The Sterling Farm
Since the college’s inception, Sterling Farm has been a prominent feature of a Sterling education. Our diversified and ecologically focused farm is a part of life here at Sterling—through academic study, the work program, and day-to-day community interactions.
Around 30% of the food eaten on campus is produced right here, and almost a quarter of the student body works on the farm, gaining hands-on experience managing crops, livestock, woodlands, and diverse power systems. Sterling’s campus food system leads the nation in our use of “Real Food.”
“Never does Nature separate the animal and vegetable worlds. This is a mistake she cannot endure, and of all the errors which modern agriculture has committed this abandonment of mixed husbandry has been the most fatal.” ― Albert Howard, The Soil and Health: A Study of Organic Agriculture
The Farm is managed as an integrated system of 5+ acres of garden, 20 + acres of pasture, and 390 + acres of forested land. In the colder months, the McCarthy Barns house hogs, sheep, steers, and laying hens. In the grass-feeding season, all of these animals can be found on pasture around the barns, including flocks of meat-birds such as broilers and turkeys. Other livestock groups associated with classes or student projects may be found at the farm in different seasons, too. The main power source on the farm for cultivation are the draft horses and oxen that are housed in the Alfond Barn. The Farm also is the home of the farrier shop and the green woodworking studio.
The aim of the Farm is three-pronged:
- to demonstrate a range of techniques used in sustainable and ecological systems;
- to provide a working laboratory for academic inquiry into farming systems;
- and, to produce food to increase campus sustainability.
Around five acres of land is managed for vegetable and fruit production. A range of systems can be seen on the farm, including intensively planted raised beds, horse cultivated extensive row cropping in rotation with cover crops, terraced alley cropping, forest gardening, and season extension in poly tunnels. We grow around 60 different annual vegetable crops, as well as perennial small fruits, nuts, apples, and other tree fruits.
Students start to learn to manage crops in the Integrated Farm Practicum their first summer at Sterling and they continue through the College Work Program. We use a range of tools—hand hoes, horse drawn implements, tractors, and everything in between—to expose students to the options and choices available to small farmers. Each year we add to our perennial plantings in conjunction with classes such as Introduction to Restoration Agriculture, Agroforestry, and Permaculture Design.
The Farm is focused on raising animals in ways that allow them to express normal behaviors, and uses natural systems as a model. Students help care for, feed and breed livestock, and manage a varied landbase at the college through coursework, such as the Integrated Farm Practicum and Animal Science. No matter their major or Work Program position, all Sterling students help care for livestock by participating in farm chores.
A unique part of the Sterling Farm is use of draft horses as the power source for cultivation and logging. The Farm currently houses two teams of horses and students interact with the horses through the Integrated Farm Practicum, a variety of classes offered as a part of the Draft Horse minor and in the work program. Our draft horse teams are trained to work with beginners and can handle multiple drivers. The horses are a common sight around campus and in the town of Craftsbury Common.
The forested lands owned by Sterling College comprise roughly 393 acres across two locations. During the course of a Sterling experience, every student will utilize the forest as a classroom. Within several inter-related courses, the curriculum develops an understanding of forest management, teaches safe felling techniques and timber extraction using draft power, and mills useable lumber for building projects on the farm. A small stand of sugar maples contiguous with Sterling’s land is managed for maple sap production. About 200 trees are tapped annually to provide syrup for the kitchen. Courses in Natural History, Ecology, Soil Science, Wildlife Management and Restoration Agriculture, to name a few, utilize the forest as an active laboratory to observe and study the forest as a natural system.
All of our farm produce eventually finds its way into the Sterling Kitchen or classroom—sometimes raw and fresh, like salads harvested from our hoop house during the cold months; sometimes transformed in classes in the School of the New American Farmstead, to add variety and preserve our harvest; and—of course!—daily, in our meals.
- Explore farm systems for our future
- Raise meats on pasture in an integrated grazing system
- Use draft power
- Manage annual as well as perennial cropping systems
- Experience season extension methods
- Understand how to manage healthy soils through composting, cover cropping, perennial systems, and conservation tillage
- Experience the management of a restorative woodlot
- Read the landscape and learn thorough restoration and regenerative agriculture how to re-design agricultural systems
- Harvest, process, prepare, and eat the food you grow
- Connect it all back to your community in a whole farm and food system
- Everyone can learn to farm at Sterling College