Gould Academy Farm
  and Forest Program
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Name:           Gould Academy Farm & Forest

Address:       Tracey Wilkerson

                      Gould Academy Farm & Forest

                      39 Church Street

                      Bethel, Maine 04217

Phone:           207-824-7862

Email:           wilkerst@gouldacademy.org

Facebook Page:  www.facebook.com/GouldAcademyFarmForest/photos_stream

Products and Services:

-draft horses





-organic gardens




-maple syrup


What Makes Gould Academy Farm Unique?

Gould Academy was established in Bethel in 1836, as a college preparatory school for boarders and local students. While several farms were situated in the rural area around Bethel, the concept of incorporating a separate agricultural education program was not ever part of the Gould curriculum. 

Thanks to the vision of Bill Clough, a former Gould Academy Headmaster, a farm was established at Gould Academy in 1999.   It was quite a novel idea at the time.  Clough had successfully established a similar program at the Holderness School in New Hampshire, and he was well aware of the benefits that could materialize from experiential learning in a farm setting.

Several individuals played significant roles in

helping to see Bill Clough’s vision and the Gould Academy Farm and Forest program come to fruition.  Due to the generous donation from the Hubbard family, funds were available to begin the construction of a barn.  Various staff members came on board in supporting the project and members of the community donated animals and equipment and shared their farming expertise.  The students became involved and the farm developed into a successful school and community effort.

Jim Sysko is an engineer who served as the Project Manager for various undertakings at Gould Academy.  He had been involved with the planning and construction of the Ordway Dining Hall and the McLaughlin Science Center,  and the renovation of Gehring Hall, and all the provisions necessary for handicap accessibility on campus. He stepped forward and agreed to help with the design and construction of the barn for the Gould Academy Farm.

Sysko explained that the assistance provided by the students in the building of the barn in 1999 was greatly appreciated.  He recalled that there were about seven or eight young male and female students who helped cut the wood rafters and lent a hand with the post and beams and the mortise and tenon joints.  The students also proved invaluable with the installation of the floor, the stairs and the roof.  The windows in the barn were recycled from Gehring Hall, which had undergone renovations that year.

The construction of the Gould Farm barn is quite unique. There is a loft area, main floor, and a daylight basement.  Rather than place posts on the main floor to hold the upper floor, the upper floor is hung with two steel rods attached to the peak of the roof.  Jim Sysko explained that this type of construction was undertaken by old-time farmers who also wished to obtain the result of a wide open unobstructed space on the main floor of their barn.

Erik Janicki, a biology teacher at Gould Academy, was the first Farm Manager.  He now teaches Science at Phillips Exeter Academy.  When he was contacted about his prior work with the Gould Academy Farm, it was immediately obvious to observe how he thoroughly enjoyed running the farm.  He explained that he was an eager learner, and because of the willingness of individuals such as Tim Korhonen and John Laban, he was able to receive a great deal of guidance and support.

John Laban and his late wife, Suzanne, were sheep farmers in Bethel.  It was a little of a challenge to get in contact with John. As he explained, he is “always in and out like the elbow of a fiddler!” John generously donated a flock of Romney ewes and lent a ram so that there would be lambs at the Gould Academy Farm.  When asked why he donated the sheep, John explained that he strongly supports the belief that “there is nothing that breeds responsibility like taking care of animals.”  He elaborated by explaining how animals have needs that must be addressed.

Laban has the utmost respect for former Gould Headmaster, Bill Clough.  He described him as

“the driving force behind the Gould Academy Farm.”  He explained that Clough had boundless

energy that was infectious.  He chuckled when he recalled that Bill would have no problem waking up the students at three o’clock in the morning for an impromptu snowshoe walk!

Once Bill Clough called John Laban at 6:15 in the morning when John was taking a shower.  John laughed when he recalled how he asked his wife, Suzanne, who answered the phone, if Bill inquired if “John had a minute.”  When she replied that he had asked that exact question, he jokingly responded,  “It wouldn’t be good!”  The reason for the 6:15 a.m. phone call was that Bill asked John if he could be at Gould for the morning assembly in twenty minutes to help lead a sheep shearing demonstration! 

John and Suzanne Laban were one of the first farms in the area that raised Romney sheep for the wool, the meat, and for breeding stock.  John used to shear the sheep and Suzanne would clean, card, spin, and dye the wool.  John would often shear the sheep at Gould Academy, working beside Bill Clough.  He commented that although it wasn’t a contest,  “Bill knew his sheep, and he would always finish the shearing first!”

Tim Korhonen has worked in the Maintenance Department at Gould Academy for sixteen years.  He has a great deal of farming experience and is presently raising Milking Shorthorns.  In the early days of the farm,  he accompanied Erik to the Fryeburg Fair and helped him pick out Jake and Duke, a pair of Holstein steers.  Throughout the years, Tim has supported the farm by lending advice and equipment.  He has helped turn the compost; shear sheep; build structures; and even neuter the male piglets!

Erik Janicki learned how to shear sheep.  He ordered Barred Rock chicks and the farm operations expanded. He also learned to work the oxen.  Rudy Penzer, a math instructor at Gould at that time, had participated on a Woodsmen Team at Colby College and he stepped forward to instruct the students in chainsaw and ax safety.  Bill Clough and Pete Rackliffe donated maple syrup equipment.  Over the years many individuals have stepped forward to support the farm. Recently Peter Rackliffe helped to set up two hives for honey production. According to Tracey Wilkerson, “As the CFO and life-long educator, Pete Rackcliffe has been supportive of the Farm and Forest program since it began.”

