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     Ricker Farm
            An agriculture program
                     of Sweetser

Name:                    Ricker Farm

Location:               Sweetser

                               50 Moody Street

                               Saco, Maine 04072

Farm Manager:    Julia Birtolo

Phone:                   207-294-4700

Website:                www.sweetser.org

Email:                   jbirtolo@sweetser.org

Products and Services:

-farm opportunities for children with emotional

  or behavioral issues

-wide array of animals and animal care education

-greenhouse and gardens

-maple syrup production

-gardening instruction

-culinary skills

-classroom activities

-farm stand

What Makes Ricker Farm So Unique?

There is a real sense of history that underlies a visit to

Ricker Farm in Saco.  The farm is set back on the

Sweetser campus off a very developed area of busy Route One. 

Ruel Ricker ran a farm on the Sweetser property for four decades before he passed away in 1979.  At the time when he farmed, it was a much larger farm operation with an active piggery and dairy. The animals were raised to supply the food for the residents. 

There are photos of Ruel Ricker that have been displayed on the walls of the Donald and Nancy Morse Education Center at the Sweetser farm.  The farm itself is named after him.  Ruel had a reputation of being strict, but fair.  He bred dairy cows and his love of horses was well-known.

Sweetser is the oldest child welfare/ behavioral health organization in Maine.  It was founded in 1828.  In the early years, the Sweetser Home for Boys served as an orphanage in Saco. As time passed, its function changed to address the psychological needs of children.  Today the Ricker  Farm at Sweetser works with children with severe emotional or behavioral problems and learning disabilities.

The original Ricker farmhouse on the Sweetser property burned in 1832.  Another devastating fire took place on the Sweetser property in 2004, when the historic barn was lost due to arson.  A state-of-the-art barn replaced it the following year.

The new barn that was constructed in 2005, houses a classroom and an area for the horses, as well as a separate area for the poultry.  An Experiential Learning Program takes place at the Sweetser School.  Students in grades 6-12 have the opportunity to learn about culinary arts, wood-working, engines, and also farm work through a hands-on pre-vocational style of learning.

Julia Birtolo is the Farm Manager at the Ricker Farm

at the Sweetser School. She is a certified special education teacher who instructs the students about the work that needs to be done around the farm such as feeding and watering the animals, cleaning the stalls, animal care, collecting the eggs, and various chores in the three large gardens and greenhouse. This past year students grew potatoes, carrots, lettuce, peppers, tomatoes, onions, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, asparagus, Swiss chard, beans, peas, and garlic.

The Ricker Farm is home to two very old horses.  Charlie is a Palomino who used to be a barrel racer.

He was donated to the Ricker Farm.  The other horse, Zoe, is very curious and excitable and was at the farm when the barn burned down.  She suffers from arthritis.  Animals are often used to reach individuals with special needs and this is certainly an underlying premise at Ricker Farm.  It is hoped that the care of the animals instills a sense of responsibility, patience, and compassion in the students.  For many children who haven’t done well in a traditional academic setting, the offerings at Ricker Farm allow for them to participate in a hands-on way, develop their skills, and eventually shine.  While enrolled in the farm program students are in a very small group and they are required to problem solve, keep busy, take the initiative, and learn how to get along.

There is quite a variety of animals that live at the Ricker Farm.  There is Wilbur, the older goat, and Gilbert and Angel, the younger goats.  Five sheep, and two llamas and an alpaca make their home at the farm.  Pete, the white peacock, has earned celebrity status! There is an assortment of chickens (Bantams, silkies, standard barnyard hens) and three geese, eight ducks, and four pea fowl.  Over sixty chickens, two pigs, nineteen turkeys, and two beef cows were raised for meat this past year.  Some of the meat was used in-house for the residents and staff.

Students in the farm program have the opportunity to

enjoy some of the products that are raised on the farm. Ms. Birtolo hosts a farmer’s breakfast for the students each quarter with bacon, eggs, and maple syrup that have all come from the Ricker Farm.  She also offers instruction on preserving and cooking foods and there is a fully-equipped kitchen in the classroom.

Environmental awareness is encouraged at the

Ricker Farm.  Students participated in the

construction of bluebird boxes for a Bluebird Trail

on the property.  Organic farming practices are

encouraged, and environmental messages are posted

in the classroom.  A maple syrup operation was begun by former farm manager,  Dave Puff,

and the instructional signs that he made are

wonderful teaching tools.  (Photos of these signs

appear on a separate webpage).

Although a great deal has changed on the Sweetser

campus over the years, the tradition of farming is

still respected and encouraged.  If Ruel Ricker were

still alive today, he probably would be pleased to

see that students are being introduced to a variety of

animals; raising many different crops; and most

importantly; learning how to get along with one

another and others.

Maple SyrupRicker_Farm_Maple_Syrup.html
Julia’s PhotosRicker_Farm_Julias_Photos.html

Julia Birtolo is the Farm Manager at Ricker Farm. She is a certified special education teacher.

S.S. Asparagus

Tom is an Ed Tech who helps out at the Ricker Farm.

Students made a Bluebird Trail of bluebird houses at Ricker Farm.

Additional PhotosRicker_Farm_-_Additional_Photos.html