Cheryl Bowen-DiTommaso of Dalby Farm introduces students from Marshfield’s Pudding Hill Preschool to Stella the chicken. Photo by Kezia Bacon-Bernstein.

This past spring, I accompanied my son’s preschool class on a field trip to Dalby Farm in Scituate. We enjoyed a tour of the premises, meeting all of the animals that reside there – goats, sheep, rabbits and swine, plus chickens, roosters, geese and ducks, and even a pair of peacocks! We learned about the eggs, wool, and other products of the farm, and got to touch and smell various kinds of animal feed. The kids each had an opportunity to pet Stella the chicken, whose feathers were surprisingly soft. We also learned about the importance of recycling and composting.

There are a number of farms on the South Shore that welcome visitors. Many also offer classes and workshops for adults and children, as well as other opportunities for hands-on learning about agriculture, science, ecology, history, and plenty more. Recent columns have highlighted Holly Hill Farm in Cohasset and Weir River Farm in Hingham; you can read them in my nature column blog at http://keziabaconbernstein.blogspot.com. In the meantime, let’s learn about a few more.

Located at 59 Grove Street in Scituate, Dalby Farm was founded in the mid-1800s. Originally a chicken farm that sold eggs to local merchants, it now focuses on rare and heirloom breeds of poultry and livestock. A satellite of the Plimoth Plantation Rare Breeds Department, and a member of the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, Dalby is actively involved in teaching awareness of animals and nature. It is open to the public from May through October, ideal for field trips, birthday parties, and small group visits. The material is tailored to fit the age of the group. The farm also runs seasonal events such as Spring Hatch Eggs-travaganza, Rare Breeds Discovery Program, The Dalby Farm Experience Summer Program, and the Country Christmas Fair. For more information, visit www.dalbyfarm.com or call 781-545-4952.

Another education-based farm is the Soule Homestead at 46 Soule Street in Middleboro, where the primary focus is “teaching children about the web of life.” Part of Soule Homestead’s mission is to show people where their food comes from and to promote sustainable agricultural practices. The farm has large fields for crops and grazing, which makes it scenic as well as educational. Many visitors go there just to enjoy the open space. George Soule, a Pilgrim, began farming this parcel in 1662, when he purchased it from the Wampanoag tribe. In 1988, the Town Of Middleboro bought the 120-acre property, intent on saving it from development and maintaining it for agricultural use. In 1993 a group of citizens began leasing it from the town to use as an organic farm and education center.

Now the Soule Homestead is open to the public, Tuesday through Sunday from 9-5, with free admission. It offers a variety of programs for hands-on learning, including school field trips and vacation programs, children’s birthday parties and adult workshops. While there, you might meet the animals, spin wool or make butter, learn to identify different parts of a plant, experiment with centuries-old farm tools, or study how farming and the landscape have changed over the years. Plus there are several annual events such as Sheep Day, a summer concert series, The Harvest Fair, and the Unscary Halloween Party. For more information, visit www.soulehomestead.org or call (508) 947-6744.

I was surprised to learn that the Plymouth County Sheriff’s Department runs its own farm, in Plymouth. Located on Obery Street, near the new courthouse, the farm’s summer hours are 9 am to 5 pm, seven days a week (After Labor Day, it closes at 3 pm). The Sheriff’s Farm features a free petting zoo, with cows, chickens, goats, sheep, pigs and even a tortoise! The farm staff is made up of six correction officers who are also trained horticulturalists; these officers supervise an inmate crew who raise plants and care for the animals on the 90-acre farm. The hard daily work that the farm requires serves as rehabilitation for the inmates. The farm also hosts a Harvest Festival in the fall, and sells Christmas trees and other holiday décor in December. For more information, visit http://www.pcsdma.org/Farm_And_Petting_Zoo.asp.

One of the most important things you can learn while visiting these farms is the concept of sustainability. Especially since the end of World War II, agriculture in the United States has changed dramatically. While productivity has soared, so have the use of chemicals and practices that ultimately harm not just the soil, but the people and animals that live nearby. This affects not only the farm itself, but the surrounding lands, as well as the rivers, streams and other bodies of water downstream.

However, farms that employ sustainable practices strive to protect and enhance the land. While growing crops or raising livestock, these farms make use of on-site resources wherever possible, and limit the use of non-renewable resources. Some common methods include rotating crops, recycling crop waste, treating and composting manure, replenishing the soil without chemicals, and avoiding excess tillage and poorly managed irrigation. These practices not only sustain the economic viability of the farm, they improve the quality of life for the farm’s workers, as well as the flora and fauna both on and downstream of the farm.

By Kezia Bacon-Bernstein
June 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.