Visiting Students Program
A Farm and Nature Experience
for children and teens…
… so that a warmth and love of nature,
the source of all life,
can live in the souls of the coming generation.
AN EVIDENT NEED OF OUR TIME
Many children today have lost the connection with nature, knowledge of farming, and the true origins of their food. At the Visiting Students and Summer Camp programs at Hawthorne Valley Farm, we strive to create the right environment for awakening that knowledge. Learning arises out of the daily experience of life and work on the farm. This is a place for children to discover that earth is the ground of all life. The plants and animals are part of a special circle of friends, which includes the farmer and gardener. Through farm life experiences children stretch boundaries and realize new capacities in themselves. Satisfaction and delight grow from simple pleasure shared deeply with friends. Hawthorne Valley invites everyone to seek the balanced sensitivity and wisdom of the farmer toward the natural environment that nourishes us.
The Visiting Students Program brings school classes into a unique weeklong farm experience. Each year over 500 children come to visit the farm. Students, teachers, and farmers live and work together. The rhythms of nature and farm life take children beyond the classroom and the everyday course of hectic, modern life. Awakening to the environment, the children rediscover the joy of learning and working that is so often missing in a structured, urban academic setting.
Working and living together with classmates and friends enhances all of the experiences on the farm. Relationships are warmed, and many problems solved, through shared events, activities, and the demands of group work projects. Serving each other in the dining hall, helping with dishes, and working side by side in the barn or the garden foster a cooperative spirit among children. Students learn the true ecology of living relationships. The article on Relationships by Nick Franceschelli gives some insights to the relationships built on the farm.
During their stay the children reside in an old farmhouse that is simple, comfortable, safe, and child-oriented. It is located in the hamlet of Harlemville in the eastern hills of Columbia County, New York, and is nestled in the middle of Hawthorne Valley Farm, a 400-acre biodynamic/organic dairy farm that produces milk, yogurt, cheese, and vegetables. Please see the map for detailed driving directions.
If you are interested in helping our program flourish and giving future generations of children the opportunity to have hands on heartfelt farm experiences, see our How You Can Help section.
For current teachers who have already scheduled a visit, the Teachers form and the Parent Registration form are available on this site. These forms need to be completed and returned to our office three weeks prior to your visit; our fax number is (518) 672-7608.
For more information on scheduling a visit, please contact Helen Enright at (518) 672-4790. We look forward to hearing from you.
RESERVE THIS DATE: Saturday of Columbus Day Weekend. Come join us at our FALL FESTIVAL, Rain or Shine. Come and help us celebrate the harvest on the farm. We have plenty of activities for all ages, including apple cider pressing, butter-making, horse rides, hay rides, arts & craft exhibitors, pie baking contest, story tellers, music, pumpkin carving, wildlife exhibits, children games, scarecrow contest, dessert café, local growers selling their fresh fruits and vegetables, and much more. There will be plenty of delicious foods and samples at the Farm Store of the various dairy products produced on the farm. The Visiting Students Main House will be open for tours during the day. This is a great opportunity for parents of Visiting Students or campers to come and see the house where their children will be staying or have stayed during a farm visit and ask any questions about our programs. The schedule of activities will be posted as soon as available. This event is sponsored by the Hawthorne Valley Farm and the Visiting Students and Summer Camp Programs and is staffed primarily by volunteers. If you would like to volunteer an hour or more of your time for this event or bake a goody (cake, pie, brownies, etc.) to donate to the dessert café please call Helen at (518) 672-4790. If you are a vendor and are interested in participating, please call Pam Dalton, event coordinator at (518) 672-4841. We look forward to seeing you there!
FUTURE PLANS We look forward to continuing the task that Rudolf Steiner has set before us, namely to educate the whole human being. On the farm, we will try to give children experiences that educate their hands and hearts as well as their heads. We also have a bold plan to move our campus to a quieter, more farm-like corner of our now very busy hamlet. Become a part of this plan and help the next generation of children live in a new farmhouse that opens its doors into a green garden and play field next to the young animal pens. This is the vision of our future that will happen with your support and generosity. Please visit our How You Can Help page for more information. We will keep you posted as to the progress of our bold plan.
Our Logo Tee-Shirts, Hats, and Long Sleeve shirts are available during our summer camp program and at the Fall Festival. Our hats are also on sale year round at the Farm Store located next to the Main House. The proceeds of the sales benefit our Camp Scholarship Fund. The cost of the tee-shirts and hats is $20.00. If you are a visiting class teacher and would like to purchase any of our items for your class, please contact us for details and pricing.
