Monday, October 15, 2007

Homeschool: Field Trip #1

When my oldest son Max was just a baby, we had two sets of next-door neigbhors who homeschooled their children. I couldn't imagine sending my new little one off to school for half of his waking hours. I wanted to spend those precious hours with him, learning and playing and enjoying each other's company. However, I couldn't imagine him missing out on all the school experiences I cherished: bringing birthday treats to school, meeting my favorite teachers, taking field trips, and making friends. As I learned more about homeschooling, I realized he would be able to have all of those experiences as a homeschooler. When Max was just a toddler, I was so excited to learn about a local homeschool co-op, in which homeschooled children take classes together once a week. I also learned that homeschool families organize a variety of field trips for their children.

We attended both sessions of the co-op last year, and Max took classes in physical education, Spanish, art, music, science, and public speaking. Our field trip club went to the Science Museum, the Post Bulletin newspaper facilities, the fire station, and Godfather's Pizza. We also went Christmas Caroling at an assisted living facility, enjoyed a gingerbreaad house-making party, and Max played the part of a composer in a musical about Mozart with kindergarten through third graders.
This overcast, chilly morning (50is degrees, with light drizzle) we enjoyed our first field trip of the school year with our homeschool field trip club, which is organized through the homeschool co-op at Christ Community Church here in Rochester. Participation is open to homeschooling families in the area, and the twenty spots in Max's second and third grade class filled quickly. We didn't get our spot in the co-op this fall, but we were able to join the field trip club as alternate members to fill vacant spots on field trips as needed. Most families' schedules are so busy during the week that not everyone can attend every field trip. Fifteen kids, one bundled baby, and a handful of moms and dads met at Apple Ridge Orchard near Mazeppa, just north of Rochester.

Our tour began inside the store, as the owner showed us the kinds of apples they sell, explained the importance of honeybees to apple orchards, and talked about how apples grow through the year. He showed us a bee veil, and a bee smoker, which looks like a metal watering can. The beekeeper puts a small piece of burning burlap inside the smoker and pumps smoke near the beehive to calm the bees while collecting honey. We learned that bees need about forty pounds of honey inside their hive to survive the winter, and that each bee travels 55,000 miles to produce one pound of honey. Amazing!!!

Many pairs of eyes lit up with excitement as the owner opened the door to the adjacent room where apples are washed and sorted. We were going backstage at the apple orchard. He turned on the washing and sorting machine for us, and Max said it was just like a car wash for apples. After being washed, apples are sorted into two groups: medium/large and small. The smaller apples fall off the spinning part of the machine first, and they go onto a separate conveyer belt. Workers then sort each group of apples according to grade: first quality, second quality, and cider apples. The apples that are not suitable for consumption are used for fertilizer for the orchards.

He also showed us an apple-picking bag, made of sturdy canvas, and demonstrated the gentle technique which pickers must use while harvesting apples so the produce is not damaged as it is placed into the bag or the wooden crate. Workers strap the bag onto their body, enabling their hands to work freely, and when they are ready to empty the bag into a wooden crate, they unfasten a metal hook at the bottom of their bag.

Mitchell began to cry when we were inside the small room where apple cider is made. The owner warned us that the grinder and shredder would be loud, and he only turned it on for a second, but it was long enough to send Mitchie into tears. The machine crushes the entire apple-- skins, seeds, and pulp -- and a pan catches the juice. The juice goes into a dairy bulk tank and is dispensed into jugs with another machine. Leftover hard pieces and pulp are used for fertilizer. The best kept marketing secret at the orchard was our last stop on the formal part of the tour. The owner opened a thick, oversized wooden door, and we were greeted with the delicious scent of hundreds of freshly picked apples. We were offered a peek inside the cold storage room, where dozens of worn crates were stacked on top of one another. "I wish our whole house smelled like this," Max commented longingly.

After our tour inside the building, we took a wagon ride up a hill to the orchard. Apple Ridge Orchard has 5,000 apple trees and their varieties include the popular Honeycrisp, Haralson, Fireside, Zestar, Goldcrisp, and others. They also grow pumpkins and grapes. The kids enjoyed the children's size corn maze, which is supposed to take about eight minutes to explore, and the regular-sized corn maze, which is supposed to take twenty to thirty minutes to navigate successfully. Max and his friends Fiona and Nic completed the maze in less than ten minutes with the other kids, and we joked among ourselves that our kids completed the challenge so quickly because they were homeschooled. As the drizzle continued to fall, each child chose a mini-size pumpkin to take home in their own bag. While we waited for the tractor and wagon to pick us up again, we checked out the goats, bunnies, sheep, and alpaca on the farm.

At the end of our tour, each child received their choice of a small Honeycrisp apple to take home. Mitchell ate his entire apple in the car on the way back to Rochester. We paid for our field trip tickets ($3.50 for each child, which included the tour, corn maze, wagon ride, mini pumpkin, and apple) and bought a half bushel of Fireside seconds, a container of fat free caramel dip (I had to try it, since the regular version is a new favorite of mine, at a whopping 140 calories and 6 grams of fat for each two-tablespoon serving), two kinds of squash I have never tried, a caramel-dipped apple for the boys to share with their lunch, and a pint of apple cider for the ride home. Our locally-grown goods cost just over $25. Max said his favorite part of the field trip was the corn maze and the wagon ride. Mitchell loved best his "free apple" and the wagon ride. I loved sitting next to my boys on the wagon, each of us with damp curls, seeing their eyes sparkle as they spotted ripe apples that had fallen to the ground, as the clouds hung lightly over the hillside. We were reminded again this morning to appreciate the farmers who spend many hours growing the foods we enjoy each day.

1 comment:

Heather said...

I loved reading about the fieldtrip, and seeing the great pictures of the boys and you there. Keep up the great work! Eat some great Minnesota apples for us, okay!?