Butler’s Orchard teaches 1,000-plus students
Germantown, Md. — Every spring, Butler’s Orchard educates more than 1,000 students on local agriculture with its Strawberry Blossom Tours.
These tours only take place for two weeks, but have become quite popular with local school groups who flock to the farm each May.
The tours last roughly 90 minutes and include learning about pollinators, meeting farm animals, taking a tour of the farm and planting strawberries.
Butler’s began the tours in 2007 to increase agricultural comprehension from a young age and to generate revenue in an otherwise slow time of year, according to the farm’s general manager, Tyler Butler.
The program “exposes kids to how their food is grown (and) they get to meet the farmers, garden, get outside, and grow their own.”
These tours are also a great way to promote the farm, he added, as many students share their positive experience with their parents.
In order to build a positive reputation with local teachers, Butler said the farm has developed their tours to “mirror the curriculum at schools.”
The students are primarily from elementary schools who are learning about plant growth in relation to ecosystems, and the tour “points out how the farm is all working as one big ecosystem.”
Each of the different stations are able to tie together to illustrate the importance of each component of food production, from pollination to having adequate nutrients and everything in between.
“By the end, you should really understand the cycle of a strawberry from start to finish,” Butler said.
Butler’s On Farm Group Coordinator, Angela Butler said the tours place a special focus on the pollination process because it “is fascinating for children and adults (and) is an integral link to the understanding of food production.”
Most students’ favorite part of the experience is planting their own strawberries, Tyler said.
“The same plants we grow here on the farm are what we give to them to take home,” Tyler said. “The kids get to get their hands dirty and take something home, which is fun.”
During her class’ visit to the orchard, Adrianna Georgilas, a student from Urbana Elementary, agreed. “My favorite part was planting because it’s fun,” she said. “You get to water it and see the plants grow.”
Over the years, the program has expanded through word of mouth, and Butler’s Orchard now welcomes homeschoolers and other groups of students outside of the public school system to participate.
This has allowed the program to reach students from Frederick, Montgomery, and Washington D.C., Tyler said.
Increasing costs of transportation have led to a clear challenge for the schools, Tyler said and the school hours mean students often cannot arrive until after 10 a.m., and must head back before 1 p.m., limiting the amount of students that are able to participate on any given day.
To expand the program, Tyler said the Butlers are considering travelling to the schools for in-house field trips.
They also strive to keep current with curriculum by ensuring their message is in line with that of the schools, thus making it more worthwhile for teachers.
As the Strawberry Blossom Tours wrap up for the season, Tyler Butler said he “hopes the kids walk away with a bigger picture about agriculture,” and that the program “teaches them that farmers have the most patience out of any career.”