• Editor's Note Spring 2014

    Editor's Note Spring 2014

    Every now and then, I wonder what life would be like without any small farms. If Vermont’s diversified farmers were to pack up and sell out. If there were no longer a neighborhood farmers’ market to wander through on a Saturday morning. If those of us who regularly buy local food had to go back to fondling Chilean apples and freakishly large carrots at the grocery store.

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  • Set the Table with Dandelion Greens

    Set the Table with Dandelion Greens

    I’ve spent years walking past any dandelion greens I see for sale, on the grounds that I will not pay for something that’s growing everywhere I look all spring and summer. Granted, I never stop to pick those free dandelion leaves, so inevitably, a vegetable that I won’t buy because it’s too common ends up not being at all common on my plate. It’s the Dandelion Paradox. This past winter, I wanted to unravel it.

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  • Think Globally, Dine Locally

    Think Globally, Dine Locally

    Last year I was excited when the Burlington-based weekly Seven Days published an insert featuring restaurants participating in Vermont Restaurant Week. I couldn’t wait to sample dishes from some of the highly touted localvore eateries I’d read about since moving to Vermont three years earlier.
    When I opened up the insert, however, the number of advertisements featuring photos of hamburgers and fries surprised me.

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  • Fired Up on Local

    Fired Up on Local

    Given that chile peppers—the main ingredient in hot sauce—are relatively easy to grow in Vermont, it’s possible to make hot sauce a highly localvore product. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Ben Maniscalco, who launched Benito’s Hot Sauce in 2009, goes out of his way to source ingredients from local farms.

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  • Flourishing in the Fields

    Flourishing in the Fields

    Tucked into a scenic hillside just off of Route 5 in Westminster is Kurn Hattin Homes for Children. Founded 120 years ago, Kurn Hattin is a charitable year-round home for boys and girls from around the Northeast whose families—for whatever reason—are unable to care for them.

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  • Horticultural Therapy

    Horticultural Therapy

    The day is warm and clear. I am in my work uniform, which consists of shorts and a tank top; this is all I can stand to put on, for the heat of early summer is strong upon us. My supervisor, an elderly woman who needs the assistance of a walker to get around, is wearing a light sweater and long pants. “Aren’t you cold?” she asks suspiciously, as she watches me turn the soil in a bed designated for the season’s heirloom tomatoes.

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  • Fields, with Geese

    Fields, with Geese

    In an email sent just before our first date, in February of 2013, Wesley Bascom posed a multiple-choice question. “Are you interested in serving goose...?” he asked. The choices he provided for my response were: a) “Totally down to pluck!” b) “Maybe. I will take a gander at it.” c) “Foie gras? More like foie naw.”

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  • From Nano to Micro

    From Nano to Micro

    The day I went out to visit Bret Hamilton’s new microbrewery, Stone Corral, on idyllic Taft Road in Huntington, the 32-degree weather felt downright balmy. It was early January, and we’d just had one of the coldest snaps I’d ever felt in Vermont—wind chills down in the 30-below range.

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  • The Thorny Issue of Farmer Pay

    The Thorny Issue of Farmer Pay

    At a wedding last summer, I sat next to a neighbor who buys her Thanksgiving turkey from our farm. She described her daily drive-by dose of the farm, and her ritual of slowing down to see where the goats, pigs, and poultry had been moved. She said, “I’ve gotten to the point I think I should pay a toll to pass your place!” I joked, “In order for us to survive it might come to that!”  The conversation awkwardly fell off. But it has preoccupied me since.

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  • Farmers' Kitchen—Planet Pollinators

    Farmers' Kitchen—Planet Pollinators

    As I look out my window in early January at my beehives, I’m in awe of how bees do what they do. The temperature is well below zero, the wind is blowing, and snow is falling. Yet if I bundle up to brave the elements, go outside, and put my ear against the side of one of the hives, I can hear the low rumble of my bees.

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  • Good Food, Good Health

    Good Food, Good Health

    I’m a farmer, and my favorite place in Vermont is a farm—one that has a surprise at its core. The surprise isn’t the lovely old farmhouse on the property or the 11 acres of organically farmed vegetables, but the fact that the farm and its bounty are part and parcel of my doctor’s office: Sojourns Community Health Clinic in Westminster.

