Engaging Students With Business

Jul 14, 2011

If you imagine a summer camp based on a farm, kids learning about crops and barnyard animals probably come to mind. But profit margins and business plans? Not likely at the top of the list. WNPR’s J Holt brings us a story of one farm taking camp in a new direction.

A gentle breeze is blowing here in the frog hollow neighborhood of Hartford, and the yard at Billings Forge is buzzing with the activity of its weekly farmers' market. It’s one of Hartford’s most well established, and many of the vendors have years of experience selling their produce here. That’s not the case for the market’s newest vendor, Hartford Harvest.

Customer- “Tell me a little bit about what you do.”

Josiah Strickland- “We harvest the food, we’re organic.”

Customer- “Nice.”

Josiah Strickland - “You can take one of those flyers.”

Customer- “Great, this is awesome. Sweet, ripe, rhubarb coffee cake, wow.”

Jesse Stanford- “They. Are. Delicious.”

Customer- “How much are they?”

Kids- “$2.”

Customer- “Definitely going to take one.”

Josiah Strickland - “Aha!”

Customer- “Who’s gonna collect the money?”

The creators of Hartford Harvest clearly stand out from their fellow vendors. First off they’re all students at Hartford’s West Middle School. They started from scratch two weeks before bringing a product to market for the first time. Not just the equivalent of a kid run lemonade stand, however, Hartford Harvest is a model business created by students in the Farm Biz Camp at the Community Farm of Simsbury, it’s being run in collaboration with The Hartford Financial Services Group, and Billings Forge Community Works. Tim Goodwin is the farm’s director.

Tim Goodwin- “In the three week program that we have, students work on developing a business plan, they learn what it is to create a mission statement, a vision statement. They also work on product development, creating a value added product, deciding what to charge for that product.”

And the students didn’t waste any time in getting down to business. In addition to caring for animals and tending to crops, the seven students in the program began a regimen of business classes within an hour of arriving. By the end of day two, they’d taken stock of their resources at the farm, met with a chef from the kitchen at Billings Forge to discuss what to make with their produce, and had learned about the intricacies of a non-profit businesses model, using the farm’s own history as an example.

Tim Goodwin- “We give them a background of Community Farm of Simsbury so we teach them how non profit organizations function. We teach the students that even a non-profit has to make money or bring in revenue to be sustainable. So the idea is that these students will learn the business concepts of how to generate revenue so that an organization, a business can remain profitable or sustainable.”

Amy Wiese- “And the kids are intrinsically motivated to learn about businesses and to sell their products because we make it very clear to them that they’re helping to support the camp.”

That’s Amy Wiese, one of the teachers at the farm biz program.

Amy Wiese- “What I like about it, it’s very student centered, the kids take the active role. We’re supporting them, you know guiding them pushing them, but in the end the project is theirs.”

The group decided that they were going to create a snow pea quinoa salad, and a rhubarb cake, that could either be purchased separately, or as a lunch package for a discount. To learn more about how they should price and present their product, Wiese and her fellow teacher Jesse Stanford brought the students to the Billings Forge farmers' market for research. 

Jesse Stanford- “Being able to come to Billings Forge and see business first hand on a very local level easy to understand and interactive level. These kids could go up to each vendor and ask questions, really see business first hand. And today, I think I saw a lot of light bulbs go on.” 

Stanford saw one of those light bulbs in 14 year old, James Amaro. He’d been getting more engaged each day, but it all seemed to come together for him that first day at Billings Forge.

James Amaro- “It’s strange, I thought camp was going to be boring. But even the work they’re putting us to do is fun. Now that I’ve been to camp and I’ve met new people and had a lot of fun, I was having thoughts to like get a summer job for next year.”

Armed with the knowledge gained from vendors, the students had just one more week to develop their business plan, design a logo, settle on recipes, and pick their packaging. While they may be too young to go right into business after this program, Stanford sees great value to the students getting this experience while still in middle school.

Jesse Stanford- “To be able to have this opportunity where they can at least start thinking about starting a business and being an entrepreneur and giving back to the community, its just huge. And it could lead to so many different seeds of ideas. And even if they don’t go in to business per se, if they can start feeling empowered and knowledgeable about these sorts of things, I think that’s the first step.”

Not all of the students may be looking at the long-term benefits yet, but they’re all proud of the work they put into Hartford Harvest. Sales at the Billings Forge Farmers’ Market exceeded initial expectations, and Tim Goodwin says the Farm hopes to expand the program next year.