I grew up in a small town in southern New Jersey and never thought my dream of having my own farm would ever come true. My husband and I began Red Rope Farm in 2004 and have learned all we needed over the years through books, the internet, and friends we have met along the way.
Because I can see agriculture through the eyes of city—well, suburban—folk, I have been passionate about educating people about agriculture. I offer on-the-farm field trips for small groups, most of which are school, homeschool, or scout groups. I often post on our farm’s Facebook page and website about what goes on at our farm and explain why we do what we do. Our family also hosts a yearly open-farm day, allowing our neighbors and customers to visit with our animals and learn more about them.
Several years ago, when visiting with my aunt who was a second-grade teacher in Las Vegas, Nevada, I asked her what she thought about a virtual field trip, a live online tour where students could see our farm and ask questions. I wanted to bring our farm to children who might never get the chance to physically visit a farm. My aunt thought it was a great idea, but we were both unsure of how to make it happen.
Over the years, this idea sat on the back burner. When Facebook began hosting live videos, I used the feature to share our farm with family and friends, even bringing the miracle of a lamb’s birth to them. Some of our friends who are teachers shared the videos with their students.
When state after state began closing schools in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I decided to try out my idea of a virtual, interactive field trip, using Facebook’s live video option. Students in Pennsylvania and many other states were told to stay home, but not all districts had begun distance learning yet. I thought it would be a perfect time to use this platform to entertain, occupy, and teach children who were missing school.
As with in-person field trips, on our first virtual field trip, we started the tour in our chicken coops and talked about our mixed flock of chickens, turkeys, and ducks. Next, we visited with our Tunis and Jacob sheep. Finally, we finished up in the pasture with our two Jersey steers.
With each of the animals, I always give a brief lesson in anatomy, because birds’ and ruminants’ bodies are quite different from our own and are created to function perfectly in their environments. I discuss why we chose to raise the types and breeds of animals we have on our farm. Many of our animals are heritage breeds, and I talk a bit about the history of the different breeds and why keeping the rare breeds alive is so important.
I discuss the similarities and differences between our Tunis and Jacob wool, how wool from other breeds compares, and how some wool is best suited for certain types of projects. I also talk about the steps necessary to process freshly shorn fleeces through to a finished product.
Our virtual field trips are accessible online, both on our website and Facebook page. I also host in-person field trips for groups of up to about 15 people and private virtual field trips for groups of any size.
This article was published in the Fall 2020 issue of Spin Off.