Today, many people are in pursuit of the happiness and freedom that comes from learning how to grow their own food, become good stewards of the earth and their communities, and even make a living as farmers. In 2014, in response to this tendency, Heavenly Hills Harvest Farm, located in Sunnyside, Washington, in the verdant Yakima Valley, in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains of eastern Washington state, on 100 acres along the Yakima River, inaugurated a residential Folk School for adults that provides an outstanding learning opportunity from May 1 to November 15, devoted to sustainable farming, restoring wildlife habitat, reviving life skills known to previous generations, and caring for the natural environment. The school features 6-months stays where students work on the farm and learn about the methods of sustainable agriculture.
Dedicated to the holistic concept of permaculture, meaning an ecological design system for restoration and sustainability in all aspects of human endeavor—farming, building, education, ecology, community enrichment other practices, students are actively involved in the daily operation of the farm and are often asked to assume a leadership role, as well.
The Folk School grows out of a larger educational mission of the farm which is also the learning site for sustainable agriculture students from the Yakima Valley Community College, for local high school agriculture and horticulture students, for school children and for young adults with the Washington Conservation Corp.
The inauguration of the Folk School has called for expanding the campus infrastructure which now includes a floored hay barn, suitable for dancing, music and plays, wine tastings, and other activities; Vineyard Village for student housing "bunkhouse" style, farm house with bedrooms, living area, kitchen and bathrooms, laundry facilities, field kitchens and community dining hall, "eagles nest" library for reading, Wi-Fi, videos and discussions in converted rodeo announcer's booth, a lab for microscopic work, and assorted farm buildings for housing chickens and goats, washing and packing vegetables for market, walk-in cooler, and for storing tools and other equipment. The river front provides trails for hiking, wildlife observation, photography, art, and fishing, and supplies us from cottonwoods and willows with the materials for making balms and furniture. Expanded offerings include study about the business of farming as well as learning how to be advocates for meaningful and healthy change when returning to other parts of the country or remaining in this area.
One former student described her experience thus: “My time at Heavenly Hills Harvest was life changing. The farm quickly came to feel like home, where I was able learn and grow both personally and professionally. I was challenged physically and mentally with projects around the farm, but every day was filled with laughs…Being immersed in farm life every day reconnected me with the provenance of food, and I never shied away from trying a new vegetable in the field or recipe in the kitchen. I am now in graduate school pursuing a career in local food and farming, and I would never have gotten here if it wasn’t for the direction, confidence, and skills I gained at Heavenly Hills Harvest.” Another student put it thus: “My time at Heavenly Hills was a great experience. I had the opportunity to learn a wide variety of skills—milking a goat, flooring a barn, and drywalling—in addition to organic farming practices. This experience taught me the nuts and bolts of running a farm and a CSA. Both life experience and knowledge (via books and articles) are necessary for growing crops successfully.” Another said: “A year ago today I posted a photo from the day I moved to the farm, spending the next 7.5 months. Along with meeting so many new people, the opportunity was one of the best experiences of my life! I would not be where I am today without it…. Now here I am a year later on my own farm, transplanting tomatoes, planting peas, and caring for goats who got out and ate too much grain during the storm yesterday! “
Heavenly Harvest Folk School for Life surely embodies the spirit of folk schools as they developed in rural Denmark in the 19th century." Although the folk school does not yet operate every year, we wish them the best as they move forward.
Aspire Artisan Studios & Folk School was established in 2015 by Geraldine Johnson and has been working to enrich the community by teaching students of all ages to explore their unique talents and develop their artistic abilities. People are returning to the traditional hand-arts, good-for-the-earth farming, and restorative quality of life experiences, and Aspire is a part of this movement to teach traditional and authentic hand-arts, and preserve historical crafts at the highest quality of artisanship.
Classes offered include, but are not limited to: acrylic canvas painting, wood working, hand stitching, textile printing, blacksmithing, quilting, knitting, jewelry making, and much more! Artisan classes are held most Saturdays between the hours of 9:00 AM - 4:00 PM during the months of May through October at the Historic Andrew Peterson Farm.
The Avon Hills Folk School’s mission is to offer experiential learning in a non-competitive, inter-generational environment where local, regional artists and craftspeople share and teach their crafts. The farm was founded in 1969 by Francis and Karen Schellinger on 64 acres of the Avon Hills Conservation District, in Avon, Minnesota. For decades they used the farm for sugaring, bee keeping, gardening, logging, hunting, gathering, and small scale animal husbandry of horses, cattle, pigs, rabbits, chickens, ducks, geese, pigeons, and for hosting their annual Bouja event. Their son Chris now sees building the folk school as a natural outgrowth of his parents’ work.
