Land Use

The Putney School Farm and Land Use program currently involves over sixty students, (1/3 of the student body) each semester. The students are engaged in all aspects of the diversified farm, including milking and caring for dairy cattle, forage crop production, gardening, other livestock care, sugaring and fire wood processing.

The visual centerpiece of the farm is the 40 cow dairy herd. The cows are milked and cared for twice a day, every day by student labor. The student work crews are led by student "barn heads" who are responsible for attendance, delegating work, and quality assurance. Barn heads apply for the position, having previously distinguished themselves in a previous term of barn duty. The barn head serves as the link between the farm manager and the work crews. Students working in the dairy barn learn how to milk cows, feed cows, and calves. The students are also responsible for the care of the small animals including 12 pigs, a flock of 100 laying hens, 75 turkeys, and 15 sheep. All these animals are raised to contribute to the Putney School food supply. They also assist with basic veterinarian work. Students gain a basic understanding of animal husbandry as they learn these tasks.

In addition to taking their turns at morning or afternoon barn chores and possibly choosing the farm afternoon activity, students are encouraged to become more involved with the farm through independent or project week studies. These studies include dairy cattle nutrition and health, dairy cattle genetics, fitting and showmanship, basic sugar lot management, planting trials and other agriculturally related topics.

The cows are in an intensive rotational grazing program, making the best use of the hilly terrain surrounding the farm. Students help design and build all the fencing required to maintain this system.

Over 100 acres of pasture and crop land are maintained to feed the cattle and horses. Stewardship of the land provides a valuable teaching tool. Using a field or a garden as a classroom encourages many discussions about various agricultural techniques, providing a real illustration of varying methods of food production. The garden afternoon activity offers students the opportunity to start with seeds during the spring, in the greenhouse, and work in the fall harvesting and preserving what they have grown. The garden program includes 2-3 acres of land and two greenhouses. Our goal is to grow a significant portion of the food consumed on campus. In doing this, students get their first significant exposure to food production and all of the questions that it may encompass. Students become aware of the fruits of their labor and the value of food. All the gardens are organic, utilizing compost developed here on the farm.

One of the joys of living in Vermont during the winter is the excitement of sugaring season beginning. The students share in that excitement and begin working outside in late February tapping trees, setting buckets and lines, and then in the gathering of the maple sap for boiling. The syrup we produce is used in the kitchen and is sold in the bookstore. By participating in sugaring students learn about weather and its effects, forestry, the process itself, and again the labor of love.

The horse program at The Putney School is available for those who wish to learn how to ride or to develop their horsemanship skills. Riders use it as an opportunity to learn a life long sport for enjoyment, exercise, and to be outside. Participants in the program also have some responsibility for the care and feeding of the animals.

Our woods crews are involved in learning another lifelong skill, cutting wood. Students are taught how to fell trees, and cut them up using power tools and also hand tools so that they can decide for themselves which way they are more comfortable, productive, and safe. Also included are basic tool maintenance skills for both hand and power tools. The wood is cut from the Putney School land and used for heating the cabins on campus and faculty houses.

The Putney School Farm program offers each student a wide range of possibilities. One student may like to come to the barn to draw or paint, another who finds planting seeds in the earth rewarding, or is nurtured by nurturing the animals on the farm. Students are all required to spend some of their time on the farm, some are content to simply fulfill their requirement and move on. Other students, such as barn heads, come and are so taken with the life of the farm that they delve into its many learning opportunities, and spend as much time as possible on the farm. All leave with the knowledge of how to take care of themselves, and the confidence that they can learn and accomplish many tasks that were foreign to them a few months earlier. The satisfaction of pulling a carrot out of the ground or stacking hay in the hayloft, or milking a cow, or tasting fresh maple syrup is something that adds to each of us in many ways, but is only learned by doing.

The strength of the Land Use program is the number and quality of the students involved with the program throughout the year. All of the students at the school are given an opportunity to connect with the soil or our animals. The students leave Putney with a heightened awareness of the value of agriculture in our society. It is very difficult to put a value on this knowledge, but we believe it is a priceless lesson for a socially responsible citizen.

The Putney School | Elm Lea Farm, 418 Houghton Brook Road, Putney, Vermont 05346-8675
802-387-5566 (main) | 802-387-6278 (fax) | |