The night stars twinkle above Western Washington University senior Rachael Morris. She sighs as she finishes up her daily tasks.
Wearing her dirt-covered boots, she rounds up the chickens and the turkeys, residents of Common Threads Farm in Bellingham. For Morris, working with animals and the dirt isn’t a chore — it’s her passion.
Common Threads Farm is volunteer-based, with one paid position, Morris said. Volunteers work on the farm day and night and take care of the animals throughout the day — from letting them out in the morning to putting them to bed at night, Morris said.
At Common Threads, the focus is to educate children about healthy eating by teaching them how to grow and cook their own vegetables and make wholesome choices.
Many of the improvements at the farm have succeeded with the help of Western students, farm director Laura Plaut said.
“If we didn’t have people like Rachael [Morris] who were doing it, it would mean that I, who live across town, would spend a couple hours a day going back and forth taking care of animals,” Plaut said. "Especially for people who live near our farm site, it’s the best possible way to be a farmer because you get to help out but you don’t have the ultimate responsibility.”
Mara Schradle, Western alumna who graduated in fall 2012 is also a Common Threads volunteer, began working with the farm as its AmeriCorp volunteer this fall. Schradle is the fourth person who came to them from AmeriCorp, through Washington Service Corps. As an AmeriCorp volunteer, Schradle is paid and works 40 hours per week.
“I have been working for [Common Threads] for just under a month, and I already have handfuls of great experiences,” Schradle said in an email. “One of my favorite things about our programming is seeing young kids interact with the farm animals. It is so fun to see the caring nature of kids come out when they are carefully holding chickens and turkeys.”
The beginning of Common Threads
To implement her idea of “seed-to-table education,” Plaut integrates gardening into the curriculum for 10 Bellingham public schools, one private school, the Lummi Nation School and Kendall Elementary in Mount Baker, she said.
After her son was born 10 years ago, Plaut became concerned about what he and other children consume.
“I just realized I had a choice either of being a scolding mother and always disagreeing with the messages society was sending my kid, or I could work on exposing him to things that I believed in, in ways that were fun,” Plaut said. “If I was going to do it for him, I might as well do it for kids in general. That’s where Common Threads started.”
Within the schools, children are involved with gardening, Plaut said. Because the children have their own gardens at the schools, they learn to plant, weed and learn about plants from a nutritional perspective, Morris said.
Because the children grow and cook their own vegetables, they are in need of an efficient way to prepare their meals. Western student Jon Maurins has built a covered kitchen area for Common Threads, Plaut said.
“Because he is doing it as a volunteer, we’re able to do it really affordably,” Plaut said. “He’s been hoping to do it for a long time and it’s a matter of finding somebody who has the skills and the energy to do it."
Before Jon began building the kitchen, it consisted of a tarp hung between two trees, with camping stoves underneath. The volunteers cook on camping stoves, and after the kitchen is built, they will be able to use the covered area to stay out of the rain, Morris said.
Morris participated in Common Threads farm camp, a four-day program from June through August that teaches kids how to garden and work with farm animals.
In farm camp, Morris was able to change the children’s perspectives about vegetables that were new to them and to make them more adventurous eaters.
“A lot of kids are exposed to such terrible foods, like all the processed foods they see on TV,” Morris said. “I just think it’s important for kids to learn now about what kind of food is going to make them feel good and make them be healthy in the long run.”
Morris hopes to continue working with Common Threads Farm after she graduates in the spring.
“My favorite part of working with Common Threads is the amazing community and people with [whom] I get to work,” Schradle said. “Common Threads as an organization has brought together smart, happy people [who] want to help students learn the importance of our food culture. And that makes for a pretty great work environment.”
For information about getting involved with Common Threads, visit http://www.commonthreadsfarm.org/