One of the most significant parts of Manhattan Country School’s academic experience takes place at our farm in the Catskill Mountains. Together with their classroom teachers, MCS students first go to the Farm in the spring of their 7-8s year. By fifth grade they go for three week-long trips, one in each season of the school year.
The Farm provides invaluable opportunities to witness and study natural phenomena. While collecting sap to make maple syrup, students learn why the tree produces sap and why it can only be harvested in early spring. One morning job is to predict the weather based on observation, temperature and barometric pressure. A nature class on a walk might encounter the skeleton of a deer, prompting discussion of how the deer was killed, what caused it to decompose and what might happen to its remains. Students see cycles of life as they plant and harvest vegetables or witness the birth of a baby calf and watch it grow up. They develop an understanding of where food comes from and of the interdependence of humans and nature.
The MCS Farm curriculum focuses on the following areas:
Nature studies at the MCS Farm immerse children in the natural world of forest, field and stream. Students explore at their own pace in an environment that quickly becomes familiar, but always holds surprises. Students hike in the woods, fields and trail; track wildlife and learn how animals and plants respond to the cycle of seasons. Through deep exposure to the Catskill Mountain environment, children gain a perspective that helps to guide them and inform their future choices and decisions.
Textiles class acquaints students with the steps needed to transform raw fleece from the Farm’s sheep into a piece of woven cloth. The students learn the skills of carding, spinning, dyeing and weaving through hands-on experience. They straighten the raw wool using hand carders and twist these fibers into yarn using different spinning techniques. A woven piece of fabric is created by using one of the many different types of looms in the textiles studio.
Farm work class follows the rhythm of the seasons. In the spring and the fall students are engaged in planting, weeding and harvesting food. Winter involves students learning about bovine husbandry, the process of making maple syrup and the energy needs and processes of the Farm.
Farm work classes include a focus on renewable energy, taking advantage of the Farm’s 14 solar panels that produce 24,000 watts of electricity. Students also learn the work required to supply firewood to heat farm buildings and to operate the outdoor wood-fired oven. Ultimately, the content of our farming class is authentic—resonating with the dynamics of our living farm.
Doing barn chores is an essential piece of the MCS Farm program. All students share the responsibilities of running and caring for the Farm. During students’ trips to the Farm, they milk cows, gather fresh-laid eggs, clean out cow stalls and provide fresh feed for all of the farm animals. While barn chores are taught and guided by farm teachers in the younger years, older students soon become capable managers of farm chores themselves.
Cooking class connects the work of farming class to the table and underscores our interdependence with nature and the individual’s responsibility to the community. While at the Farm, students prepare meals for their classmates and their teachers twice daily, learning basic culinary skills along the way. Whenever possible, we strive to serve zero-mile meals, with all ingredients on the plate originating from the Farm.
Special Farm Projects by Grade
- 7-8s—Tree planting
- 8-9s—Water cycle, harvest time connected to American Indian study
- 9-10s—Roxbury pen pals and exchange
- 5th Grade—Folk music and dancing
- 6th Grade—Astronomy and phases of the moon
- 7th Grade—Work to complete farm graduation requirements begins
- 8th Grade—Mock town meeting on a controversial environmental topic (e.g., building wind turbines for electricity or land development and tourism)
Farm Graduation Requirements
Through their years at the Farm, students add to their skills and knowledge in each area of the farm curriculum. Their study builds sequentially from year to year, culminating in graduation requirements that are fulfilled during students’ seventh- and eighth-grade years.
To graduate from MCS, students must:
- Milk a cow and manage barn chores
- Bake with yeast
- Prepare a meal for the whole class
- Produce an original textile
- Participate in a mock town meeting on a current environmental issue