Writing Catalog

Cate Cowger-Wesley

Grade: 11

Hathaway Brown School

Instructor: Elizabeth Armstrong

Why Farm School Is The Right Choice For You

Personal Essay & Memoir

Why Farm School Is The Right Choice For You

During grades 6,7, and 8 my parents decided to send me off to a 5 day a week boarding schoollin a very rural part of Ohio called Huntsburg. At first I was nervous because this school wasn't every teenager's dream luxury out of state boarding school, it was on a farm with tons of animals that needed to be cared for. In the end, it wasn't my choice to go or not, so on August 21st, 2016 at the age of 12, I found myself in a new dorm room surrounded by animals and people I had never met before. My roommates arrived and I quickly discovered they were from Monterey, Mexico. I knew that I was going to be exposed to a bunch of different lifestyles than the one I had been brought up with at home but I never thought I would be exposed first-hand to different cultures and languages. Though I was younger, I still could still find a way to appreciate and learn cultures from all over the world. When I first arrived on campus I knew I would make new friends, but I never knew that in the end I would be forming bonds with people whom I would begin to call my "five day family".

At farm school every day was a new exciting experience. I lived with people from 5 different countries including Germany, France, Mexico, Canada, and Poland. While living at farm school it felt like I was in a different corner of the world than Ohio. The school was small with less than 100 kids in grades 6-12, so we all felt as close as we did with our families at home. One morning on May 5th 2017 my roommates woke me up at the crack of dawn squealing with joy. I wondered what was so special about this random day in May. Little did I know that at their homes in Mexico their families would also be waking up with excitement to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. I had always heard about Cinco de Mayo in Spanish classes throughout middle school, but I had never celebrated with people from the country. I was intrigued and thrilled to learn and experience the festivities my roommates had planned for the holiday. They put on a small parade for the boarding community, prepared mole and tacos for us to share, and even set up a dance room where we could all dance together to music they usually listened to with their families.

As I mentioned before this school was on a farm so each week we would have different farm shifts that set out who would take care of the animals for that week. We also made our own meals each day. Breakfast was made by whoever was assigned the early shift, Lunch was made by shifts of day students and boarding students, and dinner was made by a group of boarding students. Each of these shifts changed weekly. I know this can sound like a huge chore that you couldn't imagine any child wanting to do. But even the most stuk up kid there enjoyed their time preparing meals and caring for the animals. It was less about the work at hand and more about learning to care for and nurture your community. When I stated before that we all felt as close as a family, it wasn't meant to be cliche. The family aspect of everything is what fueled our willingness to have fun doing work. It never felt as though I was forced to feed the animals, or sand spoons in the woodshop. It felt like I was a part of something that mattered, and that this something would matter forever.

Farm school lets you pick your path in life, even from the age of 12 I was given a choice on who I wanted to be in the moment and how it would affect my future. These choices ranged from jobs in the Micro-Economy, to working in the bio-shelter, to tapping trees for sap, to taking film photos for the school yearbook. Personally I decided that my path was to be a film photographer. The school helped me achieve that in every way and even bought me my first film camera. I received private lessons from a professional photographer, and was able to experience the development of the photos in the dark room. Even for classes we were given options that we chose from every 3 weeks. Our classes changed every 3 weeks after we gave our final presentation on the class material to the entire school. Every 3 weeks we would file into the meeting room as an entire school and write down our top 3 choices for each class on a notecard. This note card would be turned in to the head of school and she would decide which class we were placed in depending on the choices we listed on our notecards. Not to mention that there were usually about 5 or 6 options for which class to take. We used this notecard method for everything that involved a choice on the students part.

Everything I mentioned ties back into the aspect of farm life. For 3 years my entire life revolved around the success of the farm. When the crops were healthy the community thrived and the energy was up, but when the crops were eaten by bugs or animals the community mourned the loss of the hard work put into the growing of these crops. Same went for the animals, whenever we lost an animal the community would mourn this loss as if it were our family. At all hours of the day someone was manning the barns and the chicken coops. No animal was left unattended or unloved. The farm was the brightness in our community and is what shaped us into being loving towards each other.

This farm experience shaped me into the person that I am today. The people I was surrounded by taught me to find the joy within hard work, look for new things to learn within every community of people, accept that life is sometimes just not fair, and most of all to see everyone as equal no matter their background. The school helped me to learn the values of doing things for yourself, the importance of managing your time well, that everyone is capable of loving themselves as long as they love others around them, and most importantly the true meaning of family. The classes helped me learn that I can move at my own pace and still be successful, that I have full control over what I want to do with my life, and that when teachers and kids can coexist as equals the community feels like a safer place to make mistakes. The farm taught me that there is happiness in things that are sometimes looked at as weird, that animals are just as important as humans no matter how far above them we place ourselves, and that we have to nurture things so that they can thrive which might mean taking your time and not rushing the process of growth. Every single one of these things make me who I am right now. Even though I am no longer a part of the farm school community I will continue to live my life with the lessons they taught me in mind. Therefore I recommend that you experience some form of life on a functional farm for a small part of your life. It will show you what a real community feels like and shape you into a person you never knew you could become.