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Retreat Farm transforms into free family park

Nonprofit accelerates plans to grow food for community

To learn more about the Family Park and Community Food Project, or to sign up for Retreat Farm’s e-newsletter, visit retreatfarm.org or call 802-490-2270.

BRATTLEBORO—Instead of the familiar farm education program and large community gatherings that Retreat Farm has become known for, the farm will tackle two essential challenges of the moment — feeding families and connecting them to the land.

“This summer, we will use our lands, buildings, and animals to grow food for the community and provide opportunities to relax in nature, enjoy the peaceful presence of animals, and learn something new,” Advancement Director Wendy Ferris said in a news release.

And this summer, “We will be using Retreat Farm’s agricultural lands to grow over 6,000 pounds of field crops and raise 2,000 pounds of pastured poultry and pork to share with people in need,” Program Director Lu Neuse said.

Ferris said that the farmstead and farm animals of Retreat Farm “will be more important than ever for restoring and refreshing our community’s spirits.”

The farmstead will be transformed into what Ferris describes as “a self-guided public park to provide contemplative, educational, and invigorating experiences for people at a time when they need an outdoor place to relax and recharge.”

The park will be open, free, and “enjoyable for folks of all ages, especially young families,” she said.

Viewable from many angles, Carlos the Ox, along with the farm’s cast of goats, sheep, pigs, and chickens, will take center stage in the park as they take turns grazing on pastures around the property.

The Woodlands Interpretive Trail, along with the Retreat Trails network, will be updated with new wayfinding signs. Young families can enjoy the Storybook Walk on Little Lamb Loop with a new story every few weeks.

In Farmhouse Square, new interpretive signs will highlight the history of the Farm, along with an arts pathway inside the hall of the North Barn and outdoor sculpture.

The Family Park will open based on guidance from the state. Ferris hopes the farm will be able to open safely by Memorial Day, the weekend on which the facility has traditionally opened.

Throughout the summer, a new poetry trail and labyrinth with native wildflowers is planned, and farmland across from the Farmstead and on Upper Dummerston Road will become the home of the Community Food Project.

“We’re excited to shift gears and accelerate our long-term plan to increase regenerative food production capacity, serve families in need, and strengthen the local food system,” Neuse said.

In collaboration with Wild Carrot Farm and other local farms, Retreat Farm plans to distribute food through its Emergency Food Pantry and its “Pay What You Can” Farmstand, and through food donations to the Vermont Foodbank and Foodworks.

Because of the lockdown, existing Retreat Farm members will automatically have their membership extended by one year. Everyone who accesses the park, Retreat Farm, or the Retreat Trails network is asked to maintain strict social distancing guidelines and to wear a mask when in the presence of others.

Guidance for the park will change along with the state’s recommendations. Facilities, including bathrooms and picnic tables, will not be available at this time.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #562 (Wednesday, May 20, 2020). This story appeared on page A3.

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