What use is tradition if it cannot be passed on to younger generations? Since 2000, the FARM Institute in Katama has been teaching the rich Island tradition of farming to younger generations. Through hands-on experiences, the farm staff ever since has churned out hundreds of young farmers and informed little eaters. The institute recently kicked off its fall program, rich with diverse opportunities, and is inviting students of all ages to stop by.

Sept. 8 marked the first day of the fall Wee Farmers program, a series of five classes for preschool-aged children. At the first class, teacher Mary Baker prepared stone soup with a group of three. “At first, the kids were picky about the vegetables in there, but by the end, all three were chowing down,” said Melinda Rabbitt DeFeo, education program manager. Kids can sign up for one class or many. Parents are asked to come along for a food-to-table experience that includes picking produce from the gardens and fields, using it to whip something up in the kitchen, eating and feeding any leftovers to the farm animals. The program will continue Sept. 22, Oct. 13 and 27 and Nov. 10 and runs from 10 until 11:30 a.m. The cost for each class is $12.

On Friday, the farmers in training returned to the farm for a 12-week session for students aged 11 and up. In the Farmer-in-Training program, young Islanders take a more active and independent role at the institute. “It makes them responsible for something on the farm, something really tangible that they’re doing for us,” Ms. DeFeo said. Some participants have been a part of the program since its inception seven years ago. Among other opportunities, the young farmers also have the chance to assist teachers and mentor other students. There is a $180 fee to enroll.

Starting next Tuesday and continuing for the following eight weeks, the farm is the place to be after school. Kindergartners through fourth graders are invited to Katama on Tuesdays and fifth through eighth graders are welcome on Thursdays. The after school program begins at 3:15 with chores or projects, with a break for community snack time around the table. The institute is unfortunately not able to offer bussing again this year, but has created a message board on their Web site called Fall Carpooling; interested parents and teachers are invited to make transportation connections.

Teachers are also encouraged to contact the farm to organize field trips. Ms. DeFeo said that any kind of trip can be organized from a science class on soil to a history session on Vineyard farming to a nutrition lesson. “We want to provide the kids with something they can take back to the classroom from the farm,” she said. “It increases their sense of place and ownership.”

Next month, the offerings continue. Beginning the sixth of October and continuing for six weeks, kids ages five and up are invited to spend their afternoons at the farm doing chores, harvesting crops and preparing the farm for the winter. Members of the FIT program will join the younger students and work alongside the newcomers. The program runs from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. and costs $155. Community chore days are scheduled for the first Saturday of every month with a prompt start time of 8:30 a.m.

This year, monetary constraints have scaled the fall program back. Last year, two full-time teachers ran it and this year, a decreased budget has left the farm with only one. The summer programs were bustling and well staffed, but the fall programs have always been a bit slower, said Ms. DeFeo. “The year-round program does not really pay for itself. It just limits what we can do,” she said. “We have all these good ideas, but we need to support them with time, materials and knowledge.” Despite having less money available this year, Ms. DeFeo said the programs would not suffer.

In fact, she hopes the offerings will expand. Efforts are under way to turn the institute into a site for Quest, a creative treasure hunt that teaches explorers about their community through the written word. She also hopes to reach out to an older set of Vineyard students. Last year, a photography class from the high school came out to the farm for a project and this year, Ms. DeFeo would love to get the science club involved. In the future, she hopes to make connections with the high school horticulture and culinary arts programs.

However the kids get there, Ms. DeFeo is confident that time spent on the farm will be instructive and worthwhile for all students. “We want to teach them about what’s in their own backyard,” she said. “The sense of place is what connects kids to the environment. In turn, that makes them environmentalists, or conservationists, or just good eaters, or appreciative of the local,” she said.


This column is meant to reflect all aspects of agricultural activity and farm life on the Vineyard. To get in touch with Julia Rappaport, please call 508-627-4311, extension 133, or e-mail her at jrappaport@mvgazette.com.