Local farms are integral to our community: they grow food we eat, educate people of all ages and support vulnerable people.
In Westchester, a handful of non-commercial farms prioritize people over profits. They grow food that’s healthy for our bodies and the planet. They empower students, volunteers and curious people of all ages in classes, workshops and activities, and they train future farmers. Some of these farms offer therapeutic support to formerly incarcerated people and those with disabilities. Plus, they donate a portion of their harvest to food pantries and/or directly to families in need.
Ultimately, these farms help us commune with the land — and with each other.
Local farms are lively places to learn.
At Hilltop Hanover Farm in Yorktown Heights, education spans generations and cultures. You’ll find a five-year old girl planting basil seeds and frolicking with goats, a teenager harvesting peppers, carrots, and lettuce and stocking the farm stand, students from an English Language Learner (ELL) class gardening and sharing memories of family farms in Ecuador and Guatemala, and adults learning valuable skills like how to cultivate tomatoes, sharpen gardening tools and fix tractors.
In 2022, Hilltop Hanover educated 3,500 local students, from preschoolers to an AP environmental science class. The farm also hosts camps during school vacations in February, April and August.
“We want as many young people to be as excited about farming as possible,” says Jo Moore, the education programs manager. “Basically, I’m trying to make environmentalists out of them by showing them how you can take care of your environment with the thing that we all need to do, which is eat.”
Beyond class trips, Hilltop Hanover also runs internships for high school students like Jessy Kennedy who interned during the spring of her senior year at John Jay High School. Her responsibilities included digging, planting, irrigating, mosquito netting and harvesting.
“Before, I didn’t have extensive gardening experience,” says Kennedy, now an environmental studies major at the University of Vermont. “The internship definitely improved my knowledge of what plants need.”
Teleah Rampersad also interned at the farm during high school, exploring farming as a potential career.
“Literally, I learned something every day,” says Rampersad, who grew tomatoes, tended to goats and cows, and led school tours. “Big shout out to the team. They’re so passionate. They love teaching people.”
In 2022, Rampersad returned to Hilltop Hanover to finish her agricultural business major at SUNY Cobleskill. Now, she’s shopping for land to start her own farm.
In North Salem, D.I.G. Farm welcomes an eclectic mix of people whose learning is mutually beneficial. More than 400 volunteers provide most of the farm’s labor — planting, weeding, mulching and harvesting; in exchange, they receive a share of the vegetables they help grow.
“It’s extremely rewarding to grow your own food,” says Allison Turcan, who founded the nonprofit D.I.G. (the acronym stands for Dealing in Good) after a year of volunteering on organic farms in France. “It’s not that hard; you just have to put in a little bit of effort. And yes, if you do it on a bigger scale, it’s a lot of work. But the rewards of coming out and harvesting your dinner are pretty huge.”
Beyond teaching people how to grow and harvest produce, D.I.G. provides cooking, preserving and foraging classes for adults, school, homeschool field trips and even corporate retreats. Turcan estimates that 200 people attended these educational programs last year.
And, of course, there’s the renowned Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Pocantico Hills, which many local and regional farmers say spearheaded educational programming on farms.
The 80-acre property, originally owned by the Rockefeller family, was transformed into a nonprofit in 1996 with the goal of reconnecting visitors with their sources of food by being “open to the public as a hub of learning.”
They offer tours and tastings in their greenhouse and growing spaces; cooking, farming, gardening and botanical beverage classes; family field trips; eco hikes; artisan workshops and demonstrations. Last year, approximately 7,000 visitors attended these educational programs.
Like Hilltop and D.I.G., Stone Barns Center educates enthusiastic young people. Haley Kerner apprenticed at the center three years ago. Now, she tends vegetables in the greenhouse, where the crop includes carrots, radicchio, purple tsa tsai, and a towering banana tree. Unofficially, she often fields visitors’ requests for gardening advice.