By Patricia Grotenhuis
What happens when you mix a farmer and former school teacher with an urban area? You get a Learning Barn which provides thousands of people the opportunity each year to learn about where their food comes from.
Mary Ann Found always loved teaching children about agriculture. While her children were young, she would invite their classes to come visit the farm for a tour. While teaching at a nearby school, she would often bring farming into her lesson plans, and even brought live animals to school from time to time.
“I had been thinking of doing a Learning Barn since my kids were young. All along I wanted to do agricultural education and in 2000 I started working towards my goal,” says Mary Ann.
At the Learning Barn, located at the Found Family Farm in Courtice, Mary Ann has a small room where she tells children about the farm and they go to several stations to do hands-on activities. In the back of the Learning Barn, there are animals and information about how the animals are raised.
While at the farm, Mary Ann will also take the children on a tour to see the crops growing in the field, bring them to the garden, and show them the animals on the farm. During the spring, visitors see a sheep get sheared, card the wool, and plant seeds in the garden. During the summer, the visitors grind wheat while in the fall months they shell corn.
Mary Ann stopped teaching in March of 2006, and the Learning Barn was opened in May of the same year. In 2010, Mary Ann had 2,300 children come through for a two and a half hour tour. Mary Ann has all grades coming to visit her, and also sees day care groups.
“The main reason I do it is to see the look on the little ones faces when they touch a chick for the first time, or find out where milk comes from,” says Mary Ann.
Using her teaching background, Mary Ann has developed programs which fit into the curriculum, and is very much education-based. Another service Mary Ann offers is fun, educational birthday parties.
Mary Ann mainly focuses on the animals her family has on their farm. In the Learning Barn, they have pigs, beef, goats, laying chickens, broiler chickens, turkeys, and sheep. They also have a dairy display, but no dairy cattle. The farm itself is home to 50 beef cows, 400 hogs, 160 ewes, and 100 laying hens.
Although the Learning Barn itself is Mary Ann’s main project, it is not her only one. She is currently the chair of Durham Region Farm Connections, which has an annual program for 1200 Grade 3 students in Brooklin and for high school students in Pickering.
In addition, Mary Ann is on the Durham Region Federation of Agriculture’s education committee, where she coordinates and attends fairs with the “Why Farming Matters” trailer. The trailer features exhibits from nine different commodity groups and some displays from the Learning Barn.
“What I like the best is sharing my passion for agriculture with people who are so inquisitive about it, and giving them an opportunity to do something they’ve never done before,” says Mary Ann.