Maggie's Farm

Athol, Mass.

Spend any length of time at all on Maggie's Farm, and you’re going to be getting your hands dirty. If your not reaching right into the soil to plant, weed or pick rocks, it’s a safe bet you’re going to be wielding a wrench to fix a tractor or some other piece of machinery.

Such activities are a regular part of life for many family farmers. And that’s why they are a big part of life for the one-year farm apprentices who come to Maggie's Farm,a project created by Ben Holmes and designed to train a new generation of family farmers. Maggie's is a 180 acre spread just up the road from Holmes’ original near Athol, Massachusetts.

This year, 10 students from throughout the country are engaged in learning how to enter farming and make their effort pay off.

“We’re working to create farmers - people who are able to leave the school with a working knowledge of what it takes today to engage in sustainable farming on a relatively small scale, growing vegetables, raising livestock, managing the farm and working to market their production,” says Holmes.

Students in the class of 2005 range in age from 18 to 57, and Laura Jackson, a documentary film maker and teacher from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is among them.

“My friends and I are looking at how we want to live the next part of our lives,” Jackson says, explaining what drew her to Maggie's Farm. “We’re looking at getting involved in real farming. We’re talking about the possibility of owning land in common, not farming communally like you might have seen in the 60's and 70's, but sharing some of the responsibility. Farming is a commitment we’d share.”

Aiding the apprentices are forestry and livestock experts, row crop producers, and marketing gurus who work to give the students a full understanding of the many demands placed on small-scale producers.

“We’re working to develop viable business models for new farmers. We’re really open to students who are open to learning how to farm with a strong connection with the land,” says Chris Kurth, a marketing specialist from Sudbury, Massachusetts.

With Kurth’s help, much of the vegetable production from Maggie's Farm finds its way into the Boston metropolitan area through a number of restaurants and farmers markets.

In addition, Maggie's Farm instructors are working now to develop a financially viable model for raising and selling grass-fed beef. Increasing interest among consumers for this naturally produced meat has sparked enthusiasm among many farmers, including those working and learning at Maggie's Farm.

Working with a small herd of Scottish Highland cattle and some Angus crosses, farm livestock manager Will Sloan-Anderson, says small scale cattle producers focusing on pastured animals face some daunting challenges. Part of the difficulty is that pastured animals mature roughly six months later than those raised in feed lots. But the bigger problem seems to be locating adequate processing facilities within close proximity to the farm.

Despite the challenges, Sloan-Anderson says he hopes the apprentices will be able to begin marketing the beef within the next twelve months.

While not all the apprentices who come to Maggie's are focused on growing and grazing, Ben Holmes says it occurs to him that those willing to commit to a twelve-month cycle of work on the farm come away with tremendous value, regardless of their ultimate intentions.

“We have folks who have graduated from the program who are working in green markets in New York City. Some own their own farms. Some have just learned to seefarms in a completely different way. It gives folks a completely different perspective on the world,” he says.

