Princeton Learning Cooperative and Snipes Farm and Education Center in Morrisville, Pennsylvania, recently announced a partnership, arousing some curiosity in Mercer County. After all, what do education and farming have in common?

Traditionally, the answer is very little except for the occasional school trip to a farm. This new partnership, however, represents something quite different because both of our organizations are deeply committed to creating fundamental change in our industries. A partnership, therefore, makes eminent sense. Let me explain.

Through sophisticated technologies, the use of bio-engineered seeds and massive amounts of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides, modern industrial farms today are able to produce fields of perfectly aligned rows of corn for as far as the eye can see. From a certain standpoint this is a beautiful and wonderful thing to behold until we consider that to achieve this “perfection,” industrial farming imposes enormous costs through loss of bio-diversity, pollution from chemical run-off, and in the case of animal production, a tremendous amount of suffering.

In the modern farm very little thought is given to what is actually good for the local environment and the people, plants and animals that depend on it for life. The goal is a highly standardized “one-size-fits-all” product.

In much the same way, modern education is also pushing for increased standardization and testing to ensure a “uniform product.” Think of hundreds or thousands of kids sitting in perfectly aligned desks, in required classes, using a curriculum based on Common Core standards and preparing for standardized state tests.

Once again, from a certain view, this looks good and produces high school graduates who are considered “proficient.” But few people think about the costs associated with this “one-size-fits-all” approach to learning.

During my teaching career, I saw these costs firsthand:

Kids who were bright but bored to tears; students bullied for being different; kids who had learning differences that couldn’t be addressed in the traditional system; kids who would rather be out exploring in the woods than sitting still and listening for seven hours a day; kids who had real passions and talents that were pushed to the side by three to four hours of homework a night and families that endured so much stress from the nightly battles over doing that homework.

There is a growing awareness of the costs associated with modern farming practices. Snipes Farm and Education Center is part of the movement to show that local, organic and sustainable agriculture can produce food in a way that protects and nourishes everything that it touches — the soil, the plants and animals, the water, the farmers, and ultimately us, the people who eat the food.

Paul Scutt, who co-founded the Princeton Learning Cooperative along with me in 2010, and I both have long relationships with the farm. I have served on the board of directors for six years and Paul is the beekeeper on the farm. The partnership is still evolving, but I would imagine it will include various visits to the farm throughout the different seasons to see the life cycle of the farm. Our first visit to the farm in September primarily included a tour of the various operations they have there, orchard, vegetable production, animal production, and how they integrate these in a sustainable way without the use of chemical pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizer.

We also do a service project where we helped close down their children’s garden for the year and prepped it so they could bring their turkey flock in there to fertilize it and also eat the larvae of insects that are in the garden. We looked at Paul’s bees and he talked about the role of bees in the life cycle of the farm and the pollination of the food. He also talked about the dangers bees are facing with colony collapse.

Just as there is a growing awareness of the costs of modern farming, there is also a national movement that recognizes the heavy costs of the one-size-fits-all approach to education and wants to replace it with learning opportunities that light a fire within children, as opposed to smothering them with tests. Princeton Learning Cooperative is helping to lead this movement and is spreading the knowledge that families can in fact opt out of this standardized system and create a life and education for their children that will work for them and is based on their interests and talents.

We don’t need perfect rows of corn or children at desks. We need a food and education system that recognizes the inherent value of our land and our children and works to nourish both.

Joel Hammon, pictured at upper right, is the co-founder and director of Princeton Learning Cooperative based at All Saints Church in Princeton.

Hammon was raised in small farm town in Ohio, where his father was a teacher and coach and his mother was the school secretary. “I went into teaching because I wanted to inspire young people to expand their vision of what their life could be and to help them get better at the things they love,” says. “What I found in my teaching career was that school worked for a lot of kids, but for many others, schools did the opposite. Paul and I started PLC in 2010 as an alternative to school for families who wanted something different.”

Hammon can be reached at or 609-851-2522

Upcoming Events

Game Night for Teens, Friday, October 17, 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., Princeton Learning Cooperative, 16 All Saints Road, Princeton. Participants are invited to bring their own food or bring $5 to $10 for pizza. No RSVP necessary, walk-ins welcome.

Screening, “The Field Biologist,” Wednesday, November 19, 7 p.m., Lawrence Library, 2751 Brunswick Pike. Free.

This documentary by Jared Flesher of East Amwell Township tells the story of 22-year-old Tyler Christensen, a talented but somewhat rudderless high school graduate from New Jersey still trying to figure out what to do with his life. According to a Princeton Learning Cooperative synopsis, “Tyler’s great love is being outside, chasing birds, and studying wildlife. One day he decides-brushing aside his lack of a college degree or scientific credentials-to drop everything and travel to Costa Rica to start doing his own conservation-oriented research on birds in the tropics.”

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