So many people have stepped forward to help with various projects at the farm. Brian Gehen, an arborist,  volunteered to instruct students in the proper procedure for pruning apple trees.  The farm is surrounded by a vibrant and supportive community.  A sense of humor has fortunately always accompanied many of the trials and challenges that have presented themselves over the years.

Erik Janicki shared a story about the oxen at Gould Academy that luckily had a happy ending. He had been in the woods working Jake and Duke. Several hours later when they emerged from the woods, several brightly-colored tents had been erected in the athletic fields by the cyclists participating in the Trek Across Maine. As a result, the oxen were spooked and they proceeded to run wild for a few minutes.  Erik remarked, “Luckily oxen lose steam quickly.  I had a lot of apologizing to do that afternoon!”

Tim Korhonen explained how he has enjoyed helping out at the farm.  He chuckled when he reminisced about the various episodes over the years when the oxen escaped and one of the pigs was found in the neighbor’s yard.  He praised the community for being tolerant of the crowing roosters!  He showed Erik how to shear sheep and saved the farm a few times by offering advice with the animals.  He and Mike Dumas built the shed for the horses.

The horses were introduced to the Gould Academy Farm when Tracey Wilkerson took over the Farm Manager position in 2002.  She is a Spanish instructor at Gould Academy, Director of the girls dormitory, and the Sustainability Coordinator.  Her husband, Peter Hedden, is a science teacher and the Dean of Residential Life at Gould Academy.  They live on campus with their two children and have been instrumental in supporting the mission of the Gould Academy Farm and Forest program.

Tracey has brought a great deal of farm experience and enthusiasm to the program.  The farm is now raising sheep, horses, bees, chickens, rabbits, and pigs. Buttercup, a calf who was abandoned by her mother at Richard Colby’s farm in South Paris, joined the farm on April 7, 2013. 

With her experience in working with draft horses,

Tracey has introduced the students to horselogging, harness function, draft horse versatility, and such aspects as building trust and communicating with horses.  There are three horses presently living at the farm including Dinah and Tasha and Ryah. They have been utilized for work in the fields and the woods. Tracey has offered horse-drawn sleigh and wagon rides and looks forward to expanding the use of horses on the farm.

Tracey and the students at Gould grow potatoes. squash, beans, pumpkins, onions, and lettuce.  They have a great appreciation for Brian Scheidegger, the Head Chef in the Dining Hall, and his staff, who are very flexible in accepting all the produce that is grown and incorporating it in the school’s menu.  The students also provide about one hundred eggs from the chickens for the Dining Hall every two days.

The Gould Academy Farm has an active Facebook page.  Visitors to the Facebook page can learn all about the various activities with which the farm is involved.  A Veterinary Science Immersion Weekend took place at Gould Academy from April 26-28, 2013. The Gould Academy Farm and Forest Program partnered with teaching veterinarians from Bethel Animal Hospital and Kind Animal Care of Norway, Maine, to offer an educational experience with a focus on hands-on learning.  Students had the opportunity to assess a variety of animals; administer medications and vaccines; and draw and analyze blood. The state-of-the-art laboratory classrooms located in the McLaughlin Science Center were utilized to identify normal and abnormal cells; examine critical organs; and  introduce the students to medical equipment and the sterile conditions required in mock surgery.

Students have learned to shear sheep and wash, dye, card, spin, and felt the wool.  Yarn, roving, batts, and raw fleeces have been produced from the sheep raised on the farm. The students have participated in the Sheepfest in Denmark, Maine,  for several years.  Gould students have also accompanied Tracey and her family and participated in the Common Ground Fair each September.

The Farm and Forest Program at Gould Academy has come a long way since Bill Clough introduced the idea in 1999.  Many students who normally might not have been exposed to various elements of agriculture have learned important lessons about the care of animals, the safety of farm equipment, the critical need for the respect of the environment and natural resources, and the significance of sustainability. Some students have been inspired to pursue farm-related activities because of the program.  There have been farm projects where food has been donated to the Harvest for Hunger program and wood has been cut, split, and delivered to local needy families.

Erik Janicki, the first farm manager at Gould, will bring the experiences he gained from his work at the farm to the Sustainable Agriculture course that is being introduced next year at Phillips Exeter Academy.  He feels that many more schools will be modeling their offerings around agriculture-related programs similar to Gould Academy.  Tracey Wilkerson is considering opportunities to expand student participation in the farm and forest program  at Gould.  She has looked into profit-sharing activities at a farmers’ market for the farm and she hopes to help with the planning of additional student-led presentations at community events and fairs. 

Hats off to Bill Clough and all the staff and students and community members who rallied behind his vision of a student farm.  Education at the Gould Academy Farm and Forest program has offered an array of experiential learning opportunities, that in many cases, have resulted in valuable life-changing lessons.

shearing the sheep - photo courtesy of Gould Academy Farm Facebook page.

Around the FarmGould_Around_the_Farm.html
2013 Vet 
Science Immersion

Farm manager Tracey Wilkerson and Buttercup, the calf that Gould Farm rescued.