Agriculture meets arts at Retreat Farm

Retreat Farm welcomes community to Farm to Ballet

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BRATTLEBORO -- Ballet dancers will be using Retreat Farm as the backdrop for a production that touches on many elements of the property's agricultural heritage.

Lindsay Fahey, director of marketing and communications at Retreat Farm, looks at the Ballet to Farm Project's stop in Brattleboro as an opportunity to showcase the Children's Farm and Forest program to members of the community who have not yet come to see it. That's just the first phase of a multi-year project.

"We're really pleased with how it's unfolding," said Buzz Schmidt, executive director at Retreat Farm. "It's gratifying to see our aspirations materialize."

The Ballet to Farm Project is directed by Chatch Pregger. A string sextet will play Vivaldi. The full-length production "reinterprets classical ballet choreography to tell the story of a Vermont farm from Spring to Fall," according to farmtoballet.org. The different stages of farming — planting, irrigating, tending and harvesting the farm's produce — are all part of the show.

The event starts at 6 p.m. on Aug. 12. But gates open at 4:30 p.m. so attendees can tour, play and walk the nature trail.

Local food trucks — Dosa Kitchen, Rigani Wood-Fired Pizza, Ro's Petite Fete and Tito's Taqueria — will also be there. Blankets and chairs are advised. Tickets are free for children 12 and under and $15 for adults.

Proceeds will go to the Farm to Ballet Project, which holds productions throughout the state, and the Retreat Farm's children's program. Retreat Farm members get a 10 percent discount on tickets, merchandise and food truck purchases. To buy tickets, visit retreatfarm.org/ballet.

Progress at the farm

Play spaces have been made inside and outside the Calf Barn, which is home to the Children's Farm and Forest Program. Educational books, toys and other items are available inside a gift shop at the entrance of the barn.

The petting farm can be accessed from the store. Animals are brought to the pasture later in the day. Farm educators talk to guests about the different animals and activities.

The Calf Barn opened on the first weekend of June, when Strolling of the Heifers brought many people to town.

"Families are loving it," said Wendy Harrison, director of community and public relations. "Kids are really enjoying it."

Three new piglets — Olive, Rosemary and Basil — are now living among the other animals. One section allows guests to walk around in an area with baby goats. Other animals include donkeys, chickens, sheep, rabbits and Carlos the bull.

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"This is really our first step in restoration of the farm," said Fahey. "We're balancing tradition and future innovation."

She said public workshops are being held almost every weekend.

Schmidt pointed to a 1-mile nature trail where the Vermont Youth Conversation Corps helped make signs to direct guests. He said the children's program activities were moved from the North Barn to the Calf Barn. Next, he hopes to have a public market and cafe in the North Barn to showcase regional and local products.

Schmidt said over the next 15 months, he expects to see "steady expansion of new features." Work has begun on gardens at the farm, with assistance from community groups visiting on field trips.

"We've been pleased with the community's response to what has been done," said Fahey.

Retreat Farm Program Director Lu Neuse said gardens will be made accessible to individuals with disabilities, allowing retirement homes to visit as well as grandparents with their grandchildren.

"It's been fun to meet the families as they come," Neuse said. "We're hoping to build on the history of field trips here."

Guests have been given a tour of Grafton Village Cheese, which shares the property with the farm. They taste the cheese then see how whey is fed to the piglets. Kids with the Boys & Girls Club of Brattleboro learned about ice-cream making and helped with plantings. Students from St. Michael High School also made progress on the gardens.

Now, Neuse is thinking about how programs will continue through the fall and winter. Snowshoes and cross-country skis are part of the plan. The nature trail connects into a nine-mile trail network by Harris Hill.

Family memberships are being purchased for the farm. The cost is $65. Daily admission for adults is $7 and $5 for children and seniors. Children under 2 are free.

The renovation of the Calf Barn was the first phase of a plan that spans over 10 years. The building had asbestos and the walls were falling in, according to Schmidt. About 30 local contractors were involved in the project. The Farmhouse also was renovated and the Farm Square was created for holding events.

"It's been a lot of work but we're really excited," Neuse said. "It's gratifying to see families make a connection with this place."

Future plans include an "inn/ecolodge," which will have 40 to 44 hotel rooms in three-room cottages that would accommodate camps, conferences and workshops. That's about 10 years out.

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or @CMaysBR.


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