The Farm at Holmes: A 20-Year Vision of Sustainability

David FrostThe first community supported agriculture crop was grown at the Farm at Holmes—a farm school and community farm on the Putnam-Dutchess County border—after the unusually mild winter of 2011-12. The 40 families that enjoyed new access to fresh, naturally grown produce that season probably never imagined how much the farm itself would grow in just four years. This April, as a new CSA season opens at the farm, members will begin picking up their weekly shares from a much larger operation, including two greenhouses, three hoop houses, two acres of garden space, a sugaring shed for syrup, and even laying hens and pigs that help turn and fertilize fallow soil.

 

An idea takes root

It might seem that the Farm at Holmes sprung up quickly, but the groundwork for the farm was laid 20 years ago, when David Frost helped establish a CSA program at Cascade Farm in Patterson. A few years later, the farm established a farm school program, hosting school groups from the local area as well as New York City.

IMG_0951 Students of all ages would visit to witness a small working farm firsthand, and they were given age-appropriate lessons and tasks to help them see how food could be grown locally and sustainably. Younger students could pet a baby goat or watch newly hatched chicks play. Older students would help with farm chores—planting, weeding, harvesting and tending to the farm animals—and then help prepare a meal for themselves based on the food they had harvested.

By the time it closed in 2011, Cascade Farm had hosted 600 to 800 students a year while providing for a 100-member CSA.

 

Planting a new project

Early in 2012, Frost, who was pastor at the Patterson Community Church, was invited to establish a similar project at the Holmes Presbyterian Camp, not far from the site of the original farm. The 550-acre property, the site of the original Peter Kent farm, is set among forests, three lakes, cliffs, trails and wetlands in the hill country of northern Putnam and southern Dutchess Counties, in the lower Hudson River Valley. It supports two year-round conference centers, three year-round retreat cabins, two seasonal youth facilities, a rustic camping program, several tent/trailer and day group areas and an environmental science and arts program.

Motivated by a deep commitment to sustainable farming coupled with a passion for food and environmental justice issues, Frost agreed to begin a farm at the new site. With the help of Margaret Wilder, a farm school educator at Cascade, and a host of volunteers, he established the Farm at Holmes. By the spring of 2012, there were working gardens, the Farm at Holmes had a small greenhouse, a tent, a tool shed and a fledgling CSA membership.

Instead of waiting for the farm to be fully functional before bringing students in, Frost decided to incorporate lessons about establishing a new farm into discussions with visiting students and groups. This time he was able to integrate new ideas and more sustainable technologies, giving birth to the farm’s Center for Sustainable Living Education.

 

Harvesting hope

Students can visit in the spring (new plants and baby animals) or the fall (full gardens and harvests). Younger students enjoy an educational tour and hands-on activities, while older ones can visit for a full day or overnight to more fully appreciate the rhythm of a working farm. These older students help plan farm projects, assist with chores, prepare their own meals from the gardens and discuss food justice issues and the impact that food decisions will have in their own lives. In the summer, the Holmes camp offers typical summer activities as well as a visit to the farm, where campers help with chores or harvest food that will be used in the camp kitchen.

Visitors to the farm also learn a lot about sustainability. The farm uses a solar collecting shed to heat water for its greenhouses, collects rainwater runoff for irrigation, uses wood milled on site from local trees for projects, and makes its own compost. Future plans include using solar and geothermal heating in the greenhouses to extend the farm’s growing season and its CSA offerings into the late fall, and eventually into four-season farming.

Last year the farm had 55 CSA share members and hosted 480 students at the Center for Sustainable Living Education (“the Farm School”). It will continue to model and teach the basic principle of sustainability: meeting the needs of the present without compromising our ability to meet those same needs in the future—and maybe even leaving our place in the world a little better than we found it.

CSAs are now available for purchase at the Farm at Holmes for the spring and summer season, which runs from April through September. For more info, visit TheFarmAtHolmes.org, email TheFarm@HolmesCamp.org or call 845.548.6117.

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