Lawmakers visit Hawlemont farm

 

Hawlemont farm program grows

Greenfield Recorder 11/15/2014, Page A01

By DIANE BRONCACCIO Recorder Staff

CHARLEMONT — Besides growing fruits, herbs and veggies, the Hawlemont School’s new farm-based curriculum is growing something else: enrollment and community involvement.

Enrollment at the rural elementary school is already up by 10 percent, and Hawlemont lost none of its younger grade students this fall to other schools via School Choice,” said Jean Bruffee, curriculum coordinator for the Hawlemont Agriculture and You program — HAY, for short. Also, Hawlemont had a waiting list for preschoolers this year, and, preschoolers are already lining up for next year.

State Rep. Paul Mark and state Sen. Benjamin Downing were given a tour Friday afternoon, to see what the school has done with its $130,000 state Community Innovation Challenge Grant. Behind the school building, students from the building trades programs of the Franklin County Technical School were constructing a barn that teachers hope will be ready for livestock by spring.

“We’ll have two cows, two goats, two sheep and two pigs,” said Bruffee. “We are going with the Noah’s Ark school of agriculture. All the animals that are coming are from local farms, on loan.” She said there is hope that one of the pigs will give birth in the school’s barn next spring.

Bruffee said several farmers have also donated hay. Also, the farmers who loan the animals are to provide the feed for them.

In the “HAY Classroom” kitchen, metal shelves are stacked with jars full of spaghetti sauce, pickles and relish that are made mostly with the produce harvested this fall. Because the agriculture program is only three months old, produce from local farms was donated, so that the school could have enough food products to sell at this year’s Christmas Bazaar.

She said the kids learned a lot about measurements — cups, pints and quarts — during the cooking phase.

“It’s been really amazing what children don’t know,” Bruffee remarked. “Children don’t cook anymore.” She said some were surprised to learn that pickles are made from cucumbers.

Outside, in a short, blustery snowfall, teacher Kimberly Orzechowski took the legislators on a tour of the vegetable beds she started for her classes about six years ago. Two of the raised beds have different cover crops, as an experiment to see which provides more protection for earthworms. In spring, the pupils will do a worm count to compare the results.

Next week, four different 4-H groups will be starting up, with 28 students enrolled. School nurse Sherry Hager will be teaching cooking, and there is an after-school club that will study farm finances.

“We’ve got a buzz happening here at Hawlemont that wasn’t happening for the last 10 years,” said Superintendent Michael Buoniconti. He said the teachers “completely own this,” and have worked Saturdays and on their own time to make the program possible.

“This is already creating an expectation for Mohawk (Trail Regional School) to continue this.” Buonicontisaid the high school may also apply for a Community Innovation Challenge Grant, to develop high-school level farming programs.

Jay Healey, a former state commissioner of agriculture, former state representative and a Charlemont farmer, said the community hasn’t been this involved with the local school in at least 50 years — before Mohawk was built. “It’s galvanizing the community,” he said.

“This is great to see,” said Downing. It’s everything you’d want to see.”

“We were eager to see it, as an idea,” said Mark, “but now, to see it in reality is even better.”

Bruffee said Hawlemont, which serves Hawley and Charlemont, will again seek a Community Innovation Grant this year, to build on what’s been started. Some of that grant money, if awarded, would be used to build an outdoor classroom, pay for fencing and to expand Hawlemont’s gardens.

Other plans for this year will include tapping maple trees behind the school and learning how to make syrup, and lessons from staff at A.L. Avery & Sons General Store on how to prepare produce for market.

You can reach Diane Broncaccio at:dbroncaccio@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 277