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The Farm School – Athol, MA

The Farm School – Athol, MA

The Farm School is a leading center for sustainable farming and education in the Northeast, sitting on 500-acres along a ridge top in North Central Massachusetts. Since being founded in 1989, The Farm School has operated as a working farm and school which hosts youth in farm-based programs and activities as well as adults seeking to learn how to farm through the school’s year-long Learn to Farm program. The Learn to Farm program typically has a class size of 12-16 students, and after 15 years of operation the alumni community has grown to well over 100 graduates. Including school children and community members, the school educates over 2,000 people in sustainable farming each year.

Today, under the direction of Patrick Connors, The Farm School is home to a flock of Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW laying hens, herd of beef cattle and small flock of sheep, all which supply pasture-raised eggs, beef and lamb for the farm’s CSA and form part of the farm’s educational programs. In addition to being Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW, the flock of sheep and beef cattle herd are Certified Grassfed by AGW, the first—and only—food label in the U.S. and Canada that guarantees food products come from animals fed a 100 percent grass and forage diet, and raised entirely outdoors on pasture or range.

Joshua Pincus, the Livestock Manager at The Farm School, believes the Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW and Certified Grassfed by AGW certifications are an important tool in educating visitors to their farm about the health, welfare and environmental benefits of raising animals on pasture. “We were searching for a way to distinguish our product in the market we serve, and we found that Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW and Certified Grassfed by AGW could do this, as well as serve as a teaching tool for the wide spectrum of students in our programs,” Joshua explains. “Having the Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW and Certified Grassfed by AGW labels on our products increases the likelihood that our customers will come away with a better understanding of the healthier and more humane practices used at The Farm School.”

The flock of laying hens at The Farm School is made up of Barred Rocks, Rhode Island Reds, Black Stars and Red Stars. “We chose larger and calmer traditional chicken breeds since they are better suited to outdoor management and fare better with the children,” says Joshua. The flock of sheep was originally all Border Leicester, but they are changing to crossbreed with Dorset, with the aim of increasing production among the ewes.

Pasture-based management for the chickens, beef cattle and sheep, as well as a 100 percent grassfed diet for the sheep and beef cattle, are key practices at The Farm School: “We’ve designed our animal management systems to raise animals to thrive outdoors on pasture without demanding a lot of inputs, and to be largely self-sustaining,” Joshua explains. “I just believe ruminants like sheep and cattle were made to eat grass. By avoiding grain consumption, you also avoid a massive percentage of ways that lambs can fall ill. It’s a simple way for us to honor their natural characteristics and make the most of what they’re designed to do.”

Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW pasture-raised eggs and Certified Grassfed by AGW lamb and beef from The Farm School are available through the farm’s CSA program. Visit farmschool.org for more information about the farm, classes and CSA, or contact The Farm School at jdp@farmschool.org  or 978-249-9944.

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