Throughout the decades, events they organized at their farm fostered community building, first and foremost, and Chris’s aim now is to foster that spirit through teaching skills of the past in 1-day-to-a week-long classes such as the ones offered this fall in leather working, birchbark weaving, hand built ceramics, spoon carving, kolrosing, table-top weaving, timberframing, boat building, Maple Syruping, . The farm also hosts a Hand Camp, described as a mini-folk school that goes on for several days teaching trades from area artists and crafters. There is much work ahead in getting the whole farm up and running as a folk school, but progress is underway - so keep your eye on their development.
Starting A Folk School ~
The Happiness Hills Family: Jennifer Rose, Isabel, Alfredo, and Lydia Escobar (photo by Greg Betsworth)
Tonight I begin writing the first of what is supposed to end up being many entries in the story of one family’s journey into starting a Folk School. Wow… writing that down just elevated my heart rate by about 30 beats per minute. I am well aware what a grand idea that is, and what an all-consuming effort it will be to do it successfully.
Some of you may not know me. Most of you, probably. Perhaps a little back-story is the best way to begin. Besides, I have always believed that the future must be informed by the past. I’m the youngest of six siblings, born into a family that has, for generations, valued work and missions. My grandfather was central to the American Labor Movement, specifically as a liaison between organized labor and organized church in the southern US in the 1940’s. My grandmother was born in Nicaragua, on the mission field. My father was Dean of Labor at Berea College, and his brother, my Uncle John Ramsay, served for a time as Director of the John C. Campbell Folk School in North Carolina and later as Director of Recreation Extension at Berea College, which included leadership of The Berea College Country Dancers and the Danish-American Exchange Program. This is the world I was brought into, and the philosophy in which I was raised.
When I was in the third grade, I asked my father to help me start a folk dance group at my elementary school. He did, and we kept dancing together through high school, eventually naming the group The Berea Festival Dancers. I attended Berea College and danced with the Berea College Country Dancers, traveling with them to Denmark, Japan and Italy. I majored in vocal music and made my first recording of folk music the fall of my senior year. After graduating from Berea, I moved to Colorado to work on a dude ranch, and then, when the tourist season was over there, moved back home to launch a full-time career as a solo musician. Life was amazing.
Four years into my performance career, I got married. Five years later we had a daughter and, two years after that, another daughter. Life continued to be amazing, with recordings coming out every couple of years, regular tours around the United States and overseas, and a happy family. It couldn’t get any better… or could it?
The thing I missed most in my life as a touring musician was long-term relationships. I was thankful for the stable roots I had been given early in life, but I felt like I never got to stay home long enough to reconnect with them, and my daughters were growing up completely unfamiliar with the concept of “belonging” to a place and a people. I began to long for the opportunity to plant my feet a bit, and make more of a long-term difference to people.
And then my father bought a farm.
His intention was to restore the 80-year-old barn on the property so it could house our family for a potluck or dance (or perhaps a concert by his youngest child) and to turn the old tobacco-stripping shed into a cabin for simple overnight stays. He didn’t stop there, though; he built Hill House, a 3-story house with beds for 19 people, in case lots of family or friends came to visit. I began to spend more time at the farm with him, mostly to be sure that he, at 80 years old, didn’t turn the riding mower over or wear himself out tilling the garden on the property, or get bitten by heaven-knows-what in the creek. We decided to name the place Happiness Hills, since it was a continuation of the family gathering place Dad’s parents had at their home in Celo, NC, which they had called Happiness Hill. Dad and I are kindred spirits where farms are concerned – we love the sound of the wind in the trees, the look of a green pasture, the smell of freshly cut hay. Two years after he built the guest house, Dad told me he wanted to build a dance hall for me, in case I ever wanted to have a folk dance camp at the farm. He named it Harmony Center, referencing Romans 12:16 in the Bible. I loved working with Dad at the farm. When I was at Happiness Hills, I was connected with the land again, and I was delighted to see my daughters putting down those same kind of roots.
In the midst of all this came a perfect storm. The director of the Berea Festival Dancers, which was still going strong since she had taken it over from Dad nearly 25 years before, told me she was ready to retire and asked if I would take over from her. I could never have even considered it when I was touring full-time, but now… after a very short and positive discussion with my husband, I agreed to take it on. Independently, the new Director of the Berea College Country Dancers asked if I could do some weekly instruction for that group, and the Berea College professor in charge of the Danish-American Exchange Program asked if I would be willing to work with her as a consultant.
Boom. Roots in a community, land to belong to, and a long-term difference to make, all fell into my lap at once. What a blessing! What a huge responsibility! And what a life change!
That’s my back-story, and my “why” for what I’m about to do now. Dad has retired from the farm and given it to me, with the request that I lead it into the future while honoring the purpose for which it was built: a place for people to be together, disconnect from the stress and pace of the rest of the world, and connect to the things that really matter. I don’t know any better way to do that than the model I have admired my whole life long – the Folk School.
