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Teaching Healthy Habits

Up on the [Hotchkiss] Farm: Growing a New Kind of Education

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few rules apply when you’re wandering around the Hotchkiss Farm – still known formally as Fairfield Farms – but the most important is to close the gates behind you. The 280-acre School property off Route 41, where open meadows are dotted by clumps of white oak, hickory and maple trees, is home to some 50 head of cattle – a benign and shaggy-coated mix of Devon, Devon-cross, and Hereford and Hereford-crosses that belong to local farmer Allen Cockerline. Poised between Lakeville and Sharon, 260 acres of this gorgeously diverse blend of forest, wetlands, upland fields, and pasture were acquired by Hotchkiss in 2004, a generous partial gift from Jack Blum ’47, a former trustee, and his wife, Jeanne, who raised Black Angus cattle here for 27 years. In 2010 the School purchased the remaining 17 acres, a tract that included the Blum family’s stately, white-columned home and three sturdy outbuildings. With dramatic views of the iconic twin oaks beloved of local painters and the Taconic hills cascading north to Massachusetts, the farm is a spectacular setting for events such as the annual Prep for the Planet day, held for the third time in September 2011 and inspired by Head of School Malcolm McKenzie’s remark, several years ago, that “Prep for college is vital, but prep for the planet is a more compelling matter, a matter of survival.”

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For Hotchkiss preps, it’s an opportunity to spend a day outside picking apples, beans, and squash, digging potatoes, clearing trails, and in general experiencing a place that’s becoming a pivotal part of Hotchkiss life. “We’re getting better every year,” said Josh Hahn, assistant head of school and director of environmental initiatives. “We’re more organized. We have more crops, so the diversity of the produce is better. And these kids are discovering where their food comes from, how it’s processed, and where it goes. ” “I think today, especially, it’s really important to be able to grow food locally in an organic way,” said Maude Quinn ’15. “And I think it’s really cool to be out here and know that Hotchkiss is part of something like this.” About eight tons of potatoes were harvested from the Farm this fall, which is almost half the estimated 20 tons consumed in the Hotchkiss Dining Hall during a typical academic year. Students, faculty, and staff have been feasting on squash and fresh greens, tomatoes and an impressive variety of other vegetables planted, tended, picked, and even pickled, by members of FFEAT (Fairfield Farms Ecosystems and Adventure Team) and six hardworking farm interns. Thanks to an agreement with the School’s food service company as well as contracts with a pair of humane, FDA-approved slaughterhouses in Connecticut and Massachusetts, an estimated 600 organic free-range chickens raised on the farm will

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My hope for the farm is that everyone at Hotchkiss will be able to say that they had a part in providing the food that they eat in the dining hall.” —Maren Wilson ’14

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Teaching Healthy Habits

be cooked and eaten at Hotchkiss this year, as will meat from three grass-fed steers the School purchased from Allen Cockerline; this spring, there may even be rice from an experimental rice paddy. “My hope for the Farm is that everyone at Hotchkiss will be able to say that they had a part in providing the food that they eat in the dining hall,” said farm intern Maren Wilson ’14, in a passionate email at summer’s end. “We are a big school so it is a huge goal. But the internship program in the summer and FFEAT in the fall and spring help so much in integrating talk about the farm in classrooms and at lunch tables, and helping advertise how sustainability and organic farming are really important in the world today.”

A Destination and a Classroom eyond its increasingly visible role providing organically grown food for the School Dining Hall, the Hotchkiss Farm is also where art classes can practice plein air painting, poetry classes can find inspiration, environmental science classes can explore terrain that includes rare grassland bird habitats, and American

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history classes can reflect on the fact that this was once part of a land grant from King George III. For the past two years, the School’s human development teaching assistants have organized a nutrition seminar, and there are other courses in the works that will look at everything from genetically modified food to food-borne illnesses. When completed, farm trails will add an estimated three to five miles to the six or more that already traverse the Hotchkiss Woods, resulting in an even more welcoming nature experience/destination for students, faculty, staff, and neighboring town residents. One particular stretch of field between the big red barn and a screened gazebo that Jack Blum built for his wife has already lent itself to tented gatherings of all sorts, from an end-of-year staff and faculty retirement celebration in June to a 99.9 percent farm-grown Trustees’ dinner in September. At a faculty wedding in August, “The cows came right up and watched,” said Head of the Visual and Performing Arts Department and Instructor in Art Charlie Noyes ’78, with a laugh. “The Farm has become a part of the fabric of the School.” In the spring of 2008, it was a different story. As


