photos by Kezia Bacon-Bernstein

Looking for a fun outdoor excursion to enjoy with your family? Head over to Holly Hill Farm in Cohasset, where you can visit for free, any time during the day.

The setting, with rustic barns and assorted antique farm equipment, will interest young and old. While you’re there, see what’s for sale at the farm stand, and meet the animals that live on the premises – hens and roosters, rabbits, goats, a horse and a pony. Wander through the education garden, and find out what students and workshop attendees have planted. If you’re lucky, you‘ll see the farm consultants, Ben and Hannah Wolbach, in action. On a recent visit, my son and I watched Ben plow a field with a large tractor (Major excitement for a 4-year old)! There are several different walking trails too, up to a mile in length.

Located at 236 Jerusalem Road, Holly Hill Farm has been in the White family for five generations. In 2000, its most recent residents, Jean and the late Frank White, launched a commercial organic farming venture there. The property itself comprises 140 acres. Ten acres of that is open fields, and right now there are five acres in production. That’s a lot of land for an operation that employs only a handful of people!

The land, which is surrounded by an additional 120 acres of salt marsh and conservation woodland, has been farmed since the early 17th century. Incarnations over the years have included homestead, summer residence, saw mill, and truck farm, among others. Two post and beam barns on the property date back to 1785. There is also a classic pole beam barn, built in the Civil War era. Today there are also a few small, more modern greenhouses – one of which was donated by Annie’s, the famous purveyor of mac & cheese.

Holly Hill now grows over 75 varieties of organic vegetables, herbs and flowers, and sells eggs produced by its resident chickens. There are annual plant sales in the spring — there were 15,000 plants for sale this year — and from June through the end of the harvest, the farm stand, located in a 19th century barn near the entrance of the property, is open on Saturdays and Sundays from 11-6.

Frank White, who grew up at Holly Hill, spent his life as an educator. When he returned to his family’s land in 2000, his goal was to develop the farm so that it could promote sustainable agricultural practices, serve as an environmental resource, and provide educational programs for local schools and the larger community. Frank passed away in 2009, but his legacy lives on.

The Friends of Holly Hill Farm, Inc., established in 2002, is a non-profit educational organization that is dedicated to making the farm’s resources available to the South Shore Community. The Friends offer programs for adults and children, including lectures, movies, workshops, field trips, and summer programs. Part of the group’s mission is to teach how organically grown food is important for our own health, as well as the health of the environment.

Holly Hill has quickly become one of the South Shore’s leading sources of farm-based programs for school children. Education Director Jon Belber, a former classroom teacher and last year’s winner of the Farm-Based Education Association’s Teacher Farmer of the Year award, has been developing and expanding the farm’s education programs for several years now. He co-authored, “A Growing Relationship,” a curriculum guide, with Frank White, which integrates hands-on farm projects with a classroom-based science curriculum.

Belber wants people to know that a local farm can be a great learning spot. “The fields are our classroom,” he says. Many area schools have sponsored 2-hour field trips to Holly Hill, during which the children enjoy a number of hands-on experiences — tasting foods, digging compost, and learning and seeing how things grow in the farm garden. The programs are an excellent way to help children develop a real-world understanding of basic science.

Belber now works closely with several area schools. For example, under his tutelage, fourth graders from Marshfield’s South River Elementary, along with their teachers Bruce Frost and Jeff Dunn, constructed six raised beds at their school, in which they established a garden, planting garlic in the fall and spinach and peas in the spring. Students from the South Shore Charter School in Norwell have made weekly visits to Holly Hill Farm throughout much of the academic year. Over the course of the 20-week program (fall and spring), they have turned the earth, planted and harvested crops, saved seeds, and made compost – plus learned about crop rotation and natural fertilization methods. All of the Cohasset public schools and most of those in Scituate have participated in farm-based programs too.

This summer, Holly Hill Farm will offer programs for children ages 3-16. Participants will learn about growing healthy organic food and have fun outdoors, doing farm chores like planting seeds, caring for plants, making compost, caring for animals. Plus, they will use food grown on the farm to prepare a meal.

For adults, there will be a film series and the ever-popular workshops; past topics have included: Growing Great Tomatoes Organically, Organic Landscaping and Lawn Care, Cooking a Harvest Meal, Cutting and Arranging Flowers, and Making Compost. Private farm tours – for groups such as garden clubs and scout troops – easily can be arranged.

For more information about Holly Hill Farm, call 781-383-6565, or visit www.hollyhillfarm.org.

By Kezia Bacon-Bernstein, Correspondent
May 2010

Kezia Bacon-Bernstein’s articles appear courtesy of the North and South Rivers Watershed Association, a local non-profit organization devoted to the preservation, restoration, maintenance and conservation of the North and South Rivers and their watershed. For membership information and a copy of their latest newsletter, contact NSRWA at (781) 659-8168 or visit www.nsrwa.org. To browse 13 years of Nature (Human and Otherwise) columns, visit http://keziabaconbernstein.blogspot.com.