Local Hero Profile: Red Gate Farm
By Sammie Scovill, CISA Intern
Published in CISA’s April 2013 Enewsletter.
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“We grow kids,” says Red Gate Farm Education Center founder Ben Murray. “We believe that real work for real kids helps them become hard-working, confident, and kind.” On 60 acres of land in Buckland, Red Gate Farm has welcomed children from newborns to teenagers for over 10 years. In the fall of 2013, the farm will begin to offer overnight programs for schools and campers. Currently they are managing a Kickstarter campaign to fund the purchase of a commercial stove and hood to feed those overnight visitors.
Over the years, Red Gate Farm has offered a variety of programs for kids, families, and adults. Families participate together in everything from farm chores to winter sledding nights. Weekly programs for homeschoolers fostered an on-going connection with the farm, and many kids have graduated into Red Gate’s summer Youth Corps, an apprentice program for young teenagers. There have been homestead skills workshops for adults, and summer day camp for kids is a well-loved Red Gate tradition. Children in Red Gate Farm programs are part of whatever is happening on the farm – together they have built a timber frame garden shed, animal housing, new gardens, a maple sugar shack, and much more.
The shift to 3-day, residential programs for schools will allow children, alongside their classmates, to immerse themselves in the farm and the natural world for an extended time. In preparation, Red Gate is working on program design with Athol’s The Farm School, which has offered farm programming to schools for more than 20 years. They’re also building 12 dormitory platforms topped with large canvas-walled tents and a farm kitchen capable of serving large groups.
The farm is home to a variety of different animals including a flock of chickens, angora goats, a flock of Romney/Coopworth cross meat and wool sheep, a working ox, and honey bees. They grow Shiitake mushrooms and make maple syrup each spring. They’ve also created the Red Gate Farm Seed Bank, saving a wide variety of different vegetable and flower seeds and making them available to the local community.
Murray understands that Red Gate Farm differs from many farm businesses in some significant ways. Although the farm sells eggs, honey, maple syrup, lamb, seeds, and occasionally mushrooms and vegetables, their major product is their educational programming, not the crops they grow. “On the other hand,” Murray says. “We take our farm work seriously. Our animals are farm animals, not pets. We want kids to understand that their work makes a real difference in what we can grow here.”
Murray graduated from Yale with a history degree and certification in teaching secondary school, but knew from the beginning that he didn’t want to teach in a classroom. He worked at New Pond Farm, an educational farm in Connecticut, for three years following graduation and after that began a quest to find a site for his own educational farm. Ben searched for two years before finding the perfect old family farm on which to build Red Gate.
Red Gate is a family endeavor; Ben’s wife and daughter are actively involved, as are his parents, who live up the road. Soon enough his son, almost two years old, will surely be as well. Ben didn’t have a background in farming before his stint at New Pond, but he spent his years there learning as much as he could from veteran farmers. He’s continued that approach in the active farming community of Apple Valley, which straddles the Ashfield/Buckland line. The farm’s strong connection to both communities is very important to him. “I think anyone can get into farming,” he says, “if they are brave, willing to ask questions, and not afraid of failure.