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Noyes puts it, when he said farm, “no one knew where it was.” But by then Allen Cockerline, owner of Whipporwill Farm in Salisbury and a longtime purveyor of healthy, grass-fed beef, had been brought on board to help manage the property. He and Noyes were old friends, and he encouraged Noyes to get involved with planting crops. “It really was an organic process,” Cockerline explained during an educational day at the Farm held for faculty and staff last summer. “There were early discussions of what can we do? How can we grow food? Then we sank the plow into the ground and said, ‘All right, let’s do it!’ ” Enlisting the initially reluctant help of the School’s climbing club, a co-curricular activity he coached at the time, Noyes took them out to the Farm to plant squash, pumpkins, beans, and potatoes, all crops that are simple to grow. At the same time, he sat down and wrote a proposal for a new co-curricular activity – the Fairfield Farms Ecosystems and Adventure Team, or FFEAT. The following fall he and the kids who had signed up for FFEAT spent days cleaning out the Farm’s barn, since its concrete floor made it ideal for storing potatoes and apples in what they hoped, erroneously it turned out, would be a rat-proof root cellar of sorts. Deer had already decimated the beans and pumpkins. And when it came time to harvest the potatoes, Noyes sent three girls out to check how they looked. “Yeah, yeah, you already showed us where they are,” they assured him, and off they went, only to come back empty-handed. “They couldn’t find the potatoes,” Noyes remembered, laughing. “So we all trundled back out to the field – and this was a teaching moment, because the vines had withered at that point, and because we don’t use fertilizer or weed killer, it just looked like a weedy field. I said to them, ‘If you stand here, you can see there’s kind of a row,’ and they said, ‘Oh, yeah.’ And they started to dig, and they pulled up a potato, and you’d think they’d found gold, they were so happy.” He laughed again. “They all started digging and they were filling the bottoms of their T-shirts with dirty potatoes. When I asked them what they were doing, they said, ‘We’re gonna eat them! We’ll bring them back to the dorm and have a feed!’ ” The excitement of that moment was as unexpected as the realization that the students didn’t know potatoes grew in the ground; admittedly, plenty of city-bred adults don’t know, either. It’s only in the last decade that the organic and locavore farming movement has

gained momentum, fueled by ‘slow-food’ gurus such as Alice Waters, who spoke at the School in 2009, and The Omnivore’s Dilemma author Michael Pollan, who has a house in nearby Cornwall. The knowledge disconnect between the process of growing food and the consumers who buy it has narrowed considerably; even Wal-Mart sells organic, locally grown produce these days. In the three years since FFEAT was founded, student awareness of where their food comes from has similarly grown in leaps and bounds – as has the School’s use of Fairfield Farms. “We now have five acres under tillage and we could expand easily and double that. That’s a lot of food,” said Noyes. “This year we’ve partnered with Sodexo, our food services company, to streamline the farm-to-table process, so we’re getting homegrown food to the School more efficiently. That means most of it is going to the Dining Hall – so kids are eating what kids grow.”

A Homecoming of Sorts here’s definite synchronicity in the fact that the house Hotchkiss acquired in 2010 was built in 1905 by Albert B. Landon, the husband of Carrie Bissell, who was Maria Hotchkiss’s aunt. In the 1700s, the land surrounding it was the core of a 7,000-acre tract deeded by King George to Captain James Landon, who in turn conveyed 170 acres of what became known as Tory Hill to the Bissell family. (A loyalist, Landon lost everything in the Revolution.) Both Maria Harrison Bissell Hotchkiss and her brother Charles H. Bissell, a future School trustee, were born in a house on

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Opposite: Students enjoy some downtime at the farm, attracting mild interest from resident cows. Top: Charlie Noyes ’78 gives instruction to members of FFEAT (Fairfield Farms Ecosystems and Adventure Team). Above: Erin Markey ’11 shows off an example of the farm’s robust crop.

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Teaching Healthy Habits

Above: Members of the prep class harvest potatoes at the annual Prep for the Planet Day in September.

