Educating the next generation of farmers
As more people have pursued farming as a career path, the need for training that prepares them for the realities of the industry has grown. The Farm School’s Learn to Farm Program provides just that. Based in Athol, this full-time, year- long training for adults prepares students to operate a farm or work in the food system through on-farm experience, curriculum-based learning, and field trips to local farms. Of the approximately 15 students who participate in the immersive program every year, about half are from New England.
The Farm School is committed to attracting people who are typically underrepresented in farming. The 2017-18 class, for example, is made up of one-third people of color and more than half women. The Farm School awards several scholarships, including one for a student from an underserved community; one for a student who identifies as Black, Latino, or Indigenous; and two for students who demonstrate the leadership potential to start a farm-based education organization. “This program is an investment in the future. We are seeking students who will take this experience back to the world,” says Caitlin Sargent, director of Research and Development for the school and a Learn to Farm graduate.
About a third of the program’s graduates remain in Massachusetts to farm. Others support the food system in different ways, often combining experience from previous careers with the skills learned in the program, such as working in food and farm law, serving as food-justice leaders, and leading farm-education programs.
The Farm School not only prepares adults from diverse backgrounds to contribute to the food system, it also educates children and young adults. The school hosts middle-school student groups for several days, attracting more than 2,000 students every year, half of them from public schools in low-income communities. In the summer, the school runs a summer camp for 5th through 10th graders, with scholarships available for 15 percent of the campers. The school also operates a middle school for local children, called the Chicken Coop. By educating children about farming and the food chain, The Farm School prepares them to make deliberate choices about how they eat and support local agriculture, and helps make them aware of opportunities for careers in the food system.