Alumni Profiles

When Every Day is a Field Day
An alumnus learns the attractions of patience and the simple life

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Patrick Connors '00 knows how to milk a cow, fix a tractor, split wood and mend a fence. He can also clean up a patch of weeds in short order. "I love looking down a 400-foot bed of carrots when it's weedy," he says, "and then looking at it again a couple of hours later and it's clean and beautiful." This is the work he loves—simple, meaningful labor that produces immediate satisfaction. And he gets paid to do it all year long as director of the Farm School in Athol, Mass.

Connors always had a hunch that he'd like farming. He grew up helping in his family's vegetable garden, and his first job, when he was 12, was at a nearby farm picking beans. At UNH he studied English and history and then worked as a reporter in Maine, where he wound up covering dairy-farming issues. But before long, he realized he'd rather be wielding a pitchfork than a pen.

When Connors heard about the Farm School, he spent a year as a student in their Practical Farm Training Program for adults. A few years later, after a stint in California, Connors returned to the farm. He became assistant director and then took over the running of the school, which hosts programs for children throughout the year as well as the year-long adult training program.

When Connors describes what he loves most about his job, it always comes back to the work itself. "It's one of the few places I've ever seen where adults and children work alongside each other as equals to get a job done," he says. "I've never seen a place where it's as real as it is here." The work is hard and the tasks of the day are dictated by whatever needs to be done to keep the farm running. Feeding pigs, milking cows, gathering eggs, mending fences, splitting wood, maple sugaring, felling small trees—depending on the season, it's all part of the curriculum.

And it's work that makes an impact. "You have no choice but to be totally engaged when you're working with a 2,000-pound animal that needs to be milked," says Connors. Or maybe you're splitting a piece of wood with a hammer and a wedge. "It's loud and it's powerful and there's a fun result," says Connors, who notes that some of the kids who struggle in the classroom really shine at the farm. "It can be a wonderful place for kids who learn in a different way."

The adult program, the only one of its kind in the country, gives about a dozen students a year a jumpstart on the farming life. Some are midlife career changers, including doctors, lawyers and computer programmers. Others come right after graduating from college or even high school. "Farming used to be an art, passed down from generation to generation," says Connors. "Our training program tries to recreate this model."

In a year, students get a taste of everything. "When you leave," says Connors, "you at least have clear expectations as to what it takes to run a farm. Plus, you have a ton of skills and enough confidence to know that you could do it. But it takes a lifetime to hone these skills." Which is precisely what Connors plans to do here at the Farm School, on a piece of land that has taught him not only how to farm, but something about how to live—simply and with patience, sharing with others the satisfaction of work well done.

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