Oregon Aglink Blog

New Match at Adopt a Farmer: Stahlbush Farms and Newport Middle School

Posted on July 24, 2023

The 2022-2023 school year at Adopt a Farmer was a return to many familiar farms and classrooms with long-term matches headed into another year.

The program’s success within the Willamette Valley has adapted as needed to other areas in Central and Southern Oregon as well, but staff at Oregon Aglink faced a new question: would Adopt a Farmer also flourish as a connection between the Oregon coast and the Willamette Valley?

Three rows of students smiling in the sun in front of a brown house. The first row of students hold several boxes with transplanted squash plants.
Students from Newport Middle School with their transplanted squash to take back to the coast.

With Newport Middle School and Stahlbush Island Farms bringing their best to the match, the connection is a clear success.

Teacher Chris Martin had been teaching at Newport Middle School for two years before getting involved in the Adopt a Farmer program. His previous experience teaching elsewhere and mentoring groups in outdoor education and at a vegetable farm led him to recognize the value of a program like Adopt a Farmer, which facilitates no-cost connections between schools and farms. With Oregon Aglink staff managing the schedules, supplies, and reimbursements, he says, “that made my job a lot easier.”

Lowering the barrier for teachers to get their students out of the classroom is a big deal for teachers like Martin who knows the value of a good field trip for students:

“It gets them out of their comfort zones, away from screens, and has the potential to spark a lot of curiosity.”

Even before the field trip, though, the seventh and eighth grade students in Martin’s science class got a taste of Stahlbush Island Farms back in November when the farm’s industrial sales manager Brecklin Matteo visited the Newport classroom. She shared the history of the farm, which the Chambers family began in 1985, and highlighted their long-time business of growing pumpkins to process and package puree on site. The visit culminated in an activity called “pumpkin pie in a bag” where students work together to create a pumpkin pie filling they enjoy on graham crackers.

By the time spring term rolled around, students were ready to hop on a bus for a May field trip at the farm at its site outside Corvallis. They toured fields, climbed into tractor cabs, and even learned about a biogas generator. Teachers often come with the hope that a trip to the farm will connect to a school garden project, but operations such as Stahlbush offer connections to other science curricula as well. 

“Not only did it connect with the work we’re doing in our school garden,” said Martin, “but it also gave students great exposure to the diversity of careers that can be had in agriculture. Stahlbush designs and fabricates a lot of their own equipment, and that really connected with the work we do around engineering and the design process. Their biogas generator also tied in nicely to a unit we did on energy production.”

Stahlbush Island Farms hosts many field trips each year for other student groups from Oregon State University, University of Oregon, Oregon FFA, and other community organizations. The middle school age range can be both fun and challenging for farms that may be used to either very young guests or more mature high school and college students. 

Interior of a house with lots of windows, wood trim, and a hardwood floor. Students seated in a large circle are examining and passing around small cups of fruit.
Martin’s students pass around samples of frozen fruit to taste.

Joined by other Stahlbush employees such as Erin, the marketing manager, and Josh, the annual crops manager, Matteo planned a trip that included the aforementioned tour of fields and equipment, but also activities where students got to fully engage their senses and get their hands dirty.

Learning about the produce grown and processed at the farm involved passing around samples of frozen fruit that students could try while they listened. “They loved sampling all the farm products that Stahlbush had to offer,” says Martin. “Additionally, it was great to see them use some of their transplanting skills to pot up the summer and winter squash.” 

Reflecting on the field trip, Matteo also remembers the squash activity as a point where students put ideas into action, or more accurately, where action led to a better understanding of ideas.

“Connecting with young people in the context of science is great when they can connect the curriculum they learn in the classroom and take that knowledge out into the field,” says Matteo.

A couple dozen students stand on a gravel road facing a woman in a gray sweater standing in some grass by irrigation equipment.
Students learn about irrigation in the fields at Stahlbush Island Farms.

While they already had some knowledge about transplanting from Martin’s school garden, the squash activity that kept their hands busy was “an opportunity to discuss transplanting, fertilizing, watering/irrigation, crop rotations, and healthy recipes.”

Both Martin and Matteo registered the importance of these young middle school students as individuals who will grow into adulthood with the impressions of farming left by programs like Adopt a Farmer. 

“These students are future employees, voters, and community members – investing your time in talking with them is investing in their future,” says Matteo. 

It’s the teacher, Martin, who goes one step further and points out that connecting a wider audience of young people to agriculture is a boon to farmers as well. “We’ve all heard the stats about the aging population of those that work in agriculture,” he says.

“This is an opportunity to inspire a new generation of growers. Allowing students the opportunity to experience ‘a day in the life’ of a farmer has the potential to reach kids who may have never even imagined a career in agriculture.”

With a larger operation like Stahlbush Island Farms, there are plenty of professionals on-site like Brecklin, Erin, and Josh who demonstrate a few ways students could contribute to the bigger project of producing food and getting it out to consumers. “There are many careers in agriculture,” says Matteo,  “whether it be farming, agronomy, quality assurance, fabrication, sales, marketing, food processing, logistics, etc.”

Even knowing that wider constellation of agriculture-adjacent jobs, students participating in Adopt a Farmer might end up in a different field of work altogether– but they’ll still have a positive and educational experience via the program. 

A young woman stands in front of a screen reading "Adopt a Farmer" with seated students around her looking at handouts.“Partnering with Oregon Aglink takes a lot of the leg work out community outreach,” says Martin of the Adopt a Farmer program and Oregon Aglink staff. “Rebuilding the connection between food and people is essential for a healthy sustainable future, and I believe farmers are best suited to deliver that message.”

By Allison Cloo