By: Anna Jankovsky
In the Institute for the Environment and Sustainability at Miami University, there are many talented graduate students participating in various research projects in the community in order to enhance their learning experiences. One of these students is Jackie Wagner, a recent Miami undergrad alum who has spent her time this semester as part of the Professional Service Project team helping with the Village Green Farmers Market project in Fairfield, Ohio.
Wagner, who just graduated from Miami last spring with degrees in zoology and comparative religion, has a real passion for working with kids and animals. “Hopefully that’s what I’ll be doing in my graduate degree,” she says. With her concentration in environmental education, the Village Green Farmers Market is a perfect opportunity, fulfilling the Professional Service Project requirement of the Master of Environmental Science curriculum, for her to explore her passions through her academic pursuits.
The market that provides this research opportunity began last April and, according to Wagner, “it’s now trying to extend into having a children’s program.” She explains the root of the problem that the graduate environmental education research addresses: “right now they have about fifty kids that come each week and they don’t really have anything for them to do.”
While there were some activities geared towards kids each week, this lack of an organized, engaging children’s program at the market is what the Miami students are attempting to fix. Tiffany Acuff, the Market’s manager, describes their project goals as “to research, test, and cultivate a formal kids’ educational and fun programming.”
“Over the summer I was an educator at the Cincinnati Zoo, so right now I’m helping build the lesson plans [for the Village Green education program] and helping advise the Miami teammate who’s doing the tool kits,” says Wagner, describing her role in the effort. “I come up with the activities that they’re doing, the words that our volunteers will say, and the games, the crafts… It’s fun!”
“They do everything,” Acuff states of the capable student researchers. She then goes on to list some of the students’ other specific duties: “researching market programming for kids, testing ideas in real life educational settings, and developing a scope and sequence for what would be the best ideas for implementing the program!” Wagner and the rest of her team really do it all when it comes to the education plan they are designing for the Fairfield market—which is truly an important responsibility to be trusted into the hands of this group of Miami students.
The project working with the youth of Fairfield in the Village Green Farmers Market is important not just because it impacts the research experience of Miami graduate students, but also because it impacts the local children’s education and, therefore, all of our environmental futures.
“There’s a saying ‘When you know better, you do better’,” says Acuff. “Our goal is to provide opportunities to the children and families of Fairfield to ‘know better’ so that they can learn to ‘do better’ as they grow up.” And, since children are our future, the healthy and sustainable education that they receive now with local markets and learning opportunities (such as those provided by the Village Green project) will carry into the next generation a better understanding of how our food, bodies, and environments work.
Acuff refers to this impressionability of the children passing through the market program and highlights the importance of educating them about food and the environment. The same lesson, she says, goes for all concentrations even outside of environmental science: “whether you intentionally teach [kids] the things you’re learning now or whether you implement changes in your industry of choice; all of it will matter to the kids in school today and their kids after them.” And with these impacts on the level of schooling, real change happens in the future. Certainly this market, with the great progress mounted by Miami University graduate students, provides a great exemplary place to show the impact on of current educational efforts on the environmental awareness of, and change in, our future generations.