This section contains articles by Nick Franceschelli and Charlie Doheny, our Program Directors. Nick and Charlie have been with the program for many years and have many wonderful insights to share about educating children on the farm. The following articles cover our humble beginning, summer camp program, and relationships on the farm. We hope you enjoy them. We will continue to add new articles to this section, see please continue to visit this section on a regular basis.
Sensory Integration and the Visiting Students Program
In recent years, there has been renewed interest in the concept of sensory integration, in the context of the healthy development of children and in remedial applications. Within many therapeutic and educational settings, one can find high-tech equipment and specially designed activities to provide a balanced “sensory diet” for those who may have difficulty integrating sensory information. Based on our experience working with children outdoors, we have found that the natural world provides valuable sensory challenges that are important for overall development.
In this article we would like to explore our understanding of how the human senses are nourished though direct experiences in nature, coupled with conscious awareness. At the Visiting Students Program, classes from all around the east coast spend a week on the farm, engaging in purposeful work while learning about the farm. Students are actively involved in the process of maintaining a viable farm community. Their experiences in the natural world, such as caring for plants and animals, observing growth and decay, and harvesting and preparing food, provide a meaningful context for nourishing their senses.
One example of how the individual’s senses are gently fed is found in the tending to plants. Within the gardening activity, many senses are awakened. First, the children load compost into the wheelbarrow and push it to the garden beds, thereby developing strength and balance. Then, using the muscles of their limbs, they dig and hoe, while breathing in the aroma of rich earth that permeates the air. Once the soil’s texture is explored, the children are ready to plant tiny seeds. Here, they are required to focus their energies on a small yet precious material. The children look carefully to notice spacing of the seeds. Certainly the task of delicately placing seeds in their rows demands both dexterity and attention - a vital coordination of visual and tactile information.
As the growing season progresses, children are involved with the maintenance of healthy beds through weeding, watering, and transplanting. While working in the garden, they may touch the soft lambs ear or brush past a mullein plant. With their eyes they encounter a variety of shapes and colors. At harvest time, the children delight in the enticing scent and delicious taste of freshly picked vegetables.
A favorite activity among many children is that of horseback riding. Initially, the children are introduced to the farm animals through sight and often smell. Before stepping up on the mounting block, the children touch the hair on the horse and establish a bound through brushing and currying. The children often listen to the sounds of digestion as they press their ears to the horse’s belly.
Once on the animal’s back, the child experiences himself in a new relationship to space and gravity. Arms outstretched the child centers himself on the horse’s body. He will then lie on the horses’ back or hang around the animal’s neck and feel how adjustments are needed to maintain his equilibrium.
After the child returns to firm ground, there is a continuation of the overall experience. This takes the form of mucking the stalls which instills not only a sense of caring for another living being, but which calls upon the strength in muscles and bones to render the stall clean. Likewise, when the child carries a heavy bucket during animal feeding, he calls upon his own resources to sustain the life of another. Here he engages his will to perform a good deed. All this kinesthetic participation and will activity on the part of the child leads to a more refined sense of self through the building of capacities for balance and knowing the boundaries of his own body. One could say that it is through these physical experiences that the child constructs both a picture of himself and a framework for understanding the environment.
Beyond the sheltered areas of garden and paddock, there extends a diverse forest. Through the forest explore activity; the children discover the woods of Phudd Hill. The forest invites a full experience of the senses. As the children climb steep slopes and cliffs they call upon their sense of movement and balance. Grabbing hold of tree roots and boulders necessitates contact with tactile sensations. Visually, the students encounter many shapes and forms unlike those found in the manmade world. They may see patterns of morning light shifting among the hemlocks, or notice water swirling around pebbles in the stream. If a patch of bright green moss sparkling with dew drops is noticed, this will inevitably lead the group into the tactile experience of touching the soft carpet. When the expedition has finally reached the top of the hill, there is a sense of awe as the children see the farm from a very different perspective.
The forest may also yield other surprises. As children hiked along a path, they may discover evidence of the animals who make their home there. Along with tracks and scat, the group may see markings on trees or find deer beds. The children are enchanted to image the various creatures who may have recently crossed their path. This also sparks cognition in that the child imagines the animal and becomes curious about the creature’s habits. Or the group may be lucky enough to experience a sighting, one as large as a deer or as small as a newt, indications of the network of life that surrounds them.
