Biltmore’s Antler Hill Farm 

The Living Science Fair and more

03/21/2011
Field Trip Destination
AMY CHILSON

At Antler Hill Farm at Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC students learn more than just the history of the barn. The unique setting provides opportunities for lessons in biology, physics, ecology, art, social science, history, language arts and more. The entire farm becomes their classroom and age/grade appropriate programs and specialized guided tours are provided. image

Bordered on the southern edge by the French Broad River, teaming with birds that come to fish and nest along its banks and surrounded by fields for growing hay, pasturing animals and woods full of wildlife and history, Antler Hill Farm is divided into three distinct areas; Kitchen Garden, Farm Yard and Antler Hill Barn.

The Kitchen Garden is the perfect place to tantalize all five senses while learning about the importance of composting, the medicinal properties of herbs, and other fascinating details of farm life. Many young people have never harvested food from a garden and may not know what fruits and vegetables look like while still on the vine. Many may only know the flavor of mint from a stick of gum or dill from a pickle jar. In the Kitchen Garden, where some food comes from, and what it looks like in different stages of growth is shown firsthand.

The garden is a great place to talk about pollination, the difference between good bugs and bad bugs, the fascinating job of worms, and why companion planting is an important part of organic gardening. Each season presents its own story with its own unique lessons. Age and grade appropriate lessons available for the beginning seeds, bees and bugs students, to the future-planning Ag classes.

One of the fun learning experiences in the garden is using your body to tell time with the analematic sundial. Analytical and logical thinking is encouraged to explain why some of the numbers on the sundial are repeated, and some are not.

Have you ever experienced the warmth of a newly laid egg or buried your fingers in the wooly pelt of a young lamb or touched the horns of a goat or felt how soft a baby chick is? In the Farm Yard, these are common occurrences. The thrill of touching farm animals that some have only learned about in stories or seen in pictures, creates a positive bond between man and animal, satisfies curiosity and can help alleviate a fear of animals. Some farm programs include stories and activities about farming in the early 1900s and the chores the children were responsible for before going to school ... even before the sun was up!

The old farm machinery in the Antler Hill Barn provides opportunities for lessons in physics as well as history. Watching a demonstration of the hay carrier in action shows how pulleys can be used to do the work of several men and horses. Observing the blacksmith and woodworker create useful objects with old-time tools acquaints children with craft skills passed down over the years, and provides a connection between the past and the present.

The Living Science Fair program is structured to provide students with firsthand knowledge of a science concept as they participate in mini science projects relevant to farming or farm products. Students are divided into small groups to perform experiments using scientific methods; a story problem is presented, and the group votes on a hypothesis to test, a scribe is elected to write down the procedure, record observations, and post the results. Each student is then given a task during the experiment. After the results are obtained, a conclusion is drawn, and an explanation is given as to what took place. If time permits, everyone comes back together and the results are shared with the other groups, or it is a great post-visit classroom activity.

Experiments may include; butter making techniques to determine the fastest method, making frozen yogurt to learn the connection between salt and freezing; or possibly a popcorn experiment involving measurement and weight. Maybe developing the best formula for potting soil or why adding salt to water causes an egg to float, or discovering and discussing the causes of erosion and how to prevent it.

Sometimes the outcome of the experiment is inconclusive, which provides opportunities for further discussion. Students are encouraged to speculate on what went wrong, or what could be changed to produce a different effect. The concept of performing an experiment over and over again to obtain an average of results is promoted. It is explained that scientists do not base their conclusions on the outcome of one experiment, but rather on the findings of a large number of tests.

Science lessons are not limited to the Living Science Fair, the farm offers scientific concept exploration in other requested school programs as well. Combining math and science may include the power of water, how a reaction ferry functions and a water wheel demonstration.

Daily farm life is a demonstration of science just by nature; how to use a compass, the fascinating lives of bees, uses of wind power, learning about wildlife, the science and history of peanut butter. Even old folk remedies for hiccups, freckles or predicting the weather can be fun, educational, student-friendly topics.

Popcorn becomes a field-to-table activity as staff members explain how popcorn kernels are planted, harvested and shucked. Popcorn is then shelled into a popper with a transparent lid so the process is seen. Science is again used to explain why popcorn pops, and how cream turns to butter and why salt is a necessary part of the process in hand-cranking ice cream.

As part of the ongoing science exhibit, there is a display case full of natural objects found in the woods and fields surrounding the barn. Some of the items displayed include a beaver skull, black rat snake skins, cow teeth, a deer jawbone, antlers, bird nests and egg shells. There is also a Touch and Guess Box available, for discovering an item from nature by feeling it and solving the riddle.

Future lesson plans and additions to the education program come from the ideas and requests of teachers and students and what they would like to learn about and include in their visit to Biltmore. More science demonstrations in which students can participate are in the works. Learning about wind power while constructing a weathervane or windmill; or going on a bug safari in the garden and focus on the biology of a farm; and the on going exploration of our environment and our responsibility for the future.

Interactive programs are the best way to experiencing science at Antler Hill Farm. Programs are offered for all grade levels K-12, as well as specialty focus programs for horticulture, forestry and culinary. There is even a day for just fun. Field Day on the Farm is about good old-fashioned games and relay races — challenge your rival class and let the games begin!

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