Daily Picture Show

In Search Of Sunrise: A Photographer Heads To Farm School

  • Sarah, a student farmer, gives Patience, a Jersey milk cow, hay during a pre-dawn milking at The Farm School in Athol, Mass. Patience produces about 3 gallons of milk a day.
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    Sarah, a student farmer, gives Patience, a Jersey milk cow, hay during a pre-dawn milking at The Farm School in Athol, Mass. Patience produces about 3 gallons of milk a day.
    Courtesy of Erik Jacobs
  • The farmhouse houses 10 students and sits on 180 acres of land. Student farmers grow 40 varieties of organic vegetables; raise beef cattle, sheep and poultry; and actively manage a forest for firewood and timber.
    Hide caption
    The farmhouse houses 10 students and sits on 180 acres of land. Student farmers grow 40 varieties of organic vegetables; raise beef cattle, sheep and poultry; and actively manage a forest for firewood and timber.
    Courtesy of Erik Jacobs
  • Mushrooms grow in the yard of Maggie Rullo, the landowner who gave the farm (now known as Maggie's Farm) to The Farm School.
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    Mushrooms grow in the yard of Maggie Rullo, the landowner who gave the farm (now known as Maggie's Farm) to The Farm School.

    Courtesy of Erik Jacobs
  • The soil at The Farm School tends to be on the wetter side, partly because of a high water table under the crops. This makes for good drought resistance in the dry season and muddy work other times of the year.
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    The soil at The Farm School tends to be on the wetter side, partly because of a high water table under the crops. This makes for good drought resistance in the dry season and muddy work other times of the year.
    Courtesy of Erik Jacobs
  • Student farmers clean and sort a variety of hardneck garlic called Music. The garlic that is truest to form will be kept for next year's seed and the rest will be sold at market, distributed in a CSA or kept for the farmhouse.
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    Student farmers clean and sort a variety of hardneck garlic called Music. The garlic that is truest to form will be kept for next year's seed and the rest will be sold at market, distributed in a CSA or kept for the farmhouse.
    Courtesy of Erik Jacobs
  • Eliza, a student farmer, inspects a pasture used for the rotational grazing of sheep during afternoon chores.
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    Eliza, a student farmer, inspects a pasture used for the rotational grazing of sheep during afternoon chores.
    Courtesy of Erik Jacobs
  • Late-season, frost-damaged spinach is harvested in the rain for a CSA distribution.
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    Late-season, frost-damaged spinach is harvested in the rain for a CSA distribution.
    Courtesy of Erik Jacobs
  • A large part of winter on the farm is learning the theory of forestry management, as well as gaining the practical skills of ax and chain saw handling.
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    A large part of winter on the farm is learning the theory of forestry management, as well as gaining the practical skills of ax and chain saw handling.
    Courtesy of Erik Jacobs
  • Turkeys are slaughtered for friends and family of the farm in advance of Thanksgiving Day.
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    Turkeys are slaughtered for friends and family of the farm in advance of Thanksgiving Day.
    Courtesy of Erik Jacobs
  • Clutch, one of the farm's cats, with his near-daily kill. Clutch will often leave the carcass at the door of a one lucky student farmer, a messy honor to have.
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    Clutch, one of the farm's cats, with his near-daily kill. Clutch will often leave the carcass at the door of a one lucky student farmer, a messy honor to have.
    Courtesy of Erik Jacobs
  • A sheep wanders near the protection of a barn early in the morning as Hurricane Sandy blows through.
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    A sheep wanders near the protection of a barn early in the morning as Hurricane Sandy blows through.
    Courtesy of Erik Jacobs

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A few months ago I received a bar of handmade soap in the mail from photographer Erik Jacobs. It came with a note saying he was leaving photojournalism to attend The Farm School, and the soap, made by him and his wife, was a way of wishing his clients farewell. I emailed him immediately.

I had a million questions about farm school. What was it? Why was he going? How could he give up photojournalism?

Turns out The Farm School is just that — a yearlong program to teach 15 student farmers how to grow organic vegetables, raise livestock, and actively manage forests for firewood and timber. With Thanksgiving approaching and food on my mind, I caught up with Jacobs by phone, and his answers to my questions, like many issues surrounding food and agriculture these days, were complex.

Photographer Erik Jacobs gave up a successful career as a freelancer to spend the year at Farm School. i i

Photographer Erik Jacobs gave up a successful career as a freelancer to spend the year at Farm School. Courtesy of Erik Jacobs hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of Erik Jacobs
Photographer Erik Jacobs gave up a successful career as a freelancer to spend the year at Farm School.

Photographer Erik Jacobs gave up a successful career as a freelancer to spend the year at Farm School.

Courtesy of Erik Jacobs

"I feel a responsibility, and it's an honor, and it feels very important to me," he says about his desire to attend farm school. "I'm here because of my concern for our planet, and I feel a responsibility to share that. The roof is on fire, and all we are talking about is 'what's for dinner.' "

Jacobs has been chronicling his experience on his blog, The Plough and Stars Project. He posts a weekly dispatch sharing the joys, and the challenges, of his new endeavor.

"At farm school I'm interested in being close to the whole cycle of life, and as a photographer there's a part of me that wants to show that," he said. "I'm drawn to photographs that illustrate life and death at the same time — that show humans' transience compared to the world around us."

Still, he says, it hasn't all been easy.

"I think it's confirmed what I suspected — that there is a lot of joy in this work and it feels very purposeful. It has also confirmed some of my concerns that some of the work isn't fun. It's hard on your body and is fairly tedious and monotonous at times."

"But I don't get up and check my email, drive through traffic," he adds, "It feels incredibