• Stephen D'Agostino

The Reading Safari Is This Saturday


We are all aware that all schools in Vermont are closed through the rest of the school year. When I think of the schools that are shuttered, I think of elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, and private schools. Until recently, I didn’t think of one school in Reading, an institution that, thanks to this virus, will not be providing an experience its students would remember for the rest of their lives. The institution is Farms for City Kids at Spring Brook Farm.

Way back in the first week of March—a mere six weeks, and also ages, ago—Farms for City Kids had their first week-long session of 2020. After the kids left on Friday, Rob Macri, the Education Director, along with Jim Hagedorn, the program’s chairman, decided to suspend Farms for City Kids through March and April. Then, as the coronavirus picture became clearer and bleaker, they decided to suspend the program through September.

Like everyone and everything else, Farms for City Kids and Spring Brook Farms are adapting, and that is what alerted me to this little piece of the Reading coronavirus story. I saw a video of Rob talking about the disappointment that the staff is experiencing because the program has been suspended. Rob notes that they “love to share the magic that happens at Spring Brook Farm, whether it is milking cows or taking care of calves or pulling carrots from the ground.” He also notes the disappointment the 650 or so kids who would have participated in the program this year must be experiencing.

Enter modern technology. Like so many people who are staying connected by watching live streams, or through chat sessions or video calls, Farms for City Kids is looking to engage with former and future students through educational videos.

Their video series started in early April with a timely topic: sugaring. Watching the first video in this multi-part lesson, I learned about the happy accident that opened the eyes of Native Americans to the goodness running through the veins of maple trees. There is more that I will learn by watching these, but for now, I still have a column to finish.

The goal of the educators is to produce several videos a week and make them available on YouTube. In addition, Farms for City Kids will share these videos with teachers whose students have participated in the program and were to have visited this year. Though the kids can't be on the farm, they can still learn about farm life.

The videos are targeted towards kids, all kids, not just those with a connection to the program. If you have grandkids elsewhere who are wondering what is going on in Vermont at this time of the year or are curious about rural life, these videos could be a nice thing to share with them. You can find links to the videos on Farms for City Kids Facebook page (facebook.com/Farmsforcitykids) or by going to YouTube.com and searching for “Farms for City Kids.” There is a lot of content there to watch and share!

Rob told me that there is education of sorts going on at the farm right now. The educators and support staff are still on the job, and some who worked, say, in the dorms are learning new skills, like milking cows or helping out in the barn.

The farm houses real animals, of course. This Saturday, from 10am to 4pm, the Reading Recreation Commission is running the Reading Safari, a safe, fun family and community event that features not-real animals, as in stuffed animals or animals made of wood or metal or fabric or whatever.

The Rec Commission is asking people to put some type of animal on their property in a place that someone in a car can easily spot. You can contact me (info below) or Gerry Marletta (gmarlettaiii@gmail.com) with your address to let us know you're going to take part. You can also contact us with questions. Have your animal(s) out by 10am. The Rec Commission will supply kids who want to participate with Safari Sheets, which will help guide them on their adventure.

The kids will hand in these sheets, and the family that finds the most animals will win a $25 gift card to either Watroba's General Store or the Reading Greenhouse. In case of a tie, the Rec Commission will randomly choose a winner. The other gift card will go to the person or family who puts out an animal for the safari, also chosen randomly.

There is still time for folks to put out an animal and let us know. If you want to go on safari with your kids, contact Gerry or me, and we will send you a Safari Sheet.

The Reading Safari maintains social distancing by not requiring anyone to be within six feet of another person they are not normally in contact with. As much correspondence as possible will be done electronically, but there will be an opportunity to mail completed sheets to the Rec Commission. Mailed-in sheets present some risk to the recipient, but the Reading Recreation Commissioners will take proper steps to minimize the risk of exposure.

The Reading Safari has been reviewed and approved by the Reading Select Board and the Town Health Officer.

That’s the news from Reading! See you next week!


This column originally appeared in The Vermont Standard on April 16, 2020.


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