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Tory Hill Farm, also known as Home Farm. Before her death in New York City in 1901, Maria visited Charles frequently, and her funeral service was held there and was “largely attended,” according to records, “the faculty and students of the Hotchkiss School being present in a body.” When Charles Bissell died, his will included the wish that his “farm of land with the buildings thereon, containing one hundred and seventy-five acres, more or less, on Tory Hill, in said Town of Salisbury” to the Maria H. Hotchkiss School Association “to create in said school an Agricultural Course or Department where, under scientific direction, the various branches of farming or dairying, fruit culture or other kindred agricultural subjects can be both practically and scientifically taught.” The Blums, too, were avidly committed to conserving the land – and Jack Blum, as a former commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Agriculture, hoped that Hotchkiss students would “work and study on the farm and become educated, engaged, and passionate stewards of the environment.” It’s finally happening. For the past two years Hotchkiss has sponsored summer farm internships, and Kurt Hinck ’08, now a sophomore at Gettysburg College, and lower-mid Maren Wilson ’14, are veterans of both summers. For Wilson, who arrived not knowing what to expect, it’s been an opportunity to master skills like weeding, seeding, harvesting, and tending fruit trees;

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even welding portable chicken coops and raising the birds – a breed known as Kosher Kings – in “the most healthy and organic way possible.” Hinck, who was comanager this year, had worked on a farm in Millbrook every summer since his lower-mid year and volunteered for the Farm’s first spring planting as a senior in 2008. He’s still amazed by the progress that’s been made. “Just that little five-acre plot, we buried them in squash last year. We had too much. The potential is awesome.” This summer the program was expanded from three to five days a week, and Wilson said she “smiled all the way home” because of the enormous tasks accomplished by the group, which also included Tavo True-Alcala ’11, Sandie Knuth ’10, and Nancy Palmer ’11. Supervising them was Serena Whitridge, a Millbrook School (“I’m a traitor, sorry!”) and University of Vermont graduate who worked at Growing Power, a nonprofit urban farming organization in Milwaukee before coming to Hotchkiss. “It’s exciting seeing the potential of what it is now and then dreaming of the future, of how much more food can be produced,” she said, noting that one of their more ambitious projects is building hoop houses – portable, passive solar greenhouses that extend the growing season by allowing winter planting. They also help boost soil fertility: the Farm’s Stockbridge clay loam, while a “great grassland soil,” can be tricky in wet years with crops, “corn, soybeans, that kind of stuff,” according to Allen Cockerline, who works closely with students. The kind of tender-hearted farmer who takes care to ensure his cattle lead idyllic lives with ends that are as swift and humane as possible (the three steers he sold Hotchkiss were sent to a slaughter-house that runs on principles established by animal advocate Temple Grandin), not long ago he took a group of faculty and staff on a tractor tour up a narrow grassy road and down to a small, experimental rice paddy, where a Japanese variety already successful in Vermont was planted last spring. “Who would have thought we’d be growing rice?” he asked, with a grin. “But it’s credible. It’s viable. And we’re doing it.”

Modeling Self-Reliance arther up on Farm property there’s a beaver swamp where Charlie Noyes hopes to put in observation decks. There are trails that need to be built, marked with signage, and maintained. New crops are being planned (this year, the Farm grew black beans for the first time) along with new and larger storage areas to hold the pro-

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duce that’s harvested next year. There’s already an emphasis on food justice, with the Farm participating in local food banks and similar outreach, including educational displays right in the Dining Hall. “A lot of my kids are saying, ‘OK, this is all well and good, but what about the people who can’t afford organic?’ ” explained Noyes, who sees the Farm’s potential for integration into the life of the School as limitless. “One of Josh Hahn’s missions as environmental coordinator is to weave in curricular elements – not just environmental studies and science courses, but also the arts, languages, math. Every program, whether co-curricular or curricular, will be built on the four R’s: responsibility, relationship, relevance – which is absolutely essential – and rigor.” In September, after a morning of hard but exhilarating work for Prep for the Planet day, the prep class was treated to a farm-to-table lunch prepared by Andy Cox, the new manager of the School’s dining services. A far cry from the packed sandwiches of yore, there in the Farm’s red barn, not far from where the latest batch of fast-growing Kosher King chicks peeped contently under warm lights, a long table was covered in chafing

dishes whose enticingly labeled contents included “tossed salad with tomatoes from the Hotchkiss Farm”; “herb roasted potatoes with potatoes and rosemary from the Hotchkiss Farm”; “braised greens with collard and kale from the Hotchkiss Farm”, and braised barbecue brisket from Alan Cockerline’s grass-fed cows. Even the fresh cider was pressed by the kids from apples they’d picked that morning. “It was a great experience,” said Serena Sommerfield ’15, seated contentedly on a hay bale near classmates Gloria Odoemelam, Kahiya McDaniels, and Maude Quinn. It’s only the first of many. “Our focus is on how these kids can create their own futures,” points out Josh Hahn. “Producing energy with the new biomass plant, building soil and sequestering carbon, and growing food – this is all part of the creative, regenerative, entrepreneurial, problem-solving mindset. The Farm builds context for the content we teach in the classroom. Even if we only produce enough tomatoes for a month or half the potatoes we consume all year, we’re modeling not just being consumers, we’re modeling self-reliance. And that’s really the thrust of each and every environmental initiative the School promotes.”

