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Tue July 1, 2014
In Athol, Learning The Rhythm Of Farm Life
The Farm School in Athol, Massachusetts is a 25 year-old training program where lawyers, teachers, and others learn the ins and outs of farming -- and possibly -- find a new career.
A year ago, Nick Martinelli, 36, decided to quit a high profile legal job.
"I definitely romanticized the idea of farming before I came here. And the idea of coming here was to test that. And to see whether the reality matched up," he said. "Slowly over time I realized that I didn't have a lot of practical skills. That if I weren't in front of a computer, I didn't know how to do a lot of things. And I wanted to rectify that."
For the past year Martinelli has been enrolled in the school’s Learn to Farm program.
"It's obviously very different from what I was doing, being in an office," he said.
The desire to get back to the land is something the Farm School’s manager, Patrick Connors, sees more and more.
"We've seen an increase in interest in people coming to make this a career," he said. "You're seeing a similar trend in the field of agriculture, small scale diversified agriculture. There are lot of young people and people of all ages going into this as a career right now."
Students spend a full year immersed in the rhythm of farm life – learning how to harvest crops, care for animals, and run the business.
"There are days that are 100 degrees and sweaty, and you're crawling weeding carrots all day," Connors said. "Folks get that outside experience that they're looking for. And maybe the romanticism is--I wouldn't say crushed-- but it's, it's put into perspective, for sure. "
And the learning curve is steep.
"I think maybe that's the toughest thing for me is to come from a place where I felt like a little bit I knew what I was doing after nine years of doing it. And I'm starting from ground- from scratch here, " Martinelli said.
For Alicia Viola, 22, the most difficult part of the farm experience is the isolation.
"For me I have a lot of friends and family back in Boston, and knowing that if want to make this real and actually commit to this as a lifestyle there is going to be that disconnect. I am sure with time that will be okay," she said.
Not all of Connors' students make the transition to the real world of farming.
"I'd say half of our class--and we have a class of about 15 students every year--are taking the training and heading off right to their own farms to start their own, their own farms, or work on other people's farms," he said.
That includes Nick Martinelli, who will graduate from the Farm School in September. After that, look for him at a farm stand near you.