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The Bulletin: Prineville teacher wins eco trip to Italy
Author: Tyler Leeds
Posted: May 12, 2014

Read the original article in The Bulletin here.

PRINEVILLE — Heather Wiles traces her focus on sustainability in her Crook County High School classroom all the way back to her grandfather.

“Both my dad and his dad were huge gardeners; working in the earth has always been in my blood,” Wiles said. “For a lot of years, I had a small farm and ranch in Prineville, and I’ve always gardened. My goal has been for a long time to have a small sustainable farm, where I could bring students in and teach them about sustainability.”

After this summer, she will have a better sense of what such a farm might look like. Wiles, who teaches geography and history, was selected by the Portland State University Center for Geography Education in Oregon to attend a 10-day trip to Tuscany, where she will study sustainable practices at Spannocchia, an agricultural estate with buildings dating to the 12th century. The goal will be to compare what she sees in Italy to what happens in Oregon and then develop lectures and a lesson plan on sustainability that will be available to teachers across the state through PSU.

“Italy does sustainability really well,” Wiles said. “They really rely on local foods. You’re not going to see things on your plate that you couldn’t grow in the garden out back. There’s a big emphasis on seasonal foods, and water is used really wisely.”

Although her interest in farming is nothing new, Wiles said food quality has become more important to her after having children and learning about the impact of industrial food production on brain development in children.

“My goal is to teach my students about what they are really eating,” Wiles said.

As a warm-up activity last week in her AP geography class, Wiles had her students compare and contrast the first and second agricultural revolutions and discuss the effect of technology on human culture. Next they were shown aerial photographs of various cities and towns, and the students had to guess what they were looking at based on how the land was being used. Later in the year, students will take a trip to a grocery store, where Wiles will have them study where products are coming from and how the season and their origins affect prices.

“I didn’t really know there would be so much on sustainability,” said Laurence Heiges, 15, a student in Wiles’ AP geography class. “I kind of got a clue from the book we read over the summer, ‘The Omnivore’s Dilemma,’ which was pretty eye opening. Since then, I’ve had a bigger awareness of my spot here in Oregon, and what it takes to grow plants.”

Seth Kessi, 16, another AP geography student, said he knew “a little bit about sustainability,” but this year it has “come full circle.”

“We’ve talked a lot about the pluses of locally grown foods and other alternatives,” Seth said.

Wiles believes her course will help her students to better understand what goes into supporting life in Oregon and Prineville.

“Food is so abundant here compared to the rest of the world, and I’m hoping we can help to understand how that happens,” she said.