Students get hands-on farming experience

Gould Academy News
Volume 25, No. 3, Winter 2000

At 6:30 each morning, before the sun has fully risen on these short winter days, students from Erik Janicki’s biology classes report for duty at the Gould Academy barn. The barn residents—five Romney sheep, a pair of young Holstein steers, an Alpine dairy goat, and a flock of laying hens—must be fed and watered before the day begins for most of the Gould community. There are eggs to gather, shavings to be spread, and, of course, manure to be shoveled out of stalls. The students, who will return at 5:30 p.m. to do the evening chores, work in pairs and are responsible for taking care of the animals twice a day for a week.

“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do here,” says Headmaster Bill Clough of the barn project, which began during the 1998-1999 school year with the design and construction of the barn’s three-story, 24- by 32-foot post-and-beam frame, under the direction of Gould engineer/designer/builder Jim Sysko. Students have been involved in the project from the beginning: the entire senior class helped to raise the frame as part of the Four Point project last March, and Sysko headed a construction crew made up of a smaller group of students who chose barn-building as their afternoon activity in the fall and spring.

Bill Clough’s enthusiasm for the hands-on work of farming dates back to his childhood in rural New London, New Hampshire, where his family owned a large sheep farm, woodlot, and sugarbush. Helping to take care of the animals, harvesting timber, and making maple syrup were an integral part of his young life. As a teenager, he took his own sheep to New England fairs, and when he reluctantly left home and the farm to attend Holderness School as a high school junior, it was only under the condition that he be granted time off from his studies to show them at the Springfield Exposition that fall in Massachusetts. Later, as Assistant Headmaster at Holderness, he inspired and created a small-scale farm project similar to the one recently begun at Gould. Throughout his nearly four decades in boarding schools, he has rarely passed up an opportunity to promote the value of experiential learning through old-fashioned physical work, whether splitting firewood or shoveling manure. And as anyone who has seen his sheep-shearing demonstrations on stage during Gould morning assembly can attest, he has not lost his proficiency in handling livestock.

The chance to turn Bill Clough’s long-term dream of an educational farm project into a reality arose when Erik Janicki, a 1991 Gould graduate, returned in 1996 to teach biology and ecology classes. A passion for farming and a commitment to organic methods of raising food led Janicki to spend the past several summers living and working on certified organic farms in Maine. In turn, his experiences there inspired a desire to integrate farm education into the curriculum at Gould.

Students fortunate enough—or unfortunate enough, depending on their point of view and comfort level around animals—to be in one of Janicki’s three sections of college preparatory biology are automatically drafted for barn duty, where they are gaining first-hand knowledge of animal husbandry. In addition, Janicki plans to time his classes’ curriculum unit on reproduction to coincide with the April lambing season, when it is hoped that all or most of the four ewes will be giving birth. Developmental biology will include the study of chicken embryos at various stages of incubation, and he hopes to conduct some microbiology labs on bacterial growth and fermentation in goat’s milk.

Janicki has had a 100- by 60-foot plot tilled in the fields below the barn, where his classes will plant an organic garden in the spring during their study of plant physiology. The goal is to grow crops that will be harvested in the fall to provide enough vegetables for the entire Gould community at one Tuesday evening formal dinner, plus enough onions to supply the dining hall for a week. After the fall vegetables are harvested, the students will plant cover crops that will be tilled into the ground to enrich the soil, and will learn about the use of such “green manure” crops in organic farming.

Despite its scope, the project has been modestly priced by today’s standards—Jim Sysko estimates the total cost of building the barn at about $30,000, including the earthwork and foundation. The wood, including the large framing timbers, was sawn of native hemlock by Willie Hathaway of Bryant Pond. The windows, dating from 1926, some of the doors, and even a sink were taken out of Gehring Hall during the large-scale renovation project to that building. The roofing material and the reinforcement rod used in the foundation were surplus from the Gehring project as well.

The ground floor of the barn houses the animals, while hay for winter feed is stored in the third floor loft. The second floor will provide laboratory space for science classes and studio space for art students, who will take advantage of the availability of “live models” for their drawing and painting classes.

The laying hens were the barn’s first residents, arriving in time to be on display during Alumni/ae Weekend. The two Rhode Island Reds and eight Barred Rocks have settled in well and begun laying several eggs a day.

Gould juniors Bob Bruce of Caratunk, Maine, and Jack Henderson-Adams of Charlemont, Massachusetts enthusiastically volunteered to take on the job of training Jake and Duke, the twin Holstein steers. Born in August 1998, they were purchased last October at the Fryeburg Fair from a young boy who raised them in nearby Chatham, New Hampshire as a 4-H project. Small for their age due to a stunting disease they suffered as calves, they presently weigh in at approximately 550 pounds apiece, but are expected to reach two to three thousand pounds each at full maturity. Bruce and Henderson-Adams were fortunate to have the expertise of one of the most experienced “oxmen” in the are close at hand. Tim Korhonen, a member of the Gould maintenance staff who has worked extensively with both oxen and draft horses, taught the boys the traditional commands and how to handle the steers (which will properly be called “oxen” when they reach four years of age). Korhonen also built an ox-cart, to which Jake and Duke have graduated after several weeks of pulling around an old tire to get used to the idea. Bruce and Henderson-Adams are responsible for bringing the steers from their stall to a large outdoor pen each morning, and twice a week they spend an hour or so putting them through their paces. And, adds Henderson-Adams with a smile as he puts an arm protectively around one of his charges, “we come down and tuck them in every night.”

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