WISP at The FARM
The living, beating heart of The FARM Institute in Katama is its educational program, whose aim it is to preserve the culture of a working farm. It is accomplished by using Island people, particularly young people, to assist in all aspects of food-growing and maintaining the farm property. As of this past summer, several Island restaurants had enlisted The FARM (an acronym for Food, Agriculture & Resource Management) as one of their sources of locally grown produce.
"Inside and outside, the farm is used as an educational tool," Rob Goldfarb, The FARM's development director, explained, stressing that children learn about the dignity of labor, and develop a generosity for the land. "They will be the next generation of land stewards.
Photo by M.C. Wallo
"Our main purpose has always been to engage children in a working farm, showing the connection between the food that we eat and its source. Even kids who have always lived in cities tend to catch on pretty quickly how to be around animals and how to respect the land. They soon realize that the real source of food is not a package or a shrink-wrapped Styrofoam tray."
Mr. Goldfarb talked about the current downturn in the economy shifting, and the upsurge in interest in locally grown products. "The FARM Institute is gearing toward providing more food, while keeping within our mission of education," he said. "We are trying to be more self-reliant, while still counting on the generosity of others."
A recently developed year-round program, Work Income Sharing Project (WISP), is designed to help the farm double its food production. Essentially, about 100 participants, 12 per week, ages 11 through 15, are engaged in all levels of production, beginning with the sowing of seeds in flats in the new greenhouse.
Kristen MacDonald, garden manager and director of WISP, was recently found planting leeks and flower seeds while the construction went on around her. "The kids are completely involved in growing food," she said. "Recently, kids from Project Able, a branch of the YMCA, came and seeded 5,000 leeks. We told them, 'four seeds per cell,' and they carefully counted them out. When they come back for summer work, they can say, 'I planted that.' And when they are eating fresh vegetables, they can remember how much work went into the growing process."
After all their work, students who participate during the summers take their produce to the Farmers' Market. For most of the past participants, marketing turned out to be one of their favorite aspects of WISP. On Wednesdays and Saturdays, young farmers earn a 30 percent share in the profits of the sale of their produce. The youngsters are involved in the set-up and sales, and enjoy talking with customers about recipes for the food they are growing. They will even be prepared to explain the difference between "organic" and "non-certified organic."
Volunteers are much needed as The FARM Institute works to increase its production. Chrissy Kinsman, business office manager and volunteer coordinator, said that anyone interested in gardening or food production, beginning even now with seeding, may drop by and offer help.
"We are trying to provide more and more avenues to make people aware of local food production," Ms. Kinsman said. "The gardening aspect is easier to do on a drop-in basis, but more hands are needed, even for building fences."
Work Income Sharing Project, (WISP) is for children 11 to 15 years old. Early registration (by April 1) for one week's participation, $253 per Island student; $345 for each summer child. To register call 508-627-7007, or online at farminstitute.org.
Mary-Jean Miner is a freelance writer living in Tisbury.