“Can’t stop the feeling!” croon ten sweaty fourth-graders. Heads nodding, shovels scraping and scooping, they swagger and sashay to the beat of the song as they cheerfully clean out the sheep barn. This means they are shoveling out sheep manure—lots of manure. I think it’s only fair to blast upbeat music to make this two-hour and highly odorous job more enjoyable.
And these students could not be having a more enjoyable time. To my right, three kids are using their shovels together to carry out a massive pile of manure. To my left, two kids are petting the sheep, who curiously watch us work. And then there’s me—scraping up piles for the students, singing at the top of my lungs, and showing off some slick dance moves as I scoop my own share. The combination of hands-on hard work, team effort, and of course, some silliness, is what makes a Red Gate Farm trip a fun and meaningful experience for the students.
We finish cleaning the barn and there’s a distinct air of satisfaction and excitement for what we’ve just accomplished, working together. Hundreds of pounds of hay and manure have been cleared, and the barn floor is now once again just hard wood. “That was so much fun!” shouts one student. “Can we keep working during our free time?” asks another.
I’ve been at Red Gate Farm for three years, and I’m still overwhelmed by each group’s eagerness to work and the enthusiasm they bring to each task. What we do may be “simple” farming, but the impact is indelible, especially in our increasingly digital world. Many of the young people we work with have never spent a night away from home, much less outside of the bustle of the city.
They come to the farm filled with curiosity, excitement, and nervousness. As the trip progresses, these young people are filled with confidence, pride, and empowerment as guest caretakers of the farm. While nurturing the gardens and animals, a seed of deep appreciation about the natural world is planted, and they create a new home for themselves.
When each group’s trip comes to a close, and we walk up the driveway towards the bus, the refrain is the same over and over: “Can I stay? You’re so lucky you get to be here all the time!” Indeed, I couldn’t agree more.
Jake Krain is the Assistant Director at Red Gate Farm in Ashfield, Massachusetts. Founded in 2001 by Ben Murray, over 1500 people attend the farms’ programs and camps every year. Learn more about Red Gate’s history here and support the farm here. The students pictured in these photos attend the Samuel Bowles school in Springfield. CFWM has supported various Red Gate Farm programs since 2006 with grants to the Kistner Foundation, Red Gate’s 501c3. In 2018 students from Springfield’s Samuel Bowles, Mary Walsh and White Street Schools were able to attend the overnight programs due in part to a CFWM Mission Grant from the Eugene A. Dexter Charitable Fund administered by Bank of America, Trustee. Photography courtesy of Erin Long.