At the École des Semeurs (the Growing School) in the Eure district, young people who are failing at school learn how to enjoy learning again by training to work in organic farming. A logical choice in light of the current environmental challenges we are facing, and one that gives hope to students who are unsure of their future.
In the fields of the École des Semeurs in Mesnil-sur-Ouche, environmental protection and sustainable farming are already reality. Supported by Fondation de France, the school opened its doors in 2020 to adolescents who are not cut out for a classic approach to education. The school’s aim: to provide training for jobs in organic farming and local food production. Training that is not only dedicated to respect for the environment, but also develops concrete skills and techniques that help students enjoy learning again. These young people, aged 14 to 18 years old, often have experienced a difficult childhood, living in foster homes or diagnosed on the autism spectrum. The program allows them to work towards a vocational training diploma (the French Certificat d’Aptitude Professionel, CAP) in small groups with an attentive educational team. “For most of them, the primary motivation was to be able to work outside, to be able to move and not feel shut up in a classroom where what they were being taught didn’t make sense to them,” explains Marie-Cécile Pennequin, the young director of the Sowers School.
Finding meaning through contact with nature
In fact, a large part of the school program, over 60%, is reserved for hands-on workshops: seeding, propagation, cultivating, harvesting and preparing fruits and vegetables for sale. Their workspace is 4.5 hectares of fields adjoining the Château de Beaumesnil, as well as several greenhouses. “This contact with the natural world is something new for many of them, and we can see just how much the link with nature, with the earth, is beneficial. Nature has so much to give us, and even more to these children. They are calmer, they help each other, and most of all, they are very proud to see that they are capable of making things grow! It gives them confidence in themselves.”
More confidence – more hope
This revived pride is most apparent when selling produce at the local markets every Wednesday. That’s when the teens are at the helm of their stands, in direct contact with clients, selling their homemade, organic products! For some, the experience of the Sowers School was a revelation. Four of the second-year students, who have received their CAP certificate, are already planning on starting their own businesses selling produce locally. Their awareness of sustainable farming is also bearing fruit. With the help of the educational team and professional teachers, they now know that it is not necessary to use pesticides and other chemical products, and that it is possible to have a good vegetable harvest without ruining the soil.
These ex-early school leavers, who once felt lost and without a future, seem to have found their way through this program, as well as the desire to do things well and the satisfaction of interaction with a rich natural environment. What’s more, some are starting to promote the benefits of healthy eating. One of the students convinced the cooking staff at his foster care facility to stock the kitchen with fresh produce from the Sowers School. They must have been proud of their accomplishments.
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