1003 Carol Lane
Lafayette, CA 94549
(925) 283-6792

License # 073406651


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Agricultural Program
Recycling
Composting
Worm Farming
Chickens and Eggs
Fruits and Vegetables

 

Why do we bother?

In our new, larger facility, we are finally free to pursue our vision for an agricultural program at Building Bridges Preschool. Our program is still a work in progress and will develop over time. We look forward to sharing the journey with you.

Preschool is very much about learning to flourish in community with peers. But equally important is a sense of belonging in nature, a sense of place on our planet Earth. Through our agricultural program, we teach that our place in nature is that of protector and nurturer, but also that we are nurtured and grateful.

Thanks to our mother, now known as Grandma Linda, ("Really, Mom, thank you.")
Ms. Sandy and her sister Shelly grew up gardening, raising chickens and rabbits, breeding puppies, and riding horses. As we raised our own children, we visited Grandma Linda's farm often to give them those vital experiences. Now through this program, we can provide some of those experiences right here in Lafayette.

Program Description

Composting Have you seen the magnificent Valley Oak in our backyard? It provides us with a phenomenal pile of oak leaves each year, which can be difficult to compost. Chickens, also, provide us with a very large composting contribution, up to 1 cu ft of manure every 6 months, per chicken. Lucky for us, the chickens provide the necessary heat to turn those oak leaves into pure natural gold. (Our adult staff handles all of the composting of chicken waste).

Our children participate by helping add oak leaves to the compost pile, and by distributing the finished compost as food back into our food system. Our compost is fed back to our fruit trees, our vegetable garden, and that magnificent oak. It is also fed to our worms.

Worm Farming The california redworm has been evolving in California chapparel and woodlands for millions of years. The oak leaves and oak compost are good for the worms and the worms are in turn, good for the oaks and for our composting. We have an old planter in the backyard with a mostly concrete bottom. It's shaped like a bean and so we lovingly call it "the bean". It is now filled with compost-rich soil and lots of california redworms. Those worms that don't choose to leave through the holes in the concrete bottom of the bean, multiply! When we feed them fresh, rich compost, they multiply even more.

The children participate by feeding our garden scraps to the worms in the bean, and by distributing the worms that we harvest from the bean throughout our local ecosystem.

Worms for composting: Every time we start a new compost pile, we start by placing worm-filled soil from the bean directly on the ground where our comost heap will be. Then comes the sticks and leaves from the oak for lots of air circulation at the bottom. Then comes the chicken coop shavings (adults only) in layers with more oak leaves through the course of the year. The worms that were placed in the soil beneath the compost heap get all of the rich drippings filtering down into the soil throughout the year, and they get to venture upwards to assist with the composting. Not surprisingly, they multiply! The soil beneath the compost heap will be full of worms and nutrients for years to come.

Worms for the garden: The children help to distribute worms and nutrient rich soil from the bean to the garden, the fruit trees, and to the backyard soil beneath the old oak. The worms provide much needed soil aeration in our local clay, pathways for water and root growth, and nutrients from their castings.

Worms for the chickens: Nothing gets a chicken more excited than a worm. The chickens will naturally scratch around the entire backyard, foraging for bugs (did you know chickens are a fantastic natural pest control?) and grubs. They will also eat all of the fresh young weeds and grass sprouts that grow up in our nutrient rich soil. As the chickens wander, they in tern feed the soil and the worms with their droppings. But when they find a worm, what a prize! The addition of worms, insects, spiders, and sprouts into our chicken's diet reduces our use of organic chicken feed and makes for much healthier, happier chickens.

Chicken Farming We start with a few fertilized eggs each time we decide to hatch, at least once annually. We can have up to 8 hens at our facility at any given time. The eggs are shipped in a cool, dry, dark container and must be activated through the heat of the incubator within 10 days of being laid. Our incubator, well-used and donated by Grandma Linda, is used in the preschool garage. After 21 days of incubation, the chicks hatch. The process takes up to 12 hours and so it is likely we can watch some of this happen. They stay in the incubator for the next day or so until they "fluff out" and then they are moved to the brooder, also in the garage, where they stay until they are old enough to move to the coop in the backyard.

