The Hudson School in Hoboken, New Jersey, has sent classes to Hawthorne Valley Farm for week-long stays through the Visiting Students Program since the 1980s. Through this relationship, Betsy Brennan first experienced the beauty of the valley as a child. She has traveled a lot in the years since, but has continued coming back to the farm as a summer camper, counselor, and now as a program and summer camp manager for the Place Based Learning Center.
Betsy studied Germanic Language and Literature and Sustainability at the University of Maryland, spending a full year living in Germany as part of that. Remembering her time visiting Camphill Triform in Hudson, NY, as a teenager, Betsy was drawn to work at Camphill Village Minnesota for a year after college. She then moved back east to begin life-sharing at High Spirit Community Farm, an organization in Great Barrington, MA, that seeks to give adults with disabilities meaningful work, a dignified home, and a rich social and cultural life.
She was thrilled when, during that time, Matt Davis, Director of the Place Based Learning Center, contacted her about an opening for a program manager. Betsy grew up in the busy city of Hoboken, right outside New York City, but has always been more drawn to the slower pace of rural life and particularly, Hawthorne Valley.
“I’ve always sought smaller towns and rural areas because that’s really what fits me and who I am,” she said. “I’ve lived in other small communities but always somehow found a way to try and apply aspects of Hawthorne Valley to those places. What I learned here, and continue to learn, is that there is an unspoken element present here, and it draws you in. So much so that it has re-shaped large parts of my whole life; I feel immense gratitude to now get to work here and contribute to that cycle for others, especially children.”
In her role as program and summer camp manager, Betsy is able to draw on her many experiences and interests as she handles administrative tasks and interacts with staff, parents, and children. A typical day can include overseeing and supporting interns and counselors throughout the year, interfacing with the farmers and production managers regarding programming, corresponding with parents and teachers, ensuring the students and campers have what they need to fully enjoy their time at the Farm, and handling the scheduling of activities from mucking stalls and working in the Children’s Garden to playing in the pond and helping out in the bakery and creamery.
Betsy says she enjoys being able to exercise every capacity as she handles the mundane tasks and relational elements in her work.
“I am always impressed by the children’s reaction to what they experience here,” she said. “For one thing, I frequently sit up with the homesick children, and it’s awesome to see how they are empowered as day after day they realize, ‘Hey, I just made it through the night, and I’m having fun.’ Witnessing 9 and 10 year olds discover that strength is just amazing.”