By Ed Karvoski Jr., Contributing Writer
Marlborough – About 140 boys in grades five through nine are learning in a unique environment, including a greenhouse and a barn filled with animals at the Hillside School Farm. To varying degrees, a farm has been an integral part of the school since it was founded in 1901 in Greenwich, Mass., then moved to its current location in Marlborough in 1927, and into the 2012-2013 school year.
The farm's relationship with the curriculum continues to evolve as Jennifer Mitton joined the staff as farm and garden manager in May. She is a graduate of UMass-Dartmouth as a biology major.
“I grew up on a farm, so this is my dream job,” she said. “Some students choose to come to Hillside because of the farm. They want that unique aspect to their middle school education.”
Mitton worked throughout the summer in the greenhouse and garden, growing produce for the school's food services and for sale. A Mini Farmers Market, which will return next year, was available twice weekly for both the public and the Hillside community.
Now with the start of school, Mitton is coordinating the Farm Immersion Class Program.
“The program was a big part of the curriculum years ago; then faculty changed and that aspect was lost,” she said. “We'se trying to revive that.”
She believes lessons learned at the farm can be integrated into each grade's core curriculum.
“Farming can be tied into all the other classes,” she said. “Science, for sure, will be the main focus.”
Also, working chores on the farm can be “a confidence builder,” she said.
“When you'se brushing a donkey's winter coat out, and you keep brushing and brushing until a pile of hair is growing, you see that you made an impact,” she said. “Oftentimes sitting in a classroom, you don's actually see immediate results like that.”
For two hours daily, all students are required to participate in a sports activity – or the Eco Team, a sports-alternative combining outdoor recreation with agriculture and ecology. While some students enjoy and excel in physical sports, others are fascinated with learning more about the farm animals and gardening.
“The Eco Team shows students how nature and humans interact, and influence farming,” Mitton said.
The farm provides much of the produce for the school's food services.
“We supply about half of the eggs on a weekly basis,” Mitton said. “And now we'se trying to grow the garden so we can also influence everyone's vegetable intake, too. There's a huge salad bar for every lunch and dinner.”
Mitton is also interested in educating visitors to the farm.
“We'se hoping to be more a part of the community,” she said. “Now that the school is putting a lot of concentration and energy into the farm, they's really like it to be a showplace where the public will want to come and learn, too.”
In addition to viewing the gardens, visitors can meet lots of animals, including alpacas, chickens, cows, donkeys, geese, llamas, roosters and sheep.
In the spring, the school's farm introduced the Community Gardeners Program. A one-year membership includes a 12-foot by 12-foot plot, an organic growing environment, access to the compost pile and irrigation system, and credit for merchandise in the Hillside School Farm Store.
The Hillside School Farm Store, located at 196 Robin Hill Road, is open weekdays 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., or by appointment. Among the fresh produce available for sale are basil, Brussels sprouts, carrots, green beans, okra, peppers, potatoes, sage and tomatoes. Eggs are available year-round. The store is open to both the public and the Hillside community.
Contact the farm staff at [email protected]