Below: Students work at Prep for the Planet Day, before sitting down to a hearty farm-to-table lunch, with food from Fairfield Farms.

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Teaching Healthy Habits

The Dining Services’ Andy Cox: A Passionate ‘Farm to Table’ Chef

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ast summer, as Andrew Cox prepped his family’s move from Boston to the Lakeville area, he realized there’d be a few adjustments to country life – like, the lack of mail delivery in his new town of Copake, NY. All things considered, however, the 33-year-old chef was ready to escape the urban jungle and spread out in a landscape primed for his dream project: building out a local food system. Cox, who hails from New Haven, came of age as a cook at the beginning of a national culinary awakening, just as socially-conscious consumers began to press for more sustainably- and humanely-sourced whole foods at their favorite groceries and restaurants. He’s staffed stands at farmers’ markets and worked the soil beneath his ingredients. The food he serves his own family comes from small growers who eschew hormones and antibiotics, pesticides and fossil fuel-based fertilizers. Cox put in stints for chefs who shared his beliefs in Oregon, Chicago and Boston. Then he joined the ranks of corporate food service, where he has helped improve sustainability practices at Sodexo in particular. Cox recently left his post as Sodexo’s executive chef at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, where he served locally-sourced repasts to the likes of Condoleeza Rice and Al Gore, to take

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over as Sodexo’s general manager of Hotchkiss Dining Services. Cox says the School’s farm was a big lure to Lakeville. But his rapport with Josh Hahn, director of environmental initiatives, and John Tuke, chief financial officer, was equally important. “I could see we were all on the same page in terms of achieving more sustainability,” says Cox. “We all see eye-to-eye on the challenges we have, but also the opportunity to really be a leader in the industry.” What will the 21st-century dining hall look like? Here, Cox expands on his philosophy and plans to innovate in Lakeville.

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You’ll have to tell me how a former physics major at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute ended up in culinary school.

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I studied physics for more than a year, but then I switched majors several times. Eventually my parents suggested a leave of absence. I moved to Chicago and did some telecoms engineering. A friend came for the summer, and since I got out of my union job early every day we wound up cooking dinner every night. Before she went back to the East Coast she put me on the mailing list of every culinary school in the city. I got laid off after 9/11, but they gave me re-training money. I ended up enrolling at Kendall College.

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The farm manager and I want to grow all the food that we need and we’re looking at those costs now. We might succeed with potatoes by next year.” —Andrew Cox

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You must have done some cooking as a kid.

I actually became a vegetarian in college and wound up having to cook for myself a lot since my fraternity was not very vegetable-friendly.

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Do you eat meat now?

Yes. I gave it up for four years because I was morally-opposed, not to killing animals but to eating the highly-processed commodity meat that’s everywhere in our society. The first time I ate meat again, a friend had gone deer hunting. I thought that I might as well start back up with the real stuff. We did a rack of venison with a cherry and pinot-noir reduction.

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You eventually landed at Blue Ginger, the Boston-area restaurant owned by celebrity chef Ming Tsai. But your formative education in seasonal cooking came much earlier? Below: Chef Cox makes an afternoon visit to the Farm and gets some just-picked produce from a student.

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Yes, while I was at culinary school I went to intern for a Kendall alumnus who had a farm-to-table restaurant in Ashland, Oregon. The menu changed every day based on which growers showed up at the back door. I

visited a lot of farms, and I volunteered at one that did a lot of our greens.

Q How did that influence your outlook as a chef? A When I went back to Chicago I was only willing to work in restaurants that served local food. There were basically only three at the time; I just bothered the chefs till I got a job. I ended up at a very refined restaurant with a chalkboard that listed every ingredient and what farm it was from. The chef quizzed the waiters constantly on the sourcing — he was that passionate about making sure people knew where the food came from. Even after I moved into corporate food service, that philosophy was still what influenced me the most. I’ve tried to take advantage of every opportunity to push people toward using local food and reducing waste. Q A

Why is local food better?

