The loss of dairy farms

Kent once had 50 active dairy farms. Those farms and the families that ran them are the bedrock of the town’s history. Intertwined in that history are the private schools in Kent, especially Kent School and South Kent School. So it is fitting that, as reported by Shaw Israel Izikson in last week’s Lakeville Journal, it is an alumnus of South Kent School who is working to transform the last dairy farm in town, the Arno farm, into a part of the school’s educational mission, that is, a site for environmental study.

While the school’s headmaster, Andrew Vadnais, emphasizes that the sale of the farmland is not complete, the process is well along. If all goes according to plan, the land will be available for students to work on environmental projects, reconnecting with the land and the opportunities it could offer for research in responsible stewardship of the planet.

The many dairy farmers, who were active for the bulk of the 20th century, needed to keep connected to the land and to their livestock in order to maintain their livelihoods and their way of life. One of those farmers, who lived in South Kent his entire life, from the time of his birth in 1919 until his death in 1997, was Phil Camp, who after his retirement began writing about his experiences, his memories, of growing up on his family’s farm and then carrying on the tradition by working the farm.

Camp, with the help and support of his wife, Marie, wrote seven books of great interest to anyone who would like to understand the way life was in Kent before the demise of local farming. (Those little books, by the way, were printed at The Lakeville Journal’s print shop.) His stories and the old photos that accompany them are very personal and very charming, yet also give a real sense of rural life before cell towers, cable TV, digital communication and the Internet. To see some samples of Phil Camp’s reminiscences, go to philcampsstories.com. And, of course, Kent Historical Society has more history available for the curious, including a book available in its gift shop, “Sherm Chase Remembers, a Kent Life 1900 to 1982,†published by the society and the Chase family. The Web site, kenthistoricalsociety.org, has information about the families and the farms of Kent under the section on agriculture.

Understanding the way Kent and the Northwest Corner has changed and continues to change underscores and illuminates the transition from a regional agrarian society structure across the country as well. South Kent School has the right idea in thinking about ways to continue to use the land to find ways to improve the relationship of young people to their environment. The lessons of the past can help the next generation to affect climate change and understand their connection to nature by developing a better knowledge of the ways farmers were able to live off the land in rural Connecticut. If it comes to be, the South Kent School environmental initiative can give inspiration toward stronger environmentalism to all who live in this region now and will live here in years to come.

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Thanks are due to Fred Baumgarten, who has enlightened The Lakeville Journal for the past several years about the ways of nature in the Northwest Corner in the column, Nature’s Notebook. Thank you, Fred, for helping all of us be more aware of the natural world around us. And thanks to Tim Abbott for his ongoing and thoughtful nature writing in that column, and to Scott Heth of Sharon Audubon for taking up the project of writing for Nature’s Notebook.

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