Teacher might be retired, but ‘Mrs. Moo’ still hard at work

AFP Correspondent

PRINCE FREDERICK, Md. (Oct. 11, 2016) — The term “retirement” doesn’t mean much to Susan Cox.
In fact, she’s retired more than once. First, from a 31-year career as a classroom teacher in the Calvert County Public Schools. And then, after a six-year stint as the principal at the Calverton School in Huntingtown, Md. She said she’s not sure when she’ll retire from her new job as Mrs. Moo.
“In the time I have left, I want to make a difference,” Cox said. “There are many facets to Mrs. Moo. She’s not just a pretty face.”
Cox created the persona Mrs. Moo as a vehicle for her agriculture education program at Spider Hall Farm. She said Mrs. Moo is someone that both children and parents can relate to.
“Going through children, you get to the parents,” Cox said. “We have an opportunity to bring people out of their daily lives and onto a farm where they can get the tools they need to reconnect.”
The Cox family purchased Spider Hall Farm in 2005. The 362-acre farm is located in Prince Frederick and permanently preserved through the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation.
Cox’s husband, David, and son, Charlie, are involved in the traditional side of the operation, raising grain and tobacco.
Her daughters, Amy and Catherine, run the retail side of the business which includes a farm store, corn maze and other agri-tourism activities.
Her oldest son, David Jr., lives on the farm with his wife and family.
Education is the heart of the farm, Cox said.
In the fall, Spider Hall hosts schools and other groups for field trips. Having experience as a classroom teacher and administrator is helpful, Cox said.
She and her aide, Laurel Piatt, also a former teacher, develop lesson plans that are tailored to the classroom curriculum.
Their program includes pre-field trip planning with the teacher, the on-farm experience, and then a follow up visit in the classroom from Mrs. Moo.
“The classroom visit helps embed the things that they learned,” Cox said.
This year, Spider Hall debuted a new exhibit, “Little Hands on the Farm,” a hands-on exhibit developed by the Indiana State Fair.
The program has since been licensed to other state fairs and farm entities across the United States.
Little Hands on the Farm is a mock farm with up to 15 interactive stations, designed for children 10 and under. The exhibit includes up to 15 stations where participants can “harvest” farm products. At the end, they “sell” their goods in exchange for prizes or treats.
Spider Hall’s exhibit has five stations. Cox said it’s something they want to build on, adding stations in future years.
The investment in the program was partially funded through a grant from the Calvert Environmental Trust for Youth, which provides support for environmental and youth activities in Calvert County.
Cox said Little Hands is a complete agricultural lesson. She was drawn to it because it tied together multiple concepts including science, math, social studies, and language.
The challenge she said Spider Hall faces, though, is getting schools on the farm.
“The teachers get it,” Cox said. “But, the powers that be often miss the concept that everything that’s taught in the schools can be taught from the farm. It’s all connected.”
Cox sees an opportunity for Spider Hall to be included in CHESPAX, an environmental education program offered through the Calvert County Public Schools system. She and Piatt have been lobbying the local Board of Education.
“It’s a lot of red tape,” said Piatt. “We love our superintendent, but he still has to follow procedures. The budget is tight. Schools need money to get busses here.”
In the meantime, Cox said the focus is on engaging children and adults and promoting the area’s agriculture.
“We promote everyone in Southern Maryland,” Cox said. “We have an opportunity to be the voice for other farms and showcase what they have. Everyone has a right and responsibility to know where their food comes from and to understand the part they play in balancing nature.”
When she’s not teaching children on the farm, Cox is spreading the word about agriculture education to adults.
She was a speaker at the Maryland Agriculture in the Classroom Summer Workshop.
Cox got her first taste of agriculture education in the same program more than 20 years ago.
“This is a calling,” Cox said. “I miss the one-on-one with the kids, but I’m touching more kids this way. I’m contributing to their growth for the world around them. As a public speaker, I can bring that message to adults as well.”