You can’t know what’s happening on a farm halfway around the world, and it’s pretty easy to green-wash with certain labels. With local food you can find out what farmers are putting into the soil – if it involves pesticides, petrochemical fertilizers, insecticides. You can learn what they’re doing with their water management. You can find out if they’re paying their workers a living wage. Your food is going to be healthier, you’ll know if it’s better for the environment, and you’ll respect it a lot more. You’ll know you’re helping to stimulate the local economy and developing community.

Q I understand Hotchkiss just bid out its food-service contract for the first time in more than a decade, and though the School decided to continue working with its previous contractor, Sodexo, you were an important part of the winning package, along with a set of sustainability standards that the company wants to implement. A The program is called A Better Tomorrow, and it has 14 metrics that we work toward. Some of them are measurable, that we’ll look at quarterly or annually. Local purchasing, energy reduction, and health and wellness all factor in. A You didn’t come in thinking that feeding kids healthier food would be easy, did you? My wife reminded me that she’d gone to a prep school, and everybody hated the food. She said, ‘The kids are gonna hate the food no matter what you do.’ I

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Left: In the School’s pastry kitchen, Cox shows some garlic twist rolls for the evening’s dinner. Purchasing from local growers, energy reduction, and health and wellness are among the dining services’ sustainability standards.

guess there’s only room for improvement; that’s how I see it. I hated brussels sprouts growing up, until I learned to cook them properly. I think Hotchkiss kids would eat beef tongue if it’s cooked well. Q So where do you start?

A My first focus is on cooking real food well, from scratch. There’s stuff we’re serving that I myself wouldn’t eat, like frozen strawberries in syrup. We have a full bakery and a Culinary Institute of America-trained baker, but we’re buying pre-made scones and throwing them into the oven. Items like those need to be looked at across the board. We’ve done away with large, sauceladen portions of meat at lunch. We’re trying to stick to lighter sandwiches. We started offering an organic oatmeal bar every morning with various toppings. Do we still serve Cap’n Crunch cereal? Yes. But the oatmeal bar has been really well received. You just can’t take away all the fat and sugar at once. Q How do you ramp up the locally-sourced offerings? A

We have some now from Connecticut and Massachusetts, but I’ll be working on getting even more into our system. There are a lot of factors involved; it’s complicated from the standpoints of food safety and pricing, as well as transportation. Mainly I’m trying to figure out things like, how many carrots do we go through in a year? Can we grow them here at the Hotchkiss farm, harvest them at their peak, process and then store them for use them all year-round?

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Wow. How much Hotchkiss-sourced food are we talking about?

A The farm manager and I want to grow all the food that we need, and we’re looking at those costs now. We might succeed with potatoes by next year. If we can grow 18 tons of potatoes, that’ll save us money. My long-term goal is to put a processing plant-slash-kitchen on the farm. Q A

What about meat?

There’s a lot of red tape there, and I’m trying to break through that now. In the case of our beef, it’s basically all commodity. It’s full of hormones and antibiotics. Can we afford to switch all our beef to grass-fed right now? No. But when we start saving money in other areas, including energy and waste, that will help. I’ve just set up an arrangement with a slaughterhouse in Massachusetts so that we can raise our own cattle, slaughter and serve it. It turns out there’s even a local farming family with a stu-

dent at Hotchkiss who has a number of steer, and they’re willing to sell to us. First I have to set up processes to be sure everything meets USDA regulations and Sodexo product-quality assurance.

Q You mentioned energy savings. What kind of shape did you find the kitchen in? A

Oh, man. The bakery has lights that are on 24 hours a day, because nobody knows where the light switch is. I’ll walk by storerooms with lights on when nobody’s there. I think we could install motion sensors there for savings. We also have seven walk-in refrigerators, four reach-ins, and three walk-in freezers; it’s too much. We use one refrigerator just to store oil that gets used on one of the buses. It doesn’t need to be refrigerated! I’ve already talked to the mechanic and he’s going to just start taking these containers. We’re paying for water and energy where we don’t need to be.

Q Are you starting to hear about some of your changes from students? A

I’ve gotten some comments about the fact that we don’t have dessert every night any more. But we have fresh fruit available 24 hours a day. Malcolm asked what we could do with stuff from the farm, to highlight it there. We ended up with carrot cupcakes and a cream cheese frosting.

Q Mmm. That reminds me of a Hotchkiss tradition known as “a feed.” Have you heard of it? A Q

No.

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I’m not sure about that. But you never know.

It involves late-night gluttony. I’m guessing your influence won’t be felt there as much.

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Hotchkiss Magazine: Fairfield Farm and Food