NSSED program turning students into farmers
From right, Teri Rosenberg, a 15-year Northbrook resident, and Sue Hans, a 20-year Northbrook resident, are on a NSSED mission to Be@the farm at Wagner Farm in Glenview. | Karie Angell Luc~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 10, 2012 1:01PM
Their green thumbs covered in gardening gloves, Teri Rosenberg and Sue Hans, both of Northbrook, knelt down on midsummer Glenview soil, fearlessly grabbing weeds.
Those invasive plants threatened crops grown at Wagner Farm off Wagner Road near Lake Street, in a garden by a towering red birdhouse where Northern Suburban Special Education District (NSSED) students, assisted by staff and volunteers, have one goal — fruits of labor.
“You know what?” said Hans, who serves as NSSED coordinator of school, family and community partnership.
“My dad was a farmer, born and raised in Rock Island, Illinois,” said Hans proudly.
“And yeah, “Hans continued, sitting in cool shade under a mature tree on a picnic bench near Wagner Farm’s dark red barn, “…he (her father) had hundreds of acres of corn plus hogs. And yeah, he had nine brothers and one sister.”
Said Rosenberg, who sat next to Hans: “Wow, that’s a lot of work hands!”
Hans, who herself has four children, looked quite the gardener in her official Be@the Farm work shirt, complete with brimmed hat.
The Be@the Farm project, a pilot partnership between Wagner Farm and NSSED, has been such a success this summer that staff expects to add more students from the current enrollment of three.
“So I never understood how much you love it (farming) until you come out here early in the morning to weed and hoe and there’s no sound except the occasional cow,” continued Hans. “It’s like a vacation.”
Rosenberg was in agreement with her own anecdote.
“There was this 4-year-old,” said Rosenberg, telling the story of a youngster who visited Wagner Farm by happenstance during a NSSED volunteer gardening shift.
Rosenberg overhead the child say (about Rosenberg), “’Mom, there’s a farmer!’”
Added Rosenberg: “I mean, I don’t know, I was complimented.
“I was never a farmer until two weeks ago,” she said, now laughing.
The suburban farmer in Rosenberg and her husband Richard have three children, Katherine, 18, a Glenbrook North High School graduate who will attend the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh.
Their other daughter Abigail, 15, is a GBN sophomore and Andrew, 13, is a Northbrook Junior High School eighth grader.
Hans and her husband William are the parents of Brianne, 31, a 2001 GBN graduate, Bill Jr., a 2003 GBN graduate, Mack, 18, of the University of Colorado at Boulder, and Mara, 13, a Northbrook Junior High School seventh grader.
Both gardeners dressed to kill weeds believe in steering the mission of the pilot program, which is “to enrich the lives of persons with disabilities and community members by connecting them in educational, vocational and recreational programs throughout their communities,” according to a stewardship statement.
And something humble as ripe fruit and leafy greens validate why Be@the Farm fosters not giving up, especially during this summer’s past drought, or in an economy where horticulture-related positions are scarce for job applicants, especially position seekers with disabilities.
Still, the root, the goal of Be@the Farm includes showing learners where their food is sourced, along with instilling confidence to have simple faith in Mother Earth.
“Teri and I were out here (in the garden on a July Saturday),” said Hans, “and we had two radishes .... But it’s pure joy.
“You know,” added Hans, her face beaming under her shadowed brim, “you just know where your food comes from.”
Said Rosenberg of those two simple radishes: “And we were like, ‘No, you have, no you have it!’”
As of last report, the fruits of labor were split equally and much enjoyed.
Speaking of ratios, both women assert it is remarkable the Be@the Farm pilot program, with only the reported three students to a list of volunteers and staff, is proof NSSED has carefully monitored its prize cultivar with quantifiable results.
“Probably the most important part of this partnership is the opportunity it provides our NSSED students to have meaningful work in the community every day,” said Rosenberg.
The Be@the Farm location offers a picture postcard view and Wagner Family history.
“We would eventually at some point like to have honeycombs, beehives — the Wagners had beehives,” said Hans.
The Be@the Farm logo includes bee artwork and adorns a cheerful barn hex sign on the garden gate.
View the Be@the Farm video at northbrook.suntimes.com and glenview.suntimes.com. Click on the box on this page.
Learn more about the Be@the Farm program at www.nssed.org/volunteering. To volunteer, email email@example.com.
To learn about Wagner Farm, visit www.wagnerfarm.org/.