The Hand is the Organ of the Mind of Matter

by Wendy Agnew

Available for blinds 

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Montessori’s famous words, ‘the hand is the organ of the mind’ seemed to resonate large at Magnificent Hill, a teaching and learning farm in Haliburton Ontario. Every autumn, we take our junior high class on a nature odyssey and, for the second time, we found ourselves immersed in the incredible beauty, cyclic work, and inspiring camaraderie of living sustainable choices. Our students camp on the land, cook for themselves, clear pastures, entwine with needs of chickens, ducks, pigs and goats in a series of chores that give story to consumer habits. “Where do you think our eggs come from … our bacon … our milk …soap…honey…vegetables????” These questions are answered through a serious of practical life activities that link necessity with survival and invention.

Feeding The Ducks – A Cornucopia of Touch

In the beginning, the stars of the experience are the goats who are ‘kids’ themselves; playful, adventurous, insistent, demanding. The students are charmed by the non-verbal nuances of communing with other-than-human species in a dance that expands the notion of agriculture into relationship.

 “We study the agricultural revolution in the abstract, and this experience helps to ground our perspectives in time and space.”  


Goats Await Water

The ancestor project (an exploration of family through dramatis persona) follows the farm immersion experience that offers a sensorial understanding of what it was like to live without electricity, to lug water, to clear the land for pasture, to nurture animals that, in turn, end up on the table to nurture the family.

Wrestling a Boulder

It seemed to take a day or so before the rhythm of the farm found its way into all our hearts. Sometimes, there were questions from students that hinted at the desire for instant gratification. These were lovingly deflected into the dependence of product on process and a delightful culmination was our gourmet pizza night. To illustrate the seemingly magical transformation of sweat into sweet the students rolled dough, harvested vegetables and edible flowers and baked their own pizzas in the womb-like outdoor oven.

Dessert Pizza with Nasturtiums

A general sense of wellbeing and collective reliance became quickly palpable. When one of the pigs refused to climb the ramp for the ‘truck bound for glory’ she was listened to by Forest, our host. There was no forcing – but patience, postponement and a change in strategy. All creatures of the farm, from bees to chicks, were seen as participants in the mind of matter. Utilitarian distinctions were always tempered with compassion and respect for interconnections of physical, emotional and global survival.

As we sat by the campfire listening to our wonderful guide Cedar playing her didgeridoo, the students reflected, and boundaries between earth and human seemed to take a subtle shift.  “I’m thankful for the animals,” said someone and it seemed to come from a new place that we had created, all together, with our hands.



Website for Magnificent Hill:

Sustainability Frontiers: 


This article was published on October 17th: International Day for the Eradication of Poverty in Global Education Magazine


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