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Students in Hamburg, Iowa, have seen a lot of changes over the past few years. The high school closed in 2011, and the town entered into a grade-sharing agreement with nearby Farragut, forming the new Nishnabotna School District. A merger was voted down, and Nishnabotna was dissolved after the 2015-2016 school year. Farragut also dissolved. Now Hamburg is a K-8 district, sending high schoolers to other districts.
A new farm school project at Marnie Simons Elementary in Hamburg is helping focus attention on the goal of doing what’s best for the kids. It’s also giving the town a much-needed boost of community pride.
The farm got its start when 60 chickens were hatched last spring, and students designed and built a coop. A large vegetable garden was planted, and students cared for it over the summer. A greenhouse with solar panels is in the works for year-round growing.
The school is working with city planners on farm development. “We plan on having a few piglets and lambs,” says superintendent Mike Wells. He is also hoping to start a small dairy so the kids can pasteurize milk and make cheese, ice cream, and butter.
Nikolas Peters, 11, lives in Hamburg, and he enjoys getting a taste of farm life at school. “I’ve learned that we can grow a bunch of different fruits and vegetables in Iowa,” he says. “We will be raising a lot of different animals right here at the school, and we’ll get to help take care of them and watch them grow.”
His sister, Lilly, 10, has been busy digging holes, building fence, and putting shingles on the chicken coop roof. “I really love that we have ducks at school and that we will be getting a lot more animals soon,” she says.
A grant helps fund the farm, but the community has put quite a bit of sweat equity into the project, too. The kids plan on repaying the kindness. “We look forward to sharing some of the produce and eggs from our operation with our food pantry and with elderly people and shut-ins as part of a community service,” Wells says.
The students also want to open a fully stocked grocery store, where they can sell what they raise. The Hamburg Market closed a few years ago, making the nearest grocery store 15 minutes away. “You can’t be a viable town without a grocery store,” Wells says.
Sixth-grade students spent eight months developing a business plan, which includes raising $50,000 with help from community leaders, staffing the store with kid and adult volunteers for the first year, then selling the store and starting another new business. “It will take a lot of people rolling up their sleeves, but we can do it,” he says.
In addition to the reading, math, and science skills the kids are honing on the farm, Wells says the store will teach skills in business, advertising, and customer service. “If we can teach our kids to develop a strong work ethic, it will take them a long way in life.”