22 Dec Staff Spotlight – Niki Irwin: From Visitor to Educator
Niki has been one of Learning Tree Farm’s talented, trained educators for two years, but her affection for the farm goes back much farther than that. When Niki’s son, Miles, was five years old, they discovered the farm. It was, she says, “a hidden gem in the middle of the hustle and bustle,” and they would go there often for a good dose of what they affectionately call “life conditioning,” something even more important to them than air conditioning.
One of the farm memories that still comes up regularly for Niki and Miles is the day goats were running all over the farm, and they tried to round them up because they thought they’d escaped. That was before Niki knew that the goats often have the run of the farm and, as long as they’re not in the garden, that’s okay. Before too long, however, Niki would know all about the goats and their habits, as well as all of the other animals, because Niki would become a farm educator–one of the skilled teachers who leads farm field trips and spends Saturdays with drop-in visitors.
Niki, like all of our farm educators, brings many talents to the farm. She’s a social worker, a small business owner, and she runs a non-profit of her own. Though she’s a busy person, Niki values balance, and you can sometimes find her reading in a rocking chair by the Century House, soaking in the sun. She knows how to appreciate the peace of a space where you can, in her words, “get out, unplug, breathe.” Like many busy, multi-talented people, Niki understands that a healthy life requires balance, and that’s one of the core values she hopes to share with the children who flock around her on field trips.
She likes “that kids can go to the farm, get out, unplug, breathe.” She even likes what you sometimes breathe on the breezes when you’re at the farm, the compost, and she teaches the children to appreciate it as a fundamental part of the growth that they see all around. By the time the children climb aboard their busses, they, themselves, are breathing deeply and telling her how good it smells. That’s not the only thing school children leave one of Niki’s field trips with. They also leave with the experience of having set their phones and tablets and computers aside, the experience of taking time to look closely at the natural world. “Once kids start doing that, then they crave it.” Niki tells me, “they know the possibilities.”
Niki believes that “it’s important to teach empathy not only for people, but also for nature.”
She hopes that everyone who comes to Learning Tree Farm with the inevitable negativity and stress of the world will find a place where they can see beauty, a place where nature is valued and preserved, a place where they can, as Niki says, “let stress melt away and leave it out there with the leaves.”