Date: 5/19/2005

Tom Rogers - Madera County, CA

Abbe Turner - Kent, OH

Deb Windecker -  Frankfort, NY

Chuck Deichmann - Belmont, NY

Carroll Wade - Jasper, NY

Ben Shute - Clermont, NY

Kevin Jablonski - Argyle, NY

Andrew Pittz - Missouri Valley, IA

Chris & Donna Garza - Calhan, CO

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Kate Canney - Needham, MA

Kara Fitzgerald & Ryan Wood Beauchamp  - Cuttingsville, VT

Dru Peters & Homer Walden - Dover, PA

Jenn Halpin - Carlile, PA

James & Ida Burkholder - Berks County, PA

Zoë Bradbury - Langlois, OR

Rosie & Ward Burroughs - Denair, CA

Gary Purgason - Madison, NC

Stanley & Evan Hall - South Paoli, IN

Jim Gerritsen - Bridgewater, ME

Zach Ducheneaux - Eagle Butte, SD

Jacob & Courtney Cowgill - Conrad, MT

Tom Nuessmeier - Le Sueur, MN

Sherri Harvel - Kansas City, MO

Gail Fuller - Emporia, KS

Jason Schmidt - Newton, KS

Nick Meyer - Hardwick, VT

The Local Food Hub - Charlottesville, VA

Corky Jones - Brownville, NE

Pat Trask - Wasta, SD

Carol Ford & Chuck Waibel - Milan, MN

Mike Weaver - Fort Sybert, WV

Glyen Holmes - Dothan, AL

Will Allen - Milwaukee, WI

Rebecca Goodman - Wonewoc, WI

Eric Odberg - Genesee, ID

John Kinsman - Sauk County, WI

Luciano Alvarado - Fayetteville, NC

Russ Kremer - Osage County, MO

Hector Mora - Monterey County, CA

Theresa Podoll - Fullerton, ND

Mary Hendrickson - Columbia, MO

Jen Friedrich & Dom Fernandes - Carver, MA

David Senter - Washington, DC

Jere Gettle - Mansfield, MO

Rhonda Perry & Roger Allison  - Howard County, MO

Walker Claridge - Hatton, MO

David Marvel - Harrington, DE

Jerry Harvey - Promise City, IA

Donley Darnell - Newcastle, WY

Greg Massa - Hamilton City, CA

Stuart Veldhuizen - Dublin, TX

Joel Greeno - Kendall, WI

Jeremy Freymoyer - Hamburg, PA

Alan and Lori Callister - West Concord, MN

Jeanne Charter - Billings, Montana

Susan Meredith & Brenna Chase - Brunswick, Maine

Elizabeth Keen - Great Barrington, MA

Missy Bahret & Casey Steinberg - Amherst, Massachusetts

Justin Pitts - Jones County, Mississippi

Kim Buchheit & Mike Robinson - Wise Acre Farm

Ben & Alysha Godfrey - Cameron, TX

David & Serena  - Mount Vernon, WA

Andres Mejides - Homestead, FL

Jamie Collins - Carmel & Carmel Valley, Ca

Kenneth Barber - Ithaca, N.Y.

Genell Pridgen - Snow Hill, N.C.

Chris Kobayashi - Hanalei, Hawaii

Matthew Kurek - Jamesport, N.Y.

Elizabeth Ryan - Staatsburg, N.Y.

Klein Family - Silver Springs, N.Y.

McKinley Hightower-Beyah - New York, NY

Adam Barr - Rhodelia, Ky.

Stan Schutte - Stewardson, Ill.

Francis & Susan Thicke - Fairfield, Iowa

Ben Burkett - Petal, Miss.

Doug Flack - Enosburg Falls, Vt.

Bob and Kathy Perol - Troy, Maine

Bob Muth - Gloucester County, N.J.

Jim Kinsel - Pennington, N.J.

Mary Seton Corboy - Philadelphia, Pa.

Miguel Martinez - San Juan Bautista, Calif.

Tony Thompson - Cottonwood, Minn.

Laura Garber - Hamilton, Mont.

Wettsteins Update - Carlock, Ill.

Kelli Emenes - Covington, La.

Brian Futhey - Woodward, Pa.

Tom Trantham - Pelzer, S.C.

Ryan Wolfe - Chebanse, Ill.

Hank Moss - Erath, La.

Jim Core - Folsom, La.

The Wettsteins - Carlock, Ill.

Kristen Kordet - Madison, Wis.

Bruce & Fran Conard - Martinsburg, Ohio

Mike Nolan - Austin, Texas

Maggie's Farm - Athol, Mass.

Kristi & Brad Fernholz - Appleton, Minn.

Stacy Hall and Bill Dix - Athens, Ohio

Jack & Julie - Barre, Mass.

Bud Odland - Clarion, Iowa

Andrew Stout & Wendy Munroe - Carnation, WA

Rick and Lora Lea - Northeastern, Wash.

Cynthia & Joel Huesby - Walla Walla, Wash.

David Mills - Brandon, Vt.

Ed Snavely - Fredericktown, Ohio

Kim & Ann Seeley - Bradford County, Pa.

Mark Parrish - Boston, Mass.