Life (and Death) on the FarmApril 27, 2016
Not many farmers would choose to farm on the heavy clay soil at New Village Farm in Shelburne, but for Michaela Ryan it was a perfect location for one reason – it was walking distance away for around 1,000 students. Children from the Lake Champlain Waldorf School and the Shelburne Community School have an extended classroom at New Village Farm through their afterschool programs, camps and their farm-school partnerships. Michaela realized a need for students to connect to farm life and animals. Her own experience growing up on a sheep farm in Quebec was the only thing that made Michaela’s childhood and teenage years bearable, “my sanity relied on the farm environment, the open spaces, the animals,” she shared, “the more head-driven we get, the more we need to feel connected to the earth.”
Returning to farming and farm education was a calling for Michaela, but she had a barrier to her chosen path. “I couldn’t return to farming until I understood my relationship with loss,” she shared. Raising animals for slaughter and the day-to-day trials of farming means dealing with death. Michaela took time to learn about loss, and even trained as a grief recovery specialist, so she could provide a healthy environment to let children explore the full circle of everyday farm life. “Kids are taught to fear death, but when they look at it in their own way with a young, open mind they can see it as the natural part of life it is,” she shared. When a chicken or goat dies on the farm, Michaela lets the students see and touch the animal – they are encouraged to ask questions, to talk about what happened, to explore the broad range of emotions they experience and seek out support if they need it. Michaela has seen the exposure to death on the farm help children deal with the loss of a grandparent and even help their parents deal with the loss in their lives.
New Village Farm holds itself as a community farm and an open space to learn about everything farm life entails and they are always taking on committed volunteers. They also offer classes and camps for adults (that’s right – adult farm camp), and for families to come and learn together!