And so it begins.
Jennifer Rose Escobar
Happiness Hills Farm
History of Folk Education ~
FEAA Founders Kay Parke with John Ramsay
An Educational Adventure in El Salvador, 14 February, 1993 By John M. Ramsay, Berea College
A student came to me concerned about how to deal with a new educational experience. She was enrolled in a course appropriately titled An Adventure in El Salvador. Our adventure was only at the end of its second day, but we had already spent one night at a delightful beach resort where we were offered surfside horseback riding before breakfast and, now, on the second evening were returning from an evening spent with orphans and other residents in a rural community where to own a horse would be a sign of considerable wealth.
We had enjoyed a bountiful buffet supper at the resort. Tables were set about under palm trees and the chef was an artist with the food—the broiled fish was appetizingly displayed and was the tastiest I have ever eaten. Our supper at the orphanage, by contrast, was a single fried egg, a spoonful of refried beans, a tortilla, and a cup of sweetened coffee. We enjoyed ourselves at the beach resort but we enjoyed others during the evening at the orphanage.
Kelly came to me during the bus ride back to San Salvador and said, “I think I’m being educated. I saw the resort and now I have seen orphans and poverty. I see the contrast and know that it must mean something, but I can’t put it together. What am I supposed to do with this? What is the answer to this situation?”
I responded something to the effect that I was pleased that she felt the experience was educational, that the reality of life is often inscrutable, that no one else seems to have had the answer in El Salvador, and that if she found the answer to let me know. I also pointed out that education from life is quite different from education by textbook or in a classroom, that there is tremendous pressure in school (and it is too easy) to simplify ideas to the point where they lose their relevance. I further stated that when students are provided with textbook simplifications it tends to turn life into an intellectual exercise. Responsibility, I told her, goes beyond an intellectual exercise in the same way that education changes when it moves from the classroom into real life.
The contrast between wealth and poverty was a recurring theme throughout our three week adventure in El Salvador. We were personally involved with people at all levels of society. My students were all folk dancers and so we were earn our involvement as well as our accommodations and meals, by giving demonstrations of our dances and inviting participation in the simplest of them. Folk dance is a wonderful medium for sharing with people and we found the people of El Salvador, whether privileged or destitute, ready for music and dance now that peace had come.
We had so much to learn from the Salvadorans. They knew the insanity of war. They had been a part of that horror for twelve years. They had experienced hell on earth and wanted no more of it. Through that experience, they also came to know what it takes to make peace. First, one must be willing to die for it; peace will not come if people are not totally committed. Secondly, one must share life to nurture peace; selfishness creates the seedbed for war.
The Salvadorans amazed us with the matter-of-fact way in which they shared the recent reality of violence. Students at the Jesuit University showed us gory photos of their slain teachers; a former guerrilla fighter told us of living in the fields and hills without home or food for his family; nuns described coming into an orphanage abandoned by the government to find no food on the shelves and babies with soiled diapers and no bottles. They all wanted us to know that people are capable of great cruelty and that there must be another way to live. But how? That was Kelly’s question.
Kelly came to me a few days later. She had thought out part of the answer. She said, “It’s in the name of the Lutheran orphanage we first visited, Fey e Esperanza, Faith and Hope.” Wow!
Without faith and hope, there would be no peace. That is why Salvadorans spoke of unspeakable terrors so matter-of-factly, why they told us of American support of the death squads with no bitterness, and why they were so unselfish in helping each other rebuild. Bitterness, distrust, and fear are incompatible with faith and hope. Living with faith and hope is the only way to live sanely.
Yes, I believe Kelly received an education.
Steven Borish, in his book Land of the Living gets to the heart of the educational process as understood by N. F. S. Grundtvig, modern Denmark’s founding father. “One can learn the facts and the theories of received tradition in the classroom, and these might prove useful, but they can be no substitute for Life’s Enlightenment [livsoplysning], which can only be taught by life itself. Herein lies a paradox for educators: it is, and must be the deepest task of our lives to acquire this Enlightenment of Life, for only through its realization will we be able to distinguish light from darkness, truth from lies, and the cause of death from that of life. Yet, this liberating insight is something no classroom will ever teach us.” (p. 167)
Another student, upon our return to Kentucky, pointed out what a fine line there is between peace and war, between light and darkness. We had just returned from a land where the line was palpable. The student noted that we take what we have in the United States too much for granted and don’t realize how easily we could cross the line and lose it. Peace cannot be legislated, it requires faith, hope, unselfishness, and trust. El Salvador taught us to be more responsible as citizens in order to create a more just society and thus ensure peace.
I want to encourage educators to undertake education for “the deepest task of our lives.” Such a quest is at the heart of the Folk Education Association of America. It requires a different pedagogy from that which we have inherited from much of the world of academics. It requires experience with real life in addition to analysis and research. It requires that faith and hope override narrow compartmentalization where economics stops with the dollar, psychologists stop with personality, and coaches stop with wins over losses.
Folk educators learn to respect innate common wisdom, such is their faith that each life is divine. They understand that homegrown wisdom is more to be trusted than the bureaucratic. It is at the level of everyday life that wisdom is generated; bureaucracies are too far removed from reality to make intelligent judgements. Similarly, education needs to be taken back into living communities; relegating it to classrooms and to what can be graded on an exam robs it of its most desirable outcomes.
Fortunately, students are a continuous supply of surprising wisdom. Folk educators learn to listen to students. What an important insight Kelly gave to our class. My students were wise enough to have faith in our adventure. They had to pay cash in what amounted to a third of the cost of the adventure and received no academic credit for the experience—the course was deemed worthy of short term credit only. A parent tried to scuttle the tour because of her fears for our safety. But, the students had faith even though it is hard to see why; only three of the sixteen had been overseas before and seven had never been in an airplane. I overheard them confiding in each other after it was obvious the we were having a rich and wonderful experience and that their faith in the adventure was immeasurably justified, that it was incredible to think that anyone would have denied them such an experience. How fortunate teachers are to have opportunities to meet again and again with the wonder and wisdom of youth.
I write this on the crest of joyful excitement following our return from El Salvador. The experience is too much to be contained. Perhaps it can encourage others to break away into educational adventures which will fulfill our deepest task!
News from the Board ~
FEAA Board Notes for Fall 2017
Our newest board member Jennifer Rose Ramsay Escobar joins us with a long background of folk education related experiences as well as being the niece of John Ramsay, one of our original founders of FEAA back in the late 70’s. Jennifer Rose is a performer and educator in the field of Appalachian and English folk music and dance. She has made ten recordings as a solo artist, five of which are currently available on iTunes and other music sites. Jennifer Rose and her husband have been teaching artists with the Kentucky Arts Council, VSA Arts of Kentucky, and other state and national arts organizations since 1996, and Jennifer Rose has been directing the Spring Mountain Folk Festival dance weekend for youth since 2000. In 2015 she took the reins of the Berea Festival Dancers upon the retirement of former Director, Theresa Lowder.
In this picture from July 2017, Jennifer Rose (right) is leading the national anthems of Denmark
and the USA at the July 4th celebration in Rebild, Denmark. Twenty members of her youth folk
dance group, The Berea Festival Dancers, also performed at the event. Jennifer Rose is an
enthusiastic doer with the kind of spirit Folk Education fosters. She quite definitely has
the heart of a folk educator!
More Board Happenings
Board Member Carol Voigts
organized and taught a week-long summer theater workshop for 50 children, a mini-folk school that includes skits, singing and dancing. She has held these workshops in various locations across the country throughout her teaching career, and many former participants have gone on to community theaters, and professional work in music and theater. Bravo, Carol!
Board member Dawn Jackman Murphy will be will be presenting a paper on "US Folk Schools and Rural Community Transformation" at the conference of the American Association for Adult and Continuing Education in Memphis, TN from Oct 30 to Nov 3. The presentation brings together folk school founders, members of the Folk Education Association of America (FEAA), and community adult educators to discuss the central theme of rural community transformation through the growth and expansion of Folk Education in the US. Topics to be addressed: the conditions that encourage folk school emergence, folk schools as localities for diverse community interaction, and outcomes of individual and collective agency. See the article here: FEAA to present the story of new US Folk Schools to a national audience.
Conference Presenters (Left to Right): Dawn Jackman Murphy, Vicky Eiben, and Stacey Waterman-Hoey
Dawn Jackman Murphy is a fellow with Fielding Graduate University's Marie Fielder Center for Democracy, Leadership, and Education. She has been a board member of the FEAA for the last year and has been a teacher and program manager in Adult Education programs for over twenty years.
Vicky Eiben is an Associate Professor in the School of Education at Viterbo University in La Crosse, Wisconsin. She is a former FEAA board member and has been involved with folk schools for over 10 years as a founding board member of Driftless Folk School.
Stacey Waterman-Hoey is the founder and executive director of the Arbutus Folk School in Olympia, WA. Prior to Arbutus, Stacey worked as an energy and climate policy analyst and researcher for 18 years for the State of Washington and Washington State University. The Arbutus Folk School was founded in 2013 and has programs in artisan woodworking, ceramics, fiber arts, blacksmithing, music and stone carving.
To see a working list of folk schools in North America, visit the Folk School Alliance's website at www.peopleseducation.org.