In the realm of hearing, these moments in the forest may also awaken sensitivity to often-unnoticed sounds. The gently gurgling of the Ockawamick, or the distant call of an unfamiliar bird is brought into the child’s awareness. Perhaps it is this subtle attraction of the forest that bring a deeper sense of being to the child – a sense of who they are and who they will be. As the children prepare to return home after their busy week in the Hawthorne Valley, we can see a special gift that they take with them: a sense of wonder.
From these examples, we can begin to grasp the richness of the various sensory impressions that each child encounters during his stay at the Visiting Students Program. In all of these nature and farm based activities, the child’s whole being is engaged in a healthy way with minimal risk of over-stimulation that is common in modern day life.
By: Catherine Decker, Developmental specialist
Charlie Doheny, Co-Director, Visiting Students Program
By: Nick Franceschelli
Hawthorne Valley Farm is a commercial farm. If ever you come visit it, there can be no doubt that the farm’s job is to supply food for people. Such was the course its founders set for it a quarter of a century ago. Today many people toil on the farm. Some repair and maintain all the equipment, machinery and buildings that you see here, while others process, deliver, and retail food or keep the books and answer phones. Farmers and their apprentices transplant thousands of vegetable seedlings, harvest hay, and twice a day they attach milking machines to the patience dairy cows. All this activity is here so that others may eat. It is repeated endlessly on other farms all over this land and throughout the world, often with less care and understanding then is practiced here.
Still, in the old farmhouse next to the barn across from the Farm Store, something else is going on. Right there is a little summer camp, although sometimes it is entirely hidden from view by the 75 foot long tractor-trailers picking up pallets of farm’s yogurt. Thirty-three children are back there, spending two or four weeks on the farm. Fourteen other campers are even more hidden away, in cabin tents out in a young forest at the north end of the farm. Who is looking after these children? Mostly young adults, and lately, more and more of them have been to the farm before, sometimes as school children who have come with their classes for five days of the “farm education.” More likely, though, their young adults are, themselves, former Hawthorne Valley Campers. Many campers and their counselors come here just because there is a camp on a farm.
The presence of so many camps in our times is connected to the original intention of Hawthorne Valley Farm. Karl Ege, one of the farm’s most senior founders, said the following thirty years ago: “With regard to the accelerating influence of scientific technology and academic sterility upon education, Rudolf Steiner pointed out shortly before his death that for the future of the new school movement it would be of great importance to turn the rudder 180º in the direction of the artistic and the practical.” Ege wanted the teaching at Hawthorne Valley to give children and young adults Steiner’s brand of practical and artistic education. Why? So that the will and feeling life would be activated and “educated” in a healthy way. Steiner saw that the human being was more than a head that requires schooling. Rudolf Steiner, by the way made hi comments on education some eighty years ago in Europe. Steiner was the originator of Waldorf Education ad Biodynamic Farming, two cornerstones at Hawthorne Valley.
Since Steiner’s day, camps have mushroomed in this country. I think, not just because of the long summer break, but also because children and young adults are seeking something beyond “scientific technology” and “academic sterility.” Almost as if by accident summer camp neatly fills the bill and is, sometime quite unconsciously, an example of this 180º, about-face educational experience Mr. Ege describe, especially when it is well thought out and rightly practice. At the farm’s camp and at many others as well, people come together to sing, dance, do craft projects, explore the woods, plant a garden, and to live together (in close quarters) with strangers.
This “hearts and hands” approach, so naturally present at camps, is a balm to the soul of those who have spent too much time in front of a computer screen or in the modern classroom. Many, many children and young adults want to get close to nature, especially in summer when nature so fully expresses herself. At Hawthorne Valley, the presence of our camp on the farm gives us a wonderful opportunity to become aware of the hard work that goes into putting food on the table and of the joy of summertime spent outdoors. We can plainly see how the Earth is giving generously of herself so that we might eat.As the model of camps moves in the 21st century, fun has become the mantra of summer! The temptation is to design a high-adrenaline-pumping, non-stop, full-blast summer camp program that is pure, industrial-grade fun. Here at our camp, we think of the fun not just as an end, but also as a means to making the profound lesson of living in a tight-knit community on a farm as enjoyable as possible. Hearts and hands join the head as we work and play our way though the summer, so that a harmony and balance between these three aspects of our being can be experiences. Maybe then we can get a little closer to that new way of educating that Mr. Ege was looking for.
