Gift of land to Red Gate Farm in Ashfield helps secure ‘lasting legacy’

  • Fourth-grade student Angelyzz Matthew and her classmates from the White Street School in Springfield mulch one of the gardens at Red Gate Farm in Ashfield in May 2017. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • A pair of bovines check out the camera at Red Gate Farm in Ashfield. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Students from the White Street School in Springfield spend time at Red Gate Farm in Ashfield. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Abby Ferla, of Ashfield, right, lets students from the White Street School in Springfield taste wild greens at Red Gate Farm in Ashfield. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Students from the White Street School in Springfield help with the gardens at Red Gate Farm in Ashfield. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • From left, Ben Murray, Walter Popper and attorney Ed Etheredge. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 1/13/2020 3:03:18 PM
Modified: 1/13/2020 3:02:32 PM

ASHFIELD — Red Gate Farm Education Center has received a donation of 3.5 acres from Walter Popper and his family that will expand its existing pastures and hiking trails and secure a lasting legacy, the farm’s assistant director says.

“Our goal is to eventually acquire all of the land we use,” Jake Krain said. “We have a long-term lease of about 70 acres. This is the first piece of land connected to the property we lease that is now ours. That’s huge.”

Krain said the new 3.5 acres will allow the farm to continue working with children and students. He said the farm leases the 70 acres from Ted Murray, who is the founder of the farm and a board member.

Popper said he and several friends bought Williams Farm, which abutted Red Gate Farm, in the 1960s, and the friends sold their parcels over the years, but Popper opted to approach Red Gate about donating his 3.5 acres when he decided to retire.

“I have a real attachment to the farm,” he said. “My wife and I were married there.”

He said he had always dreamed of doing what Red Gate does, so he was happy to offer the land.

“It’s nice to see the farm have as much contiguous land as possible,” Popper said. “It’s a beautiful place.”

The nonprofit farm has five full-time employees, including Krain and Murray, and it hires seasonal employees each year for school and summer camps. That increases the staff to about 15 for part of the year.

“We have programs that completely immerse kids in farm life and in our community,” Krain said. “The main goal is to teach kids real farm work that is meaningful and purposeful.”

He said when children aren’t attending school or summer camp, the staff does the work.

“We know we’re doing work that impacts not only the kids who are here, but the community,” Krain said.

Those who attend the camps learn about farm animals — everything from chickens, goats and sheep, to training and caring for oxen. They also work in vegetable gardens and do some foresting. They plant, grow and harvest vegetables and fruit, and then eat it — it is made into salsa and pizza, for example, that they eat at night or for snacks.

Young participants also maintain trails throughout forest areas; remove trees, limbs and invasive species; and maintain the maple grove on the property.

“The kids really step up to the challenge,” Krain said. “They thrive here. It’s the perfect tool for youth development. Not only do they learn useful skills, but they learn kindness and respect, important values. They all love being part of something.”

The farm is open to the public and any school that wants to bring its students for three-day field trips. Many of the schools that take advantage every year are in Springfield, and there are a few from the Boston area. He said students from a school in New York City have visited before and from several local hill town schools, including Hawlemont Regional Elementary School.

Krain said students visit typically from May until mid-June for three days, and day and overnight camps run from mid-June to August. Then, students return from September through mid-October for the final three-day visits of each year.

Murray, who said he is thrilled about the donation, founded the farm in 2001 as an educational farm. The farm writes grants, accepts donations and does an annual appeal. The money is used for administrative costs, running the farm, and this year, it raised $60,000 that will go into a scholarship fund to help pay children’s tuition to day and overnight camps.

“We want to bring kids here who otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity,” Krain said.

For more information about Red Gate Farm at 4 Norman Road, visit:


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