Educators possess a quality unlike others. Their passion to provide a cheerful and loving, yet controlled space for children not born to them is something we aren’t all capable of doing. Their talents may allow them to teach an array of subjects, while some are better focusing on specific areas – like English, math, science, or history. For Jeff Murrie, a 26-year educator and current Briggs Elementary teacher, his craft happens to be in the art of agriculture. It’s a subject rarely offered in today’s classrooms, but has quickly become a favorite amongst Briggs’ students.
In 2015, a group of Briggs’ faculty members applied and were awarded a grant from the South Carolina Department of Education (SCDE) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to establish a farm at Briggs, part of the National Farm to School Network. Shortly after, Jeff transferred to the school and, in addition to his regular duties as a Social Studies teacher, gained the responsibilities of fulfilling the grant. He immediately became the student, submerging himself in educational practices involving agriculture. Since taking on this new role, Jeff is now a graduate of the South Carolina Farm Bureau Ag in the Classroom Institute, he holds a certificate in Good Agricultural Practices from Clemson University and the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, he is a graduate of the School Gardening for South Carolina Educators from Clemson Extension, and he recently returned from Shelburne Farm in Vermont where he completed the course Cultivating Joy and Wonder for Early Learners.
Jeff has since vacated his former position of teaching Social Studies to fully implement agriculture into the Briggs lesson plan. In three short years, Jeff along with the help of so many in the community have taken a small grant and transformed it into multiple spaces where children are able to learn agriculture. The original grant helped to furnish the materials for a raised garden. Since then, a number of private donors and non-profits have donated time and money to fund an additional garden, a chicken coop, and a satellite garden at Lucas Park. In addition, Briggs is home to the only classroom observation beehive in the Pee Dee region.
“I have never witnessed students become as excited and engaged in a subject as I have seen in Farm to School,” says Jeff. He points out how students are capable of fully engaging all five senses while they explore and learn about agriculture – they can taste the home-grown produce, hear the bees buzzing, touch the soft new growth in the garden, see eggs the chicken lay, and smell freshly picked fruit. It is Jeff’s goal to influence children to engage with the environment around them.
Over the next few pages, Jeff will teach us about each aspect of the Farm to School program, along with Briggs’ Leader in Me focus, and the Bee Cause Project. As the Farm to School slogan goes, it’s “A win for kids, farmers, and communities!”
Farm to School Program
The National Farm to School Network is an information, advocacy and networking hub for communities working to bring local food sourcing and food and agriculture education into school systems. Students gain access to healthy, local foods as well as education opportunities such as school gardens, cooking lessons and farm field trips which empowers children and their families to make informed food choices while strengthening the local economy and contributing to vibrant communities. Farm to school implementation differs by location.
At Briggs Elementary, there are two gardens – the north garden located on Briggs Road and the south garden located near the bus loading area. “It’s great for students that are waiting to load the bus,” explains Jeff. “They can grab some fresh food to take home.” Each year, with the help of the community, new additions are added. The City donated all the lumber for the raised beds in the north garden, a Boy Scout constructed the beds for his Eagle project, parents built the fences and added sprinklers, and Florence Flourish installed the south garden last year. In 2016, the chicken coop was funded through ArborOne, Pee Dee Land Trust, and private donations. The farm shed storage building was funded through a gift from HopeHealth.
Clemson Extension’s 4-H Club helps maintain the gardens, chickens, and helps with the bees. The 4-H Club is an organized group of youths, led by an adult, with a planned program that is carried on throughout all or most of the year. The club provides important opportunities for youth to learn subject matter and life skills. In June, a group of 4-H kids that attend Briggs raised tomato plants and basil from seeds, took them to the Pee Dee State Farmers Market, and gave them away to patrons while informing them on the importance of growing their own produce. The 4-H Club, along with the community, takes full responsibility of the additional garden at Lucas Park.
Jeff is excited about future opportunities. Duke Energy installed a fruit orchard with peaches, plums, and blueberries in which they want to continue to add to. They also hope to add a new farm piece or livestock in the coming year and install a 30’ by 10’ raised bed that will be used to grow South Carolina cash crops such as cotton, indigo, corn, and peanuts. “Fifty years ago, most everyone had a family member involved in agriculture. Now it’s really hard to find that connection. The Ag classroom gets the students involved and they get to know where their food comes from,” explains Jeff. They also hope to add a four-station compost taking the food waste from the cafeteria. The classroom is most recently in the process of adding information kiosks. Gilbert and Fields Construction donated the materials, a Boy Scout completed the construction, and Dr. Christine Masters, a Francis Marion University English Professor, had her students create graphics for the kiosk for a class project.
By far a student and neighborhood favorite are the chickens located in the north garden. The chicken coop provides educational opportunities for the students in the areas of math, science, and biology. Each year students participate in 4H Chicken Embryology in their Related Arts class. The eggs produced are a variety of colors and sizes. Briggs follows safety guidelines in caring for the chickens and students are not allowed to eat the eggs due to health regulations. Even when the students are not at school they can watch the chickens through The Chicken Cam, a live feed that is also open to the community to view. The live feed link is available on the school’s website under School News.
Leader In Me
Briggs Elementary also participates in The Leader in Me Program, which is a whole-school transformation model that empowers students with the leadership and life skills they need to thrive in the 21st century. Jeff shares, “The kids have really stepped up with caring for the garden, chickens and bees. There are seven habits in The Leader in Me that they follow, and the garden has allowed the students to become leaders by taking care of the farm and raising the chickens.”
The students also cook in the classroom what is raised at the farm. “We have made kale chips, eggplant chips, tomato sauce and smoothies,” says Jeff. “The kids love the food and their parents are shocked when they say they like kale chips!” One Saturday a month they have a ‘clean the garden day’ where kids, along with their parents, can come help with the garden upkeep.
Bee Cause Project
In 2018, Briggs Elementary added an observation beehive through the The Bee Cause Project. The organization provides youth with opportunities to understand, engage, and learn from honey bees in order to connect with the natural environment while developing STEAM skills. Briggs Elementary is the only school in the entire Pee Dee and Myrtle Beach area to have an observation beehive. Florence County Farm Bureau paid for half of the beehive and private donors covered the remaining costs. Jeff completed Ag to Institute, sponsored by the Farm Bureau, where he was able to immerse himself in everything agricultural for the state. The class also sells honey, provided to them from Savannah Bee Company, which helps them to pay it forward for other schools to have the opportunity to get beehives. Overall, the program is committed to educating children about the important role honeybees play in the ecosystems they inhabit.
There is also a pollinator garden right outside the classroom that was funded by Five Star Chevrolet in Florence. In addition, Moore Botanical Garden in Lake City has made a huge impact through educating the students on what to grow and donating many of the plants.
Taste of Briggs
Each year Briggs Elementary School hosts the “Taste of Briggs” in April where the proceeds help fund much needed programs at the school. They have been able to combine the family-friendly event with the farm by creating the theme “Farm to School.” Various foods for sampling made from produce from South Carolina farmers are offered. Additionally, each grade level prepares a sample dish that focuses around a South Carolina product – strawberries, soybeans, Carolina Plantation rice, pork products, chicken bog, and more. The event features interactive booths, chicken poop bingo, dance and chorus performances, plus more. They even fill up big bins of whole kernel corn with buried toys for the small kids and have a potting station, so kids can plant a seed to take home.