Students work with experienced local staff to make the farm largely self-sufficient. They prepare all meals and keep the farmhouse in order. They plant, tend, and harvest garden and greenhouse crops. They care for the farm’s livestock, gather eggs, milk the cows and observe and help newborn animals. They learn to use farm products to make clothing, including dyeing wool, weaving and sewing fabric. In a nature class, students explore animal and plant life in the area, mountains, woods and streams. They study weather and complex ecological issues such as sources of energy and water use.
Students also participate in school projects for the farm. They recently raised enough funds to become eligible for a major grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, to purchase a large number of solar panels, supplying all the electricity for the farm. Any excess electricity flows back into the overall supply for the state, thus reducing the need for fossil fuels in creating power, and creates some revenue for the school.
Students come to the MCS farm from ages 8 to 14. By the time they reach fifth grade, they come for three weeklong trips to Roxbury, one in each season of the school year. Their Manhattan-based teachers also come upstate with their classes, to get the same experiences as the students. While normally the organizers of the students’ activities in Manhattan by day, then taken on by their parents after school, teachers take on a parental role at the farm. The MCS farm has four local faculty, Kathy Cammer, Ed Fersch, Lynn Haroldsen and Donna McDaniel, to teach cooking, textiles, farming and nature.
The farm school has a long-standing partnership with the Roxbury Central School District, called the Urban-Rural Exchange. Students of MCS are matched up as “pen pals” in Roxbury, who correspond with each other during the year when MCS students are in Manhattan. When MCS students come up to the farm, all students exchange visits to Meeker Hollow and Roxbury Central. Additionally, the Roxbury students board a bus each spring, to visit their pen pals at the Manhattan school. In more recent years, the pen pals have entered into electronic forms of communication.