Published in CISA’s March 2010 Enewsletter.
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Lambs, goat kids, ducklings, chicks, goslings—and human kids and adults—all work and play together at Winterberry Farm in Leverett. Jim Lyons and Jill Horton-Lyons run this 9-acre family farm, where they raise animals, run educational programs and encourage spiritual and respectful relationships with the earth.
Jim and Jill started farming in Leverett in 1985, while both of them were still involved in other careers. In 1993, they moved their farm to Woolman Hill, a Quaker retreat and conference center in Deerfield,where they remained for seven years. Their time at Woolman Hill influenced them in many ways, and led them to focus more on stewardship as both a spiritual obligation and a practical skill. Jim and Jill came to recognize their educational programs as a way to help people awaken their own call to honor and care for the planet, while also helping children and adults to understand the skills needed to provide for their own basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter.
Three years ago, Jill retired from off-farm work to become a full-time farmer. She spends her days with the farm’s animals, which include sheep, angora rabbits, poultry, goats, and occasionally pigs. The animals are central to Winterberry Farm’s educational programs, which cater to family groups, children, and adults. “We’re lucky to have the balance of our work with animals and our work with people. And we love sharing what we’ve learned in our years of farming, building, and making cloth,” Jill says.
Jill and Jim offer a variety of programs, ranging from two-hour-long demonstrations to week-long programs for kids ages five and up. Jim and Jill also host open farms three times a year–two on shearing days, and one on Easter afternoon. Many families make this an annual event, coming to see the newborn lambs, chicks, ducklings, and rabbits. Most adult programs (felting, spinning, weaving, dyeing, soap-making and sheep-raising) take place in the fall and winter, and the farm’s “on the road programs” happen throughout the year.
During April vacation week eight lucky kids will attend “sheep week” at the farm. Each child takes care of a ewe and her lamb(s), learning about feeding, care, and birth. They’ll wash wool, dye it, spin and weave on small looms. Jill’s border collies will demonstrate herding, and the kids will put up an electric fence.
Throughout the summer, kids can sign up for programs ranging from a couple of days to two weeks long, and focusing on a variety of farm, food, and fiber topics. The focus is hands-on, with kids doing the real work of barn chores, animal shelter construction, and cooking, and creating a range of beautiful and useful objects from farm products such as wool. Winterberry Farm’s programs also acknowledge the rhythms of childhood, and the value of spending some slow time with a baby rabbit or goat kid. The program planned for the last week of summer, for example, includes time for writing, creating, and day-dreaming—giving kids some down time before returning to the busy-ness of school schedules.
If you’re all grown up and you think all of that sounds good, contact Jill and Jim for information about farming and fiber classes and retreats. They also sell meat, eggs, and many forms of fiber.