The Farm School’s Learn to Farm Program runs almost a full year, from the beginning of October through the middle of the following September. It has been an evolving program over its entire existence, and we’ve continued working to perfect the mix and balance of experiences that make up the year. Our goal of farmer training is ambitious, and we try to pack so much into every student’s experience that we feel an immense pressure to
sustain a resilient balance among the countless student undertakings. We alway strive to furnish each student with the broadest and deepest possible set of knowledge and experiences, and to temper all of it with as much authenticity as we can. We made a couple of changes to the end of our program this year that addressed these concepts, and really seemed to make the student experience even better than it had been.
We have recognized over the past few years that many students need to leave the Learn to Farm Program a couple of weeks early to either go back to school or to take a fall job on another farm. In response to that recognition, this year we offered the option of an earlier completion date for the program, and just under half of our students chose that option. Rather than students trickling out over the last few weeks, this year we had a fixed date for early departure, and we were able to tailor specific programing to address the final phase of the program for the students who stayed. With about half of the original group still on the farm for the last three weeks, we developed a simpler capstone style schedule with the aim of really emphasizing the management and direction of the work of the farm. The students chose to spend their last three weeks in either the vegetable or livestock tracks, and they were pushed into the roll of planning, scheduling and managing the work of the farm. We hoped to give them the chance to move beyond simply using the skills and
knowledge that they had developed here over the past year, and to start placing those skills and knowledge into the larger tapestry of the working farm. We also wanted to give these students a block of time to feel a bit more of the weight of responsibility, still within our safe setting and supported by the staff, and to recognize some of the pressure of being answerable for the whole operation.
This was a really exciting and wonderful way to culminate our program year, and it felt like a perfect way to empower and celebrate the development of this year’s class. The work that was accomplished was truly amazing, and the maturation of each student as farmers was remarkable to see. The students in the vegetable track took control of our vegetable acreage, managed harvests and CSA pack-outs, cultivated beds, staffed the markets, and through it all, proved themselves fully capable of overseeing this scale organic vegetable operation. I think that every teacher here at The Farm School was thrilled to watch the new vegetable managers confidence grow through the three week capstone block, and to watch them rise to this
challenge. The students in the livestock track took over full management of all of our diverse livestock enterprises, managing the grazing rotations for the beef, sheep and chickens, and maintaining all of the systems that keep the pigs fat and well fed. They split their time between managing the livestock and doing two great building projects, finishing Dave’s timber frame barn, and building our new sheep alfalfa feeder. The barn had been a bare frame with a finished roof, and after three weeks of hard work, it now has beautiful board-and-batten walls, windows and a gorgeous sliding door. The project has improved the visual beauty of our working farm to a remarkable degree, and it is going to give Dave the opportunity to really get on his land and get to work. The alfalfa feeder, imagined and designed by the students, will allow us to feed the sheep alfalfa pellets without having to go into their yard with full buckets of their favorite food, avoiding the hurly-burly struggle that we all dreaded every afternoon. Both of these projects have had
remarkable and positive impacts on this farm and community immediately, they were both finished on-time, and I think every student in the livestock track has mastery and confidence in their building skills.
Today is the graduation for the Learn to Farm students of 2016/17, and it marks a bittersweet moment for all of us here at the farm. This is a wonderful group of young farmers that we have all grown to know well, and to love for their strength of character and determination to engage in the work of farming. We are truly and deeply sorry to see them leave the farm, but we are all so excited to see them go off onto their next adventures. We know they will bring joy and a can-do spirit anywhere lucky enough to have them! Thank you and congratulations to the class of 2016/17!