The Commons
Photo 1

Allison Teague/The Commons

Teenage students turn apples to cider in the Kurn Hattin cider shed, under the supervision of Farm Manager Patrick Barry, seated, and Tom Fontaine, the school's science teacher.

Food and Drink

Cidermaking classroom

For Kurn Hattin students, it’s more than about pressing the apples
Photo 2

Allison Teague/The Commons

The final filtered cider fills one of the record 12 jugs that the students manufactured on this day.

Originally published in The Commons issue #172 (Wednesday, October 3, 2012).

WESTMINSTER—On this mid-September day, the morning’s tart coolness is burning off and long sleeves are no longer required. The Kurn Hattin campus is quiet for the moment as farm manager Patrick Barry, a.k.a. “Mr. Pat,” picks fresh flowers for lunchroom tables and administrative offices.

Dressed in farmer blues, he is smiling and emanates a calm common in people who work the land for a living.

Barry, a graduate of the University of Maine Landscape and Agriculture program, is a first-generation farmer and also works two other farming-related jobs as well as managing the farm program at the school.

The school, established in 1894, is a charitable residential school for students ages 6 to 15 who have been affected by tragedy, social or economic hardship, or other disruption in family life. Its 280-acre campus sits on a hillside overlooking the Connecticut River Valley.

Kurn Hattin was always a farm school from the late 1800s, and more recently, Christopher Barry — Patrick Barry’s father, who recently retired as executive director — made efforts to expand and incorporate the farm program into the curriculum.

“Children are natural investigators; they learn by asking questions. Tactile exploration and observation are two valuable skills in understanding and making sense out of what they see,” Christopher Berry believed.

The tactile exploration of farming has been part of the school’s mission for years.

“The children in the 1890s worked and lived here and went to public school,” Acting Executive Director Connie Sanderson says. The school originally raised pigs, thus the name “Piggery Road” — the road that connects the campus to Route 5.

“They also grew the crops that fed the children and staff,” Sanderson says.

“Over the years, it developed into a very large dairy farm until about 1992-93,” she continues. “[It was] was a very traditional New England dairy farm. The herd [was sold off] and was switched over to sheep, chickens, and into the evolution we have today.”

“When [Christopher Barry] took over as executive director in 1995, he developed what is now an outdoor classroom with hands-on learning growing food, delivering it to kitchen, cooking and learning about organic farming, as well as in classroom,” Sanderson explains. “The kids learn about what it takes to put food on the table.”

Now, “Mr. Pat” Barry says the process of sowing the seeds, transplanting, weeding, caring for and watching the plants as they mature and bear fruit, then harvesting and eating the food they have grown, gives the kids “a sense of accomplishment and empowerment.”

And “being able to grow things” means none of these kids will ever go hungry again, he says.

Teamwork and cooperation

Barry waits for science teacher Tom Fontaine to bring the 13-year-olds down to make cider, a group of students who have a bit more experience with the task than the others.

Fontaine notes that Barry teaches revolving labs that are extensions of the farm program, including preparing grafts for the fruit trees.

“They learn how food is grown in all its aspects,” he says. “Then they learn how it tastes. Pat has a real rapport with the kids.”

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