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Oakes’s Corner

A Life on the Land

By Ben Holmes, Founder, The Farm School

Sustainable agriculture or living has been a way of life for many since the beginning of man. At first, it was the only way of life. As civilizations developed and demand for products and services grew, it started to slowly erode. However, in this period of great change, a time when countries are beginning to unite as the debate over global Emptywarming intensifies, people of all ages are wanting to know more about sustainability and how they can play a role in reversing its erosion. Colleges and universities across the land are taking notice and are offering courses, concentrations and majors in the field. Other programs, independent of those institutions, who have been educating people on the importance of sustainability for some time now, are adding to their offerings, reaching out to the growing number of young adults who wish to explore a career in the field.

Just a couple years ago, sustainability didn't show up in dictionaries and was a buzz word only in certain circles. Now it has entered the mainstream, for all the right reasons. Young people today are well aware of their need to take individual responsibility for a greener future. And they are excited to do so: yes, because it’s an emotionally and rationally appealing ‘cause’, but also because work in the green industries is both booming and interesting.

Organic agriculture is right there at the root of a sustainable future – we need to keep producing food in order to survive! – as well as being one of the fastest growing industries in the country. Working the land is also such a deep part of our social history that it resonates naturally and deeply with our sense of self. While farms are no longer ingrained in our individual families, they are ingrained in our hearts.

For those who yearn to be at home on the land, I’d like to recommend you check out the year-long Learn to Farm Program at The Farm School in Athol, Massachusetts as either a character- and competence-building experience for a gap year experience or a huge, positive step into the larger world for a post-college experience.

School of the Month

The Farm School-


I first visited The Farm School in Athol, Massachusetts over 15 years ago, when one of my best friends from high school had landed there in the Program for Visiting Schools, first as the cook andEmpty then as the Program Director. What a magical place! In large part this was because it was the kind of place that appreciated and elevated my friend Josh – who has extraordinary, and non-traditional, energy and humor and intelligence – to lead kids with unbridled enthusiasm. But also because the work that was taking place with the middle-school students was just so amazing. They were picking up tools alongside adults and getting to work farming - harvesting timber from the woods, milling it into boards, putting up barns, milking cows, growing vegetables – and loving it, just loving it.

With a 100% return rate (every school that comes, comes back), that program has blossomed over the school’s 21-year history to now serve more than 40 schools and 2,000 children with these life-affirming 3-day experiences every year. It has become a real landmark on the public and independent school landscape in the Boston and Providence areas.

I was excited to hear eight years ago that The Farm School was expanding its reach to offer programs for adults. While the original program offered kids a farm to love and call their own, this one would do that AND teach adults how to farm, how to grow food and market food in the space of a year.

Now that Learn to Farm program has fully bloomed at The Farm School. It offers a complete, year-long experience that gives everyone that comes the tools and the confidence to farm on their own. Created for beginning farmers, the vast majority of the program takes place outdoors, caring for gardens, fields, woodlands and animals while fixing what breaks or building what's needed anew. The core of The Farm School's pedagogy is that learning how to farm can only take place with your feet firmly planted in the mud and the muck of a working farm itself. Specific course work on everything from welding to business planning is woven into the pattern of days. Both traditional and different learners find themselves fully challenged and yet at ease in this rich educational setting.

I’m really excited for you all to check it out on the web, where they’ve just launched a new site. Follow the link below. I know they only have a couple spots left for this coming year that starts in the fall, so I encourage you to get in touch with them right away!

And, of course, feel free to check in with me about The Farm School – I’d love to explore it further with you.