Skip Navigation

SPECIAL OUTREACH - Where Does Our Food Come From?

A group of developmentally disabled students ride the potato digger at Jim Dixon’s Farm during a field day arranged by Josh Miller, NRCS Idaho District Conservationist for Idaho Falls in September 2018.
A group of developmentally disabled students ride the potato digger at Jim Dixon’s Farm during a field day arranged by Josh Miller, NRCS Idaho District Conservationist for Idaho Falls in September 2018.

Idaho Falls District Conservationist Josh Miller and Soil Conservationist Tacia Williams facilitated and helped with an education event on Sept. 28, 2018, for a group of developmentally disabled adults. They were learning about where their food comes from in their class, so Miller and Williams worked with the group’s teacher to set up a field trip for the class. Jim Dixon, chairman of the West Side Soil and Water Conservation District, offered to let the class tour his farm and watch him harvest potatoes.

The tour started at Dixon’s shop, where he gave a short talk about farming and everything it takes to grow a crop.  The group then went and looked at a cellar where the farm’s crew was putting in potatoes. The next stop was a field they were harvesting. Dixon got the group up on the digger and let them ride for a few hundred feet and watch how the machine works.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen smiles so big or as big of laughs and ‘WHEEEs’ from that group riding on the digger,” Josh Miller said.  “Jim gave them bags to go pick their own potatoes and talked to them about where the potatoes go next.”

About an hour after they left, Miller got a call from the group’s teacher thanking them profusely and saying that she had never seen them so happy.  “She said even a young man who was very shy didn’t stop talking from when they left us until they got back to their classroom,” he noted.

Based on the success of the field trip, Miller said that he thought his conservation districts would be interested in hosting more educational events to help people learn about farming and where their food comes from.

It turns out he was right. In the spring of 2019, the same group of developmentally disabled adults that they took out to a potato farm in the fall was back to learn more about where their food comes from. Even better, the group had grown to 10 adults. 

Students return to Dixon's farm in June of 2019 and learn how the hay rake and baler work as well as see young crops growing.
Students return to Dixon’s farm in June of 2019 and learn how the hay rake and baler work as well as see young crops growing.

One day in May, Josh Miller and Jim Dixon made them farmers!  Dixon brought in barley and wheat seed along with some soil, and fertilizer and the group planted the seed in pots that they painted the week before.  Dixon gave them instructions on watering and how to care for the young plants once they sprouted. The students would be taking care of them throughout the growing season.  Dixon invited them back out to his farm in June so they could compare their barley to the barley on his farm fields and learn about irrigation.

“It was really cool to see this group listen intently to Jim and ask questions about farming,” Miller said. “I was impressed how much they remembered from what Jim told them last year.  I think they have a better memory than me!  Jim’s wife was there and thanked the group for being so interested in learning where their food comes from and wished more students would take such an interest.”

In June, the students were back at Dixon’s farm to look at the barley growing so they could compare the grain they planted in pots last month. They also checked out the newly planted spuds, watched the hay rake and baler, and learned about the farm’s research plots. Then, to top it off, a friend of Dixon, who has an non-profit equestrian therapy service, brought a couple ponies out for the students to feed, pet, and lead around.  The group has grown from the original six students who started this learning project in September to 16 today!  The new participants came from other groups outside of the original six, but all of them want to learn about where their food comes from and about agriculture in general.

But the adventure isn’t over yet. They will come back out again late summer during harvest and watch the combines in the field.  According to Miller, they also want to ride the spud digger again and go on a horse drawn carriage ride provided by Dixon’s neighbor with the equestrian therapy service.