted sunflowers and potatoes; Grdae 4 planted purple kale; Grade 5 designed and planted 3 sisters beds in the Native American tradition, featuring corn, beans, and squash; middle school students built a tipi for climbing beans to grow onto…and these projects are just the beginning! By creating a more dynamic space to learn and play in, Davy hopes that their hard work paves the way for future students to continue implementing the plan with creative projects—such as expanding rainwater collection, creating interplantings (which minimize weeds, enhance soil fertility and promote cooperation among different species of plants to enhance their health), and designing plant communities and guilds to create resilient landscapes. “The Commons is free from desks, strict homework assignments, and all the hallmarks of a traditional classroom setting, shifting the responsibility of organizing and motivating yourself more towards the student. With a project like this that I really care about, motivation wasn’t much of a problem. Throughout this past year I’ve learned that projects as exciting, in-depth, and initially overwhelming as the total redesign of the microfarm are possible as long as you stay organized and keep track in the long term. I also learned to be adaptable, especially in garden work where everything depends on weather, plants, and other things beyond your control. It’s no use working against those forces, but if you learn to balance your plans with the unexpected, you can get a lot done. My Capstone made me more mindful of the way things work, how everything is connected, and how plants help each other. I know I wantto continue with gardening,” says Davy.Students examining the growing plants.