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Manhattan Country School Acquires Second Farm in the Catskills

Friday, September 29, 2017

Additional Property Will Support Enrollment and Programmatic Growth

Lower Meeker Hollow Farm

Manhattan Country School’s presence in the Catskill Mountains is expanding. The school recently acquired a second farm just a short walk from its existing farm in Roxbury, N.Y.

The question about the impact of the MCS 2020 strategic plan on the Farm—an experience so essential to an MCS education—can now be tackled with a concrete place in mind. As MCS gradually doubles its enrollment from 200 to 400 students, several recommendations emerged from conversations with MCS Farm faculty, students and alumni, and research by a Farm Task Force that benchmarked the MCS Farm against similar programs. Preserving the intimacy created by a single class living interdependently at the Farm all week was one, especially in relation to the size of the farmhouse.

While various approaches were considered, by far the preferred option was an additional farm property nearby that could accommodate a second class. When the For Sale sign went up on a farm on Lower Meeker Hollow Road, a dream began to take shape. The property, formerly owned by the Johannsen family, features a six-bedroom, four-bath farmhouse (suitable for rentals), a barn and 36 acres of land for agricultural and nature education.

Lower Meeker Hollow Farm

“The acquisition of the Lower Meeker Hollow Farm will keep our Roxbury campus in sync with the expansion of the Manhattan Country School community,” said John McDaniel, Manhattan Country School's farm director. “A second farm will provide all MCS students the same rich, authentic farm-based experience cherished and valued by so many. The MCS Farm expansion will allow us to continue an outreach program that several New York City public and independent schools have a deep connection to and have woven into their own school cultures.”

The Lower Meeker Hollow Farm was purchased by two MCS alumni families with long-term vision who wanted to ensure the property as the school’s farm expansion site. The MCS Board of Trustees approved a five-year lease of the farm. During this time, the school will work to raise the money needed to eventually purchase and develop the property to fit our evolving programmatic needs.

An MCS Board Farm Committee, led by Gisele Shorter ’91, is working on a five-year expansion plan for both the new farm and our existing farm. The existing farm is a 180-acre property featuring a farmhouse that sleeps 24 students, a textile studio, a nature lab, a greenhouse, a barn, a recreation building, a sap house and a chicken house. At the new Lower Meeker Hollow Farm, an additional facility is needed for dormitory and programmatic space, the barn requires renovation and the land and gardens need clearing to make way for farming. Farm faculty and their city colleagues are in the process of determining the specifics of the farm program that will be offered at the new site. The Tianaderrah Foundation, operated by an MCS alumni family, has already made a major gift to MCS that will support renovations and program development at both farms.

Lower Meeker Hollow Farm

Farm-based education has been a part of MCS curriculum since 1967 and focuses on five areas: farm work, barn chores, textiles, nature and cooking. Students begin making trips to the MCS Farm in the spring of their 7-8s year (second grade). Over the course of a student’s 10-year tenure at MCS, 17 weeks are spent at the Farm. Students tend the gardens; care for chickens, cows, pigs, goats, sheep and bees; learn to weave; explore fields, mountains and streams; produce zero-mile meals; come to understand wood-fired heat and solar-powered electricity; and study traditional and contemporary life in the Catskills. In addition to offering this experience to its students, MCS gains significant income from renting the farm program to other schools.

“The new farm offers a wealth of opportunities to expand our farm curriculum,” said Michèle Solá, director of Manhattan Country School. “The smaller scale of Lower Meeker Hollow might add ducks, geese or turkeys to what has long been a program centered on chickens. A greenhouse could become the centerpiece of a farm-to-table program that includes an orchard. Different species of trees on the new site can mean walks in the woods in a new ecosystem and opportunities for woodworking. Building a second place for a class to stay could expand the opportunities to share our program and generate revenue by hosting visitors, conferences and retreats. The mission endures, our program expands and our impact on our own students and partner public schools gets even stronger.”

Even before MCS knew where its first footprint would be in the Catskills, founder Gus Trowbridge imagined what role the farm experience would play:

To children of greatly divergent racial and socioeconomic backgrounds, the Farm will provide a natural setting, enabling children better to know and respect one another by living together and by sharing the responsibilities of a highly interdependent community. In offering such a new experience to all children, the Farm will be a melding force.

That vision proved to be achievable at our first farm. It seems equally as achievable for an emerging vision and an expanding footprint with two sites that sit across the hollow from one another.