committed to agriculture
Ally was kind enough to give us a few minutes of her time between running from one farm meeting to the next. We sat down in the bustling dining hall and got a brief glimpse into her life and very thoughtful post-Sterling vision.
How did you end up at Sterling?
After high school I took two gaps years and worked on a couple different farms. I lived and worked at Heifer International, at their northeast learning center in Massachusetts for a year. That was kind of when I discovered sustainable agriculture, and realized that people could make this work for a living, but I was already enrolled at a big university in Australia. I went there and majored in anthropology and sociology, which was really cool, but I missed being part of a small community, and I missed being in a more rural setting, and I missed agriculture … and I missed WORK. I missed having opportunities to grow food and put my hands in the soil. Sterling was a school that I knew very little about, but had driven by lots of times and followed on Facebook …
when I found out the Draft Horse Minor had been approved I thought, “Wow, this sounds like a really cool school!” I did some more research and then applied to transfer to a few different schools, but as soon as I was accepted to Sterling I withdrew my other applications, ‘cause I was like “I’m goin’ here.”
Has the farm been a highlight of your experience here?
The farm is why I came here and I why I stay. I see room for a lot of improvement in a lot of the systems in place at the farm at Sterling, but I also see it as part of the learning experience, and many farms, all farms have room for improvement. And especially this summer,
the classes that were offered and the instructors that came in the Integrated Farming Practicum [and School of the New American Farmstead] were world-class. Temple Grandin, Jean-Martin Fortier, all these incredible complete experts in their fields. Having all of them concentrated in one place and teaching me was crazy … a program like that, I don’t know any other college that has a program like that.
What else about your Sterling experience have you enjoyed?
I think that just as important as coming here to take classes and being part of the Sterling community has been becoming more integrated into the wider Craftsbury community and building a lot of connections with local farmers.
There’s a lot of really incredible small-scale farms in the area, and the Northeast Kingdom is beautiful, and it’s been just really valuable to get to know the people that live here and the people that do make farming a large piece of their lives in such a harsh environment.
The field trips to local farms have been great: Cate Hill, Doe’s Leap, Lazy Lady, those give you names and faces and orient you in this space.
Do you have something specific that you enjoy farming the most? Do you have a vision for that?
I think I’m definitely interested in education and agricultural education, and I’m definitely interested in making education a part of whatever I do, especially education for kids. Whether it’s something like farm-to-school, or classes, or summer camps or something, I would love to eventually have some kind of farm that I could invite the public to. Especially the young public. That would be the ultimate goal–– to have a really functional, environmentally-sound system that people would be interested to learn about. Ideally involving crops and livestock. Silvopasture, forage crops, I’m definitely interested in closed-loop systems and finding the right livestock for the land that you have, so that you can primarily feed them off of forage that’s grown on your property. I think that grazing in particular, and sustainable, regenerative grazing systems, are in the realm of what I want to focus on.
I know what I want to do … I’m working on the how-to part, and I definitely think that knowledge is power, and network is power in this kind of field. I’m a little bit cautious of leaving a learning-student lifestyle, because I am the kind of person who really likes to be prepared and know that I’m gonna’ be successful with what I do, so before I start any kind of enterprise I really need to know that it’s gonna’ be viable, at least to an extent. And in order for me to feel secure in that I need to have a support network and other friends in the field and have learned all that I can learn about it, which I think will be a few more years before I try anything.
I definitely know that in the end I want to be a profitable small-scale farmer with values relating to education and the environment, but I just have more to learn, and Sterling is part of that. I think I still have more to learn before I embark on any kind of personal agricultural endeavors, which is a long-term goal of mine. But I think after Sterling, there are a lot of cool internships and learning opportunities for students, for young farmers, for students interested in sustainable agriculture. So I think that there will probably be a few more stops for me in terms of learning and building a skillset.
How did you feel about entering in the winter?
I was coming here from summer in Australia, where there was lots of tropical fruit growing everywhere … but I was really interested in farming in the northeast specifically because it is such a harsh climate and their is such a rich history of small agricultural communities here. So if I wanted to do that I was gonna’ have to come in in the winter no matter where I went. There wasn’t going to be anything growing for a while, but there was the growing season to look forward to. And really in the sense of the agricultural calendar, it really kinda’ makes the most sense because you do get to see then the whole process from start to finish. It’s a lot harder to come in, like, in August … you didn’t get to see any of the planning, transplanting, cultivation, that actually went into the crops. So I think of the year and the flow of the year and that a farmer’s December/January is actually a calm time to start something new, and prepare for a very busy season. So it was the middle of the school year, but it was the beginning of the agricultural year. It made sense. And as soon as the Spring Semester ended and the IFP rolled around that was then my focus for a few months, every day, and since then I’ve spent a lot of time on the farm, because I’m the Livestock Work Advisor. So now I feel like the farm is a big part of my time at school.
What advice would you offer to folks entering in the Spring Semester?
For me, every winter, the best thing that I can do to stay content is to get outside … especially in a place like this.
And with all the opportunities that you’re given to ski and run and just hang out and have snowball fights, you should make an effort to get outside …
‘cause there’s not gonna’ be a bunch of new friends in your room, but here’s gonna’ be lots of friends outside! So go outside, get some exercise, get some vitamin D, and go and find them. Play with someone’s dog … those are the things you should do until the snow melts.
photos by Meryl Friets