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Flourishing in the Fields

Students at Kern Hattin Farm
Students at Kern Hattin Farm

Written By

Jaimie Scanlon

Written on

February 21 , 2014

Tucked into a scenic hillside just off of Route 5 in Westminster is Kurn Hattin Homes for Children. Founded 120 years ago, Kurn Hattin is a charitable year-round home for boys and girls from around the Northeast whose families—for whatever reason—are unable to care for them.
And tucked into Kurn Hattin’s 280-acre campus is a working farm, which functions both as a therapeutic venue and an outdoor classroom where hands-on learning builds practical skills and relates to everyday life. Throughout the year, children have the opportunity to experience raising pigs, caring for and riding horses, planting, tending, and harvesting organic veggies, cultivating apples and pressing cider, and maple sugaring.
Children who come to Kurn Hattin may be victims of tragedy, poverty, homelessness, abuse, or neglect. As the school’s co-executive director, Connie Sanderson, says, “There are 105 children here and 105 reasons why they’re here.” For many of these children, especially those who come from urban areas, Kurn Hattin is a whole new world. And for most of these kids, it offers their first exposure to agricultural pursuits.
Kurn Hattin’s farm manager, Pat Barry (affectionately known by students as “Mr. Pat”), oversees operations on the 123-acre farm. He says students gain an in-depth understanding of the full cycle of food production when they take part in every aspect of the growing process from seed to table.
“It’s a real eye-opener for a lot of these kids,” he says, “to learn about where their food really comes from, as opposed to thinking of it as something that comes from a supermarket.”
Last year, Kurn Hattin students helped turn out 80 gallons of maple syrup, 150 gallons of cider, numerous varieties of herbs and wildflowers, and a wide array of vegetables, including tomatoes, potatoes, radishes, peppers, garlic, onions, and several varieties of squash and greens, not to mention six pigs. Roughly 90 percent of the produce from the farm is consumed by students and staff, either in the residential cottages where students live, or in the school’s cafeteria, where waste is composted or saved for the pigs. The remainder is given away as gifts to friends and donors who support the school, or donated to the Our Place food pantry in Bellows Falls.
Food service manager Richard Johnson says that roughly a quarter of the produce used by the cafeteria comes from the Kurn Hattin farm, with a good portion of the rest coming from local farms such as Johnson Farm in Westminster and Pete’s Stand in Walpole, NH.
But for the students at Kurn Hattin, the farm is about much more than just growing food. Being able to see, taste, and share the fruits of their labor gives them a sense of accomplishment and pride that many of them have never felt. For those from urban backgrounds, just getting outdoors and connecting to nature may be a novel experience, one that is especially important in the age of so-called “nature deficit disorder.” In addition, giving kids the responsibility to work independently on jobs around the farm goes a long way toward empowering them and helping them feel competent and confident.
Eighth-grader Jesse Waite says that when she and her fellow residents are on the farm, “We have to listen and follow instructions carefully, so we can do things right and be safe. When Mr. Pat gives us a job, he trusts us to do it ourselves.”
“Mr. Pat” collaborates with science and math faculty on the curriculum for the school’s farm science program, which combines classroom learning with experiences out on the farm. The goal is to help students connect and apply what they’re learning in the classroom to the real world, and to give them a sense of responsibility and stewardship for the natural resources around them. Students learn about chemical compounds and reactions, explore simple machines, measure plant height and rate of growth, analyze the number of pounds of garbage saved through composting, explore ratios, fractions, and units of measurement, and more. “There are so many more ways to integrate the farm into academics than we have time for in a year,” Pat says.
Chris Deitz, a seventh-grader from Westminster West, started as a day student at Kurn Hattin last fall and has quickly become one of the farm’s superstars. Asked what he thinks about working on the farm, Chris says, “It’s hard work, but it’s fun.”
“Chris has really flourished in this environment,” says Principal Scott Tabachnick. “Many of our students respond better to a more hands-on approach to learning. We’ve found that, often, combining classroom time with time out on the farm during the day, where students can get outdoors, get moving, and apply what they have been studying in class in a very practical way, can really help them put things together and can be really motivating.”
Another integral part of the Kurn Hattin farm is its therapeutic horsemanship program. Developed by riding instructor Sara Stine, the program is designed to help students build empathy, compassion, and leadership skills. Sara says the process of bonding with the horses helps some children break through defensive barriers and be able to build positive connections with people.
“They need to watch, listen, understand, and be present with the horses,” she says. “They have to be patient and learn to work with the animal.” The experience helps students develop essential interpersonal skills that help them interact successfully with others.
Jesse Waite also takes part in the horsemanship program and shares Chris Deitz’s sentiments. “Taking care of the horses is really hard work, but I love it because it’s fun.”
Pat Barry says the children help remind him to focus on the “fun” aspects of his work too. “Farming’s not the easiest line of work, and I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t love it, but like everybody, you might get tired or take things for granted sometimes. When I’m out here with the kids, and I see them get so excited and they tell me how much they love doing this or they want to keep doing it in the future, it’s a good reminder to me of how great this work is.”

About the Author

Jaimie Scanlon

Jaimie Scanlon

Jaimie Scanlon is a Brattleboro-based writer and editor. She works as the content specialist at Rapt Creative Marketing and Design, where she promotes all things Kurn Hattin.

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Vermont's Local Banquet Magazine illuminates the connections between local food and Vermont communities. Our stories, interviews, and essays reveal how Vermont residents are building their local food systems, how farmers are faring in a time of great opportunity and challenge, and how Vermont’s agricultural landscape is changing as the localvore movement shapes what is grown and raised here.


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