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"Only he can understand what a farm is, what a country is, who shall have sacrificed part of himself to his farm or country, fought to save it, struggled to make it beautiful. Only then will the love of farm or country fill his heart."
– Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Author of ‘The Little Prince’, 1900-1944
"It Won’t Come from Agricultural Theme Parks" (counterpunch.org, June 22, 2007) by Richard Rhames was an unfair characterization of programs at Wolfe’s Neck Farm in Freeport, Maine. Why, out of the hundreds of similar farm programs across the nation, he chose to single out Wolfe’s Neck Farm is something of a mystery.
As a combat veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and now the Education Director at Wolfe’s Neck Farm, I felt as if I was under ‘friendly fire’ while reading the article by Mr. Rhames. I believe we are on the same side, and think he should stop taking shots at us, but perhaps he does not recognize we are the good guys too. I note that Mr. Rhames did not contact Wolfe’s Neck Farm to determine the nature of our program or what our curriculum is comprised of before publishing his article. Instead, he quoted two lines that Tess Nacelewicz, a reporter from the Portland Press Herald, chose to emphasize in her article ("Learning to Teach Kids Nature’s Ways" June 19, 2007) to characterize our entire program and criticize all programs of its type.
Wolfe’s Neck Farm covers a variety of issues in agriculture and the environment with participants of all ages in our education programs. Sustainable agriculture and environmental stewardship are key components of our education program. Students (many of whom come with financial aid provided by donors, and are not at all from the "comfortable" as Mr. Rhames incorrectly supposed) participate in activities which illustrate the problems with overcrowding of animals in commercial agriculture, as well as bioaccumulation from the use of pesticides and other non-organic practices. The children are taught about how their choices of food can affect not only their personal health, but the environment, and the survival of local farms. The Education program at Wolfe’s Neck Farm has recently sponsored education programs for adults as well. We sponsored a recent series to promote Community Supported Agriculture, with a round table of six local farmers whose farms are indeed the primary income of the participants. The series was to educate the consumer and bring together local producers to promote a return to local sustainable agriculture. We also hosted a presentation to the community by Erika Lesser, the Executive Director of Slow Food USA, an organization committed to educating consumers that they can make choices that are enjoyable and delicious while at the same time supporting local sustainable agriculture.
If Mr. Rhames had done some basic research; he would know that in the early 1950’s, Wolfe’s Neck Farm pioneered organic beef farming in the eastern U.S. The Farm has been marketing organic and natural beef longer than any farm in America. In 1997, the non-profit Wolfe’s Neck Farm Foundation started the Foundation for Agricultural Renewal, whose mission was to bring the beef industry back to Maine, raise an all natural beef product without growth hormones or antibiotics, and promote sustainable agriculture and the preservation of farmland. In 2005, the program had grown to the point where Wolfe’s Neck Farm no longer had sufficient capital to continue to support its growth and ultimately transferred the assets to a privately held Maine company at Pineland Farms. Pineland Farms Natural Meats purchased the cattle, rights to use the Wolfe’s Neck name, and leased the pasture space at the Farm. The Wolfe’s Neck brand, run by Pineland Farms Natural Meats supports over 150 family farms, with over 100,000 acres of land involved in the program.
While farm based education programs are not the cure to all the problems facing agriculture in the United States, they are an integral part of educating the public, which grows increasingly disconnected from agriculture. Children who have actual exposure to farm programs will have a better chance of understanding of key issues facing agriculture and the environment when it comes time to be consumers as well as participants in the political process. I sincerely hope Mr. Rhames will come to visit, I believe he will see that we are indeed on the same team.
M. D. MITCHELL is Education Coordinator at Wolfe’s Neck Farm Foundation. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org