After a grueling in-class test on the anatomy and physiology of animals, I got into my friend Amanda’s black Pontiac Grand Prix with her, and our friends Jocelyn and Dylan and did this fantastic interview in the car. Amanda, Dylan, and Jocelyn, and their friend Lila who could not make the interview are the founders of UMass Chicken Group. They are a student run club that teaches students how to raise poultry for meat. This semester they started with 15 chickens, which they hope will become 40 next semester, and raised them in a free range, pasture rotation, sustainable manner. It is a completely student run organization where students bring in guest lecturers, do all the labor themselves, and make all the managerial decisions. The group had a rocky start with a freak snowstorm and inexperience causing several deaths, with the help of the barn managers the group took off. By the end of this semester they had processed twelve birds and sold them to group members. They hope to one-day raise enough birds each semester to become part of the student run CSA’s and Farmers markets in the area. The one thing I could not understand, as a very inactive member of chicken group was what kept them going, for the 4 am barn checks in the freezing cold, and the daily maintenance that the chickens need. For each of them it was a different answer, Dylan loved the interaction with the chickens, and raising them, Amanda loved what a learning experience it ended up being, and Jocelyn thought that following your food from beginning to end, and seeing every step it went through was enlightening and fun. All in all Chicken group is a great, jusdgement free place to go and learn a little about meat production for those who want it. (pictured from left to right: Lila, Amanda, Jocelyn, and Dylan)
I had the pleasure of walking around Small Ones Farm and interviewing Sally Fitz about her early childhood farm education summer camp. Located in Amherst, Ma, Small Ones Farm is probably the most adorable farm you’ve seen in a while, because it’s geared towards five and six year olds, everything is tiny.
Sally was a psychology professor before starting Small Ones Farm with her husband Bob and that is extremely apparent in the layout and management of the camp. Since the students are five and six years old, big open spaces, like a farm, can be incredibly overwhelming to them. Kids need clear boundaries and limits in order to feel safe and comfortable and receptive to information. The camp area is a small mini-farm with a wooden fence around it, this doesn’t cage the kids in, it allows them to see the bigger, working farm surrounding them, the beautiful fields and orchard, but also makes them feel safe.
Literally everything in the mini-farm is thought out and geared towards teaching kids how to nurture the world around them and see that they are a part of it. There is a “sunflower house”, sunflowers planted that grow tall and create a space for kids to go sit and be entirely surrounded by plants. There’s also a bean tunnel, where children get a different perspective of plants growing and also makes harvesting an adventure. Kids in the camp also learn about compost and plant cycles, and see firsthand that nurturing plants helps them grow.
Another aspect of Small Ones Farm program that I really liked is that it runs alongside a working farm so kids get to see what a farm looks like, what a farmer looks like (Sally mentioned that all the farmers make it a point to come eat snack with the kids). Also incorporated is a weekly visit from a scientist that comes to teach the kids about natural science in ways that are accessible to them.
Small Ones Farm is a beautiful, loving place. Not only do Bob and Sally have a CSA, they also sell honey, apple cider, pies, and apples at their roadside stand. It was really great to see that even in this time of economic uncertainty, there are still wonderful people out there following their passion and doing the good work that needs to be done.
Many Thanks to Sally for the adorable pictures of the camp when it’s up and running and for taking the time to talk!
Jennifer Hartley, a Northampton resident, is one of the founding board members of the non-profit group Grow Food Northampton. Jennifer’s interest in the project grew from her interest in food and the power of community agriculture in bringing people together, as well as her concern for food shortages and the state of modern commercial farming.
In 2010, GFN, driven by the commitment and energy of its fanatic members, waged a grassroots campaign to purchase 121 acres in Florence (formerly the Bean and Allard Farms) and start a community farm. The group set out to educate Northampton residents about their cause to rally support and raise funds, eventually reaching their goal and purchasing the land. The project was funded primarily by individual donations and received grant funding as well. The City of Northampton pre-paid a 198-year-lease for the Florence Organic Community Garden portion of the site, which enabled that parcel to be purchased.
In the community garden, which will have its first growing season in spring 2012, individuals will pay a reasonable fee for a small plot of farm land. GFN will not only supply this land for public use, but also will work to educate individuals on how to successfully manage their plot.
GFN leases land to community-minded organic farmers on long term leases. These long leases allow new farmers to make substantial investments in the land, making them feel truly connected to the land and promoting the development of operations that are accessible and educational to the public.
Grow Food Northampton is working to break down the barriers between consumers and farmers. Their commitment and values have driven them so far as a young organization, and with no sign of slowing efforts, GFN should prove to be a staple in the Pioneer Valley’s community food movement well into the future.