The chicken breeds we raise can be used for both meat and for eggs. Our reward is primarily eggs, but out of necessity, some chickens hatched will go to Grandma Linda's farm where they will be raised for meat. Out of compassion for our neighbors, and to comply with city ordinances, no roosters can stay past the age of 8 weeks.

The children help with feeding and watering the chickens, gathering eggs, and checking them for health and well-being. Each morning we let the chickens out of their coop to forage in the backyard. The children help to feed and water them, and collect their eggs. We teach them how to examine the chickens to make sure that they are healthy (eyes, nostrils, feathers, feet). This requires the chickens to be properly socialized. We have selected chicken breeds that are known to be calm, friendly, affectionate types, and we work with the children throughout the chicken's lifecycle to teach them proper handling and care. At the end of each day, we round up the chickens with a worm or food treat and secure them in the safety of their coop.

Gardening and Nutrition We have a variety of fruit trees on the property including clementine, orange, lemon, lime, fig and avacado. We also have a raised bed garden for tomatoes, squash, peppers, cucumbers and more. Our fresh fruits, vegetables, and eggs are all used in our nutrition and cooking program. Everything at the preschool is organically grown.

Risk and Responsibility
Birth and death, nurturing and eating, these are subjects that when handled with respect and honesty can teach us empathy, compassion, tenderness and gratitude as well as resonsibility and self-reliance. We hope that through our program, your child can develop these traits and also have a direct experience of nature and Earth.

Risk is inherent in nature, and so in our interactions with it. Chickens can carry bacteria such as Salmonella, which causes diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps, and is especially worrysome for small children. Chickens also have beaks and claws for foraging, and as animals, they can be unpredictable. Young children have also been known to be somewhat unpredictable. They may frighten a chicken that may respond in a frightening way. Despite education and diligent supervision, children may put their hands or other items in their mouths and can become sick. It is, therefore, essential that we have practices to maintain healthy standards.

As you saw in the program description above, the adults handle all of the highest risk activities such as the cleaning of the chicken coop, handling and composting of chicken waste, turning of the compost pile, etc. We also segregate the chickens and chicken activities to the backyard and to the garage, keeping the other areas relatively free from contamination. We never combine agricultural activities with drinking, snacking, or eating. We teach the children proper hygiene practices and animal husbandry, for the safety of both the children and the chickens. We make sure that each child is ready for each responsibility and reward. Parental authorization and waiver is also required in order for children to participate in the program. Alternative activities are always available.

Responsibility Before participating in any portion of our agricultural program, each child must first become certified as a Master Handwasher. We wet hands (then turn off water), apply soap, lather well, and rub hands vigorously for two rounds of Happy Birthday, 3 rounds of Row Your Boat, or 20 Mississippi's. Then we rinse well and dry with a clean towel. We wash our hands after handling garden fruit or vegetables, dirt, leaves, compost or worms, and again before eating. After handling chickens or collecting eggs, hand washing begins with an alcohol based hand sanitizer followed by all of the above. All garden tools and eggs are washed outside.

Children who earn certification as a Master Handwasher are allowed to help with gardening, feeding and watering the chickens, and collecting eggs. Master Chick Handlers have learned the skills needed to be allowed to hold baby chicks. They earn the title of Master Worm Farmer when they learn to feed and harvest our worms (and hold them too!). When they have learned all about caring for hens, especially all the skills they need to hold them safely, they earn the title of Master Chicken Rancher and can then handle grown hens. Each skill learned earns recognition and reward, but also additional responsibility for the care of the chickens and the farm. Children who become Master Chicken Ranchers can participate with their families as Weekend Chicken Wranglers, helping with Saturday and Sunday chicken chores as well as enjoying the eggs collected! Other titles the children can earn include Master Recycler, Master Composter, and Master Gardener, when they have gained some experience and an understanding of the processes involved.

The best way to learn is to teach. Something about sharing what we learn with someone new helps to solidify the knowledge and make it our own. Once children learn a skill, they will be responsible for helping to teach newer or younger children when the time comes. They learn confidence and deepen their own understanding. And they teach their families at home! So be ready to start your own compost heap and recycle like an expert.