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Message from Michèle: Farm Festival 2015–A Celebration of Our Past and Our Future

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The first chill of autumn was in the air on Saturday, but you couldn’t help but feel the warmth of the Manhattan Country School community gathered to celebrate the last Farm Festival on 96th Street. What a beautiful day it was! From the youngest MCS students and their families to alumni from the first graduating classes, the street was alive with activity—children dashing from food vendors to activity tables to rides and games, grown-ups taking in the savory grilled fare, perusing the book table and enjoying the musical entertainment.

Kudos to the 6-7s families for creating such a memorable event—one that brought back old favorites (the handmade crafts table) and introduced new ones (the rock-climbing wall). The task of planning Farm Festival can be daunting—even more so when it’s the last one of an era. But these families rose to the occasion, accomplishing an assignment of size and scale unthinkable in a lot of other schools with grace, imagination and spirit. Their approach was reflective of MCS’ values of appreciating differences and working toward a common goal. The result was a seemingly flawless event that truly captured the vibrancy and energy of MCS today.

I often say MCS is a community of hands. This is evident in the number of parent volunteers—from families who’ve only been in the 4-5s for a few weeks to Gloria Brown, Lois Gelernt and other founding families—who rallied to the 6-7s’ leadership. This community also includes former parents, former staff, grandparents and friends who showed up in support on Saturday. All contributed to making the day a success.

Farm Festival began 48 years ago—the idea of a group of parents to raise money for the school by holding a farm-themed gathering in the Courtyard. The hay jump—no more than a ladder and a few bales of hay—was a featured attraction. And there were games, musicians and a spinning wheel where you could learn to turn raw wool into yarn, just as the children learn to do at the Farm. The Courtyard doors were open and a few curious neighbors were invited in. 

Who could have imagined at the time that this simple party would evolve into a block-long fete? Over the decades it’s become a homecoming for alumni and their families, who were there in record numbers this year. As I walked along 96th Street, I was stopped by many who wanted to share stories of what MCS means to them. It is always gratifying to see the impact our school has had on them and the impact they are now having on the world.

For many alumni, attending MCS was possible because of our sliding-scale tuition program, which is based on the principle that a family’s financial commitment should be in equitable proportion to its financial resources. Collective fundraising through events like Farm Festival helps to underwrite this approach to tuition. In addition to food, activity and raffle ticket sales and purchases at the farm stand, book and dvd table, and hademade crafts table, funds are raised from the Farm Festival Online Auction. This year’s auction closes at 10 p.m. on Wednesday, October 28. I encourage you to explore the rich selection of auction items and experiences.

Farm Festival is not only a community and fundraising event, it continues to be one of our biggest recruitment tools. Many families have come to MCS because they stumbled across our street fair. Experiencing the feeling of community—and witnessing the diversity within our community—they were compelled to learn more and ultimately chose MCS as their school home. A woman passing by our building Friday afternoon with her young daughter witnessed the flurry of pre-event activity and inquired about what was going on. She returned the next day with her little one—who had a grand time shaking her maracas to La Tribu del Juey Sambuco (Sambuco Tribe). Perhaps she will be one of the new 4-5s joining the MCS community next year.

I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge our neighbors and the Upper East Side and East Harlem/El Barrio communities. Not only have they supported our once-a-year street fair, we have worked and grown together in so many ways. What a thrill it was to learn that a woman who attended our first Farm Festival in 1967 as a three-year-old now lives down the street from MCS and was there on Saturday to say farewell. We don’t take these long-term relationships for granted.

2016 is a big year for MCS—our 50th anniversary. We will move into a new home on the Upper West Side and we will bring Farm Festival with us. A new neighborhood and community present some unknowns for the future of Farm Festival, but we do know the event will have the same spirit and MCS will continue to hold the same values.

Thank you to everyone who played a role in a remarkable final Farm Festival on 96th Street. We look forward to celebrating with everyone again next year.