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Saratoga Students Offer Research For Farm Education Program

Lucas Willard

Note 5/4/2017: An earlier version of this story referred to the Pitney Meadows Community Farm as the Pitney Meadows Community Foundation. The original audio of this story remains posted.

The last remaining farm within Saratoga Springs city limits is under new management by a team that wants to use the property as a center for agriculture and education. As WAMC’s Southern Adirondack Bureau Chief Lucas Willard reports, a group of local students is making recommendations for how to move forward.

Located across West Avenue from Saratoga Springs High School, the 166-acre Pitney farm has been eyed as a site to educate community members of all ages.

Now, a group of Environmental Studies students at Skidmore College is offering advice to the Pitney Meadows Community Farm on how to create a successful farm-based education program.

Working with two fellow students on the project, senior Sydney Randall visited regional agriculture education centers and spoke to local schools.

After presenting their ideas Wednesday, Randall says a list of recommendations will be presented to the foundation.

They include a list of logistical solutions, such as a low-cost labor force involving AmeriCorps workers and interns, or building a following through social media.

The students also discussed some core themes found at each of the sites they visited.

“Sticking to your mission and starting small, and really engaging with your community, getting adults and children and family programming at the farm,” said Randall. 

Revealed in a survey of local school districts, Randall said elementary teachers showed the strongest interest in incorporating the Pitney farm into their teaching.

“The age of children that are most likely to be susceptible to those kind of behavior-changing experiences are ages 8 to 11, so it’s actually really good that the elementary teachers are the ones that are most interested,” said Randall.

Sandy Arnold, board chair of the Pitney Meadows Community Farm and a farmer herself, said the recommendations will be put to good use.

“We’re in the process right now of developing our own strategic plan and this information will be very helpful,” said Arnold.

The Farm envisions a community garden, a greenhouse, and other amenities on the property, which is preserved under a conservation easement granted by the city. A planning board vote later this month will give the group the go-ahead to begin work on the community garden.

Pitney Meadows Community Farm also has a new executive director, former foundation board member Mary Pieper. Pieper has a career as a consultant to non-profits and also served as a development director at the Waldorf School in Saratoga Springs.

Also an avid gardener, Pieper said the farm will consult with other working farms around the region to develop best practices.

Once all approvals are in place, Pieper said the team will begin crafting the farm’s vision.

“The first and probably most important next step is to take this great board of directors and this large group of volunteers and really tap into the ideas that are percolating and come up with a strategy and business plan for our first few years,” said Pieper. “And then to find the funding to support that and attach it to the programming.”

Late last year the Farm announced a $3.1 million dollar fundraising goal, which was recently met. A spring fundraising campaign is continuing to help build a children’s greenhouse, more community garden plots, and a high-tunnel for growing and events.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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