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Think I will start one of these to get me through haying,LOL

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Feb 10, 2005
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Students tread new ground at farm school
Associated Press

ATHOL, Mass. - Laura Jackson recently exchanged her beloved house near Philadelphia and her career as a documentary filmmaker for an aching back and a cramped bedroom on a farm in rural Massachusetts.

Jackson, 57, enrolled in the Practical Farm Training Program at the Farm School in Athol, looking for a radical change of scenery and pace.

For the next nine months, she will live on the 180-acre farm about 70 miles northwest of Boston while learning her new trade from real farmers.

"I want to live more simply the rest of my life," she said, trudging through a muddy field with her five classmates. "I've spent a lot of time and energy not seeing what's around me. I didn't want to spend the rest of my life in that routine."

The six students paid up to $9,240 in tuition, room and board to the school this year. Fifteen students already have graduated from the program, founded by Ben Holmes three years ago.

Holmes, a San Francisco native, spent summers as a boy on a farm in Ohio, milking cows and working the land. He wanted to teach farming the way he learned it - by getting his hands dirty.

"It's an uphill battle to be a farmer," Holmes said. "It's also a life that is a deeply rich experience."

Carlen Adams, the apprentice program's director said the school takes a much more "hands-on" approach than traditional agricultural science programs.

"When I went to school, I didn't step out in the fields once. I was always in the classroom," she said. "There is certainly value in a more academic program, but it doesn't necessarily fulfill the essential ingredient of actually doing it."

A similar strategy guides the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems, a research program run by the University of California in Santa Cruz. The center offers the same kind of teaching and training as the Farm School, only on a larger scale, with more than 40 students growing 125 different kind of crops.

The Farm School in Athol boasts 150 acres of forest and 30 acres of fields, including 12 acres of land for vegetable crops and cattle grazing.

Students learn practical skills such as how to use a tractor or a chain saw. They learn how to plant, cultivate and harvest crops, as well as how to breed and care for animals and manage a farm budget.

"The first few weeks here were physical torture, but you get used to it," said Jennifer Starr, 26, who was working for a nonprofit in Boston before she and her husband moved to the farm eight months ago.

"I wanted to see if I really could do it," she said. "I've had jobs where I wasn't excited about the work. Here, I actually look forward to starting my day."

Each day begins and ends with animal-related chores, with the students tending to beef cattle, sheep and chickens.

Most of the students share a colonial-era farmhouse, sleeping in small bedrooms or lofts and sharing cooking and cleaning duties.

Before the adult apprentice program began in 2002, the farm was strictly an educational facility for children.

The school now makes most of its money from tuition and private donations, but the farm also sells vegetables, flowers and herbs to farmers' markets and a handful of Boston-area restaurants. In addition, it has more than a dozen cows churning out about 1,000 pounds of milk every two days.

"The program has worked wonderfully," Holmes said. "It's been a great boon for small farms in Massachusetts."

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