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The Big Red Farm: Nature’s Classroom

By Christabelle Sutter ‘23

As I was holding a bowl of freshly-picked raspberries from Lawrenceville’s Big Red Farm, I was looking at two things. The light scratches on my arms and hands from the spiky berry bush and the ruby red raspberries that burst with flavor. It was a raspberry bush’s gift to me after hours weeding and tending to it. It was like I’ve never tasted a real raspberry before. I couldn’t help but have so much pride, happiness, and excitement from holding a hand-picked fruit. That’s what happens when you farm. As the days go by you sow, plant, tend, weed, water, harvest, and finally taste, creating a satisfying loop.

There are millions of different farms, and yet every farm is filled with its own special history and spirit. In this little speck of Lawrenceville, New Jersey, I get to be part of an ongoing tradition that adds so much to the life of the School’s campus. Contributing to a collective effort that feeds the community couldn’t be more transformative and rewarding. Every trip to the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen makes a difference, and Lawrenceville’s Farm can literally change lives. With that inspiration, it is easy to spring out of bed at the crack of dawn.

The Big Red Farm: Nature’s Classroom

Just as every farm in the world is unique, so is every farmer, and the Big Red Farm has the most dynamic and wonderful farmers of all. Over the entire span of three months we interns worked on the Farm, and there wasn’t a question for which [Farm manager] Mr. MacDonald, who told us to call him Ian, didn’t have a ready answer, an illustrative example, and a memorable anecdote. With an encyclopedic knowledge of the land and animals, and a bunch of cool stories, every time I go to the Farm I learn something new. An apple tree to farmer Al Veltri is like a canvas to Picasso; he is an artist with a pair of pruning shears and we were his apprentices. If you're coming on time at 7 a.m., you can count on spotting Dr. [Steve] Laubach [director of sustainability and science teacher] waving hello and moving surprisingly fast on his bicycle. You can also count on hearing some advice on how to cook okra or prepare chard, two of his favorites. If Ian and Dr. Laubach are the team coaches, then you can think of [science teacher] “Doc” [Danny] Concepción ‘02 as the Farm team captain, always keeping us on task all while laughing at new jokes. One of Doc C.’s hidden talents is his voice impression, specifically a Gandalf imitation, which he shared generously with us during long hours of planting seedlings. There was never a dull moment on the Farm.

The Big Red Farm: Nature’s Classroom

Farming is the ultimate team-up with nature, and it requires every part of you. You need a combination of stamina, perseverance, and vision. Sometimes nature does the heavy-lifting for us, like giving the Farm a good soak, but for the most part, the more care you put into a farm the better the results.

The Big Red Farm: Nature’s Classroom

When you join the Big Red Farm team, you can guarantee you're going to take the experience’s lessons home with you. Working on the Farm this summer, I felt such a connection to the land, and the past generations living on it. For over a century, a school farm has been special to Lawrentians, and it’s the best feeling to be a part of something that came before you and is going to continue after. That is why I looked down at a bowl of raspberries and heads of lettuce with such pride. I loved it!

I’ll end with some free advice to the next group of ‘varsity’ farmers: NEVER wear your new white tennis shoes. Another thing: moving sheep from paddock to paddock is harder than you think, and keep an eye out for any mischievous lambs who are eager for a quick adventure.

The Big Red Farm: Nature’s Classroom

A good sense of humor is a requirement, along with a complimentary music speaker that can be heard over Ian’s tractor. Also, try singing to the tomato plants—they're big fans of Dua Lipa. I  know it's hard, but try not to be a germaphobe, you’re going to get dirty no matter how careful. Be friendly with the local bees, but not so friendly with lanternflies, an invasive species that has been recently attacking our plants. Most of all, delight in the memories and friendships you are making—both will last a lifetime.

For additional information, please contact Lisa M. Gillard Hanson, director of Public Relations, at lgillard@lawrenceville.org.