Fairfield Farm: Sowing the Seeds for Farming’s Academic Future
Ellie Youngblood, the young manager of Fairfield Farm at the Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Connecticut, represents a generational link between farming’s agrarian past, and its socially conscientious future. Ellie is a self-described “turbo farm nerd” who began working on Marble Valley Farm in her hometown of Kent, CT, at the age of 16, and has been farming ever since. “Being a young 17-year-old girl who was interested in farming, it felt like an enormous gift to be able to work at Marble Valley, a farm that was run exclusively by women,” says Ellie who would later graduate from Hotchkiss and Carleton College where she managed the on-campus student farm, the greenhouses, and gained experience with small-scale, low-technology cultivation and high-tech hydroponic and aeroponic growth systems.
Ellie is passionate about farming; ask her a quick question about her practices, and you are rewarded with a fascinating treatise on progressive agricultural practices like no-till farming. Ellie is also highly focused on the communal benefits of farming, “Farming is about connecting with people, with the land and its history. They are such good spaces for learning and agriculture is complicit in so many parts of our history as a culture.” She is quick to add, however, that farming is also about “changing with the community and evolving.”
The Hotchkiss farm, with its two hundred and eighty acres of fields, farmhouses, outbuildings, barns and a stunningly situated grange for outdoor concerts and performances, epitomizes the melding of the past, present, and the future of farming as well as its inherent community connections. The farm was owned for many years by Hotchkiss graduate Jack Blum, a past commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Agriculture, and his wife, Jane. The school has owned the farm for just over a decade in which time it has transformed the way the school thinks about food, sustainability, the land, social responsibility, and education.
The farm produces 30-40,000 pounds of produce a year, supplies 30% of the produce used in the Dining Hall during the fall semester and 7% of the overall produce procured for the academic year. Pigs and chickens also live on the farm and cows belonging to Allen and Robin Cockerline of Whippoorwill Farm graze in the pastures. The Farm has also become an outdoor classroom and a popular spot for students, alumni and community events.
Now in her seventh season as Farm Manager, Ellie speaks fervently about the communal experience of working on a farm. “Farming is the vehicle that brings these students, and indeed the community, together here at Hotchkiss. By working the land together, students learn how to be a member of a community that they can visualize every day. I think the connection that students feel here comes from the work they put in and the experiences they draw from that work. By taking on assignments they may not feel up for means they engage with new learning experiences and understand what it actually means to look after one another while depending on other students they might not otherwise know.”
Local school children farm with the Hotchkiss students, enjoying the rich friendships that grow out of working side-by-side on a farm. On several occasions, Ellie and her Hotchkiss farm students have hosted Noble Horizons residents who enjoy the spectacular views, the animals, the opportunity to interact with the students, and samples from the farm's harvest.
The farm's most important community contributions, however, are its weekly food donations to Lakeville’s Corner Pantry, especially during the pandemic. Each year from June to November, Ellie delivers food to the pantry, usually stocking two or three different crops per week. As Ellie explains, “The farm and the curriculum that it encompasses challenges student perspectives on what it takes to build something bigger than themselves and not just in a theoretical sense,” Ellie asserts. “It can be a tangible lesson for everyone in the community.”
N.B.: Student/resident photos are pre-COVID.