By: Nick Franceschelli
Everything is related. Everything is not only related somehow, but everything is related meaningfully . The mystics know this. Great scientists and sages know it too. For the rest of us, that subtle and far-reaching truth is simply too much to encompass at any given moment. Sometimes we act as though we are trying to avoid or deny the interconnectedness of creation. Sometimes we get a hold of one corner of it. The farm here at Hawthorne Valley is a good place to work on the relationship of earth, cosmos, and man. That’s a tall order, but we do make a start. At the very least, the simple task of raising food has the potential to open us to a host of relationships.
The school children who come to Hawthorne Valley from cities and suburbs are here to learn about the farm and forest by doing . Learning, when it happens well here, is always bound up with a direct experience. Take, for example, animal feeding with the children. Lugging a heavy pail of fresh water through the mud to thirsty horses is tough work for two featherweight nine-year-olds. With a bit of gentle guidance they cooperate together to get the job done better. There are piles of lessons about relationships in this little task. Does that mean that once the work is done, we sit the children down in order to debrief them and force home the newly-won wisdom of the profound interdependence of all life? Not really. Not that it hurts to point out that many hands lighten the work, and that the old folks know a thing or two.
It seems better, at least with the younger children, simply to do what needs to be done together. Some of the work we ask children to do is no longer easy for twenty-first century kids, generations removed from hard, dirty, physical work. They may balk, whine, procrastinate, hold their noses, or even refuse outright to set their hands to the task. That is understandable. We reach into our bag of tricks to help children through the harder stuff. An imaginative, humor-filled reminder to stay with the task is often the best medicine for a child who has given up on the job. Truly human effort both on the part of the child and the supervising adult can rescue a farm or forest activity from futility and frustration. If we can say the words honestly, it might not hurt to point out at the end of the activity that “See? We did it. We helped the farmer out by scraping the manure off of the cow barn floor. By us doing that for her, she can do something else in the meantime that also urgently needs doing.” Those few words sometimes give a child a moment’s pause to reflect how even one little third-grader can really help a professional grownup complete important, meaningful work for a greater common end, i.e. to produce food for the community.
In another age, when most folks lived closer to the land, such reflection would be superfluous. I often feel that our present-day world is somewhat rigged to push us down a road we don’t really want to go on. I mean the road to alienation, social Darwinism, meaninglessness, and tunnel vision both within and around us. Especially for children in our often affluent culture, there is very little they can do that seems important or meaningful enough to give them a feeling of being related in any significant way to the world around them. Today, our farm serves as an antidote to these often unhealthy side-effects of contemporary culture. Just the simple joy and satisfaction of struggling with and completing a small task out here on the earth that benefits others as well as ourselves often serve to “reconnect” or “re-relate” us to the wholeness of life.
When we feed the hens and collect their eggs, profound relationships, often only imperfectly understood, flash up in our awareness for a moment: This helpless bird gives up her young for us, so that we can eat well. We have to care for the chickens, or they will simply cease to provide. Their droppings fertilize the soil… …and so on.
Doing something well that is meaningful out here on the farm, or even trying to, is a powerful teacher. The immediate, compelling connection between human beings, soil, plant, and animal emerges forcefully in the activity of farm work with children.
A further step in this direction is our work with the organic/biodynamic approach. This raises the “relationship and interdependency” stakes even higher than might otherwise be possible. Compare a farm like Hawthorne Valley, which is committed to work according to Steiner’s agricultural principles, with a “bio-engineered” farm, and you see that here is an attempt to farm as though everything is interconnected. It would go well beyond my abilities to properly expound on this theme, so I will close with this thought: We who work and live here have a direct, intuitive experience that our farm is bound up with the cycles of nature and of the earth in relationship to the cosmos. At Hawthorne Valley, human beings, out of their best understanding and efforts, strive to guide the farm so that it is harmoniously related to this place, and to our friends who come to visit or buy the farm’s products at a store far away, and even to the most subtle and wise elements that shape our earthly life. In this sense, meaningful relationships are fostered here.
The mission of the Visiting Students Program and Summer Camp Programs at Hawthorne Valley Farm is to help children, teenagers and young adults become self-motivated individuals who approach the world around them with openness and joy. We strive to develop in children, and all that participate in our programs, a sense of community with both their fellow human beings and the kingdoms of nature through living together on a biodynamic farm. We actively engage children in the farm and other natural processes in order to foster their capacity for stewardship of community and environment. To nurture the children’s innate interest in the world around them, we lead the children to work, learn and play on the farm, fields and in the forests. We teach and guide the children by fostering the goals of Waldorf Education begun by Rudolf Steiner.