The Center for Experiential Learning at Abington Friends School (AFS) has expanded in the 2020-2021 school year with the addition of two all-new Ex programs. A record number of students have joined the new cohorts, FarmEx and ChefEx.
FarmEx and ChefEx are designed to be a multi-year experience, likely covering two years of a student’s time at AFS. The students, faculty advisors and mentors for the programs have already held engaging sessions that connect people, places and ideas in collaborative ways—in person and online.
Willa Hollinger ’23 was eager to participate in FarmEx due to her growing interest in the country’s food and farming industry. Prior to joining FarmEx, Hollinger had already watched documentaries that covered monoculture and factory farming, and it opened her eyes to the food injustice that occurs as a result of this system.
“During FarmEx so far, I’ve learned that agriculture in the U.S. is often reduced to monocultural factory farming,” says Hollinger. She cites how many farms in the Midwest only grow corn or soybeans to fuel the fast-food industry rather than producing any real variety of produce.
“In turn, families in the U.S. with food insecurity tend to rely on these empty calories to feed themselves because of the convenience and cheapness of fast food,” says Hollinger, who, upon joining FarmEx, was excited to discuss these issues with other people but wondered if her classmates would be as interested in farming as she was. She was pleasantly surprised to be surrounded by so many like-minded individuals.
“It has been great to talk with other members of FarmEx,” says Hollinger. “I feel like I have really bonded with other members through our mutual interest for farming, and I might not have found that connection without the cohort.”
She appreciates the real-world application of FarmEx because she recognizes that as she grows older, she can utilize her gardening skills to teach communities about the importance of balanced nutrition and biodiversity (e.g., community gardens).
“In recent decades, it has seemed like many Americans have lacked a meaningful relationship with food and meal preparation,” says Hollinger. “I hope that after learning from FarmEx, we can spread the message that feeding oneself should be seen as something special and not just a hindrance throughout the day.”
FarmEx students have built raised beds on the AFS campus and has plans to keep bees in collaboration with a local beekeeper, as well. The group is also partnering with the Upper School Environmental Action and Justice Club to bring a butterfly garden with native plants to campus.
Hollinger feels that the hands-on aspect of the FarmEx program has given her an experience to hold on to and benefit from, even after the cohort ends. For example, the gardening skills she has learned so far will enable her to continue to experiment over time.
“I’ll gain a stronger relationship with that food because I grew it myself,” says Hollingner. “I’ve gotten to see our raised beds built from just planks of wood, and now we are seeing our first onion/garlic sprouts pop up. This is our first year with farming, so there will definitely be some trial-and-error, but I am looking forward to learning [how] to maintain a thriving garden on campus.”
FarmEx has also helped her feel more connected to the AFS community because she now has an enlightened perspective.
“I never really thought much about our campus [grounds] before this cohort, and now I am starting to be more excited about how we can benefit our environment,” says Hollinger, who one day hopes that AFS students and staff can enjoy the fruits of their labor when FarmEx students supply the cafeteria salad bar with some of their own greens. “That would be awesome!”
Flagship Ex programs MedEx and BizEx are also underway, along with the second year of the LawEx program.
To learn more about the Ex programs at AFS or to get involved as a mentor or presenter, visit the AFS website.