When the founders started Hawthorne Valley 50 years ago, they did so with a hope—a hope that this new project would turn into a place that would allow people, young and old, to reconnect with the natural world.
Henry and Christy Barnes, Fentress and Hede Gardner, Karl and Arvia Ege, Jeanne and Brownell Bergen, Harry and Almuth Kretz, and Thorn Zay were amongst a group of educators, gardeners, and artisans with various backgrounds who had been brought together by a shared appreciation for and dedication to the work of Rudolf Steiner through Waldorf Education and Biodynamic Agriculture. They had a vision which grew as they watched over half of American small farms close their doors from the 1940s to the 70s. Equally as concerning to them in their work as educators was seeing more and more children lose touch with the natural world as technology became a mainstay in people’s homes.
Their solution was to found what is now known as Hawthorne Valley, an association of initiatives that are both commercial and educational in nature. It was on February 11, 1971 that the founders first incorporated the nonprofit originally known as the Rudolf Steiner Educational and Farming Association and began raising funds to purchase land. Eighteen months later, after Fentress and Thorn visited over 70 farms, they closed on the purchase of the Curtis Vincent Farm in Harlemville. Just a few short months later, they welcomed the 12th grade class from the Rudolf Steiner School (RSS) in Manhattan to the valley for the very first Visiting Students Program.
Fifty years ago, the founders had no idea what the outcome of this project would be, but they had hope. Hope that what began on a shoestring budget would grow into a model for small farm viability. Hope that the week-long visits to the farm would transform school children’s understanding of their connection to the earth, their community, and themselves as they participated in meaningful, practical work (one of the first projects for the first class from RSSNY was helping build bunks for future classes to use).
As Karl Ege wrote in his essay “An Evident Need of Our Time,” “What we are founding here is a seed….” That seed has grown and flourished in different ways over the years as we’ve sought to meet the needs of our time. Here are some of the highlights:
1971 – Incorporation of the Rudolf Steiner Education and Farming Association
1972 – Purchase of the Curtis Vincent family farm in Harlemville; Founding and dedication; 12th grade from Rudolf Steiner School in New York City first visiting class
1973 – Hawthorne Valley Waldorf School is dedicated and classes begin with 25 children in grades 1-4
1974 – First Hawthorne Valley Farm Summer Camp
1976 – First farm apprentices arrive from Europe; The milk house is built and cheese making begins
1978 – Hawthorne Valley Farm begins selling at the Union Square Farmer’s Market in NYC
1983 – Hawthorne Valley Waldorf School’s first 12th grade class graduates
1990 – 400 acres of farmland is put under conservation easement with Columbia Land Conservancy
1993 – Hawthorne Valley Farm launches a Community Supported Agriculture program with 30 local members; the Magical Puppet Tree is founded
1998 – The Rudolf Steiner Education & Farming Association officially changes its name to Hawthorne Valley Association
2004 – The new Farm Store is completed
2009 – The Place Based Learning Center begins to offer Kids Can Cook: A Farm-to-Table Day Camp with the goal of making the camp accessible to all children by reserving half the spaces for children from economically disadvantaged communities to attend free of charge
2017 – Hawthorne Valley Farm’s fermented food operation becomes Whitethorne, a subsidiary of Hawthorne Valley
This is a very brief overview of our history. We look forward to sharing the stories of our work, our colleagues, and our collaborators that give life to our timeline as we mark 50 years of renewing soil, society and self by integrating agriculture, education and art!