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Latest from Young Farmers

Introducing Fresh Start Organic Garden at the Stetson School in Barre, MA

We’re excited to publish a new Farmer Profile of an inspiring beginning farmer every few weeks on the NYFC blog to help showcase the breadth and vision of the next generation of agricultural leaders.  This one is from Shawn Ilinitch of the Stetson School’s Fresh Start Organic Garden in Barre, MA.

Fresh Start - ShawnLast year, I kind of fell into (love with) farming by accident.

I am an English teacher, and my class was tasked with completing a service learning project. At first, we decided to compile a guide to advertise local agricultural products.  However, we didn’t get much of a response. We did hear from local organic farmer, and she invited us to her site. I still remember that day in October of 2012 – I was standing outside at her farm, thinking about that 6,000 square foot plot at our school that was once used as some sort of garden. “How hard could it be?,” I thought to myself.

Well, the answer was a bit harder than I originally thought, but an experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world.

Fresh Start - sunriseBy mid-summer last year, the Fresh Start Organic Garden was up and running (my school serves adolescent males with complex behavioral problems, one of whom came up with the fitting name).

My first year was a complete learning experience. Luckily, the lady we were visiting that day, Julie Rawson (owner of Many Hands Organic Farm and executive director of NOFA-Mass), has become a mentor and a friend who has helped me immensely.

Fresh Start - bulletin boardAlong the way, I have had to learn to market our vegetables (to help sustain the project), weed management, pests, harvest, tools…just about everything.

We started our garden with a $250 investment from our school. Heading into our second season, we have earned about $5,000 in grants to assist in capital purchases and a 2,400 square foot expansion.

Our vision includes educating our students about the importance of their food, and giving them a therapeutic activity that allows them both physical exercise and the chance to build self-confidence. This year, we hope to expand our reach into the community, participating in a farmers’ market and sharing our produce with local food banks and community dinners.

Fresh Start - straw on fieldsLooking forward, I have dreams of adding basic livestock in the coming years, working on a cover crop rotation, and lengthening our growing season with a hoop house (this year) and a fully-functional greenhouse (in a future year).

You can help us fulfill our farm dream by voting for Fresh Start in the Seeds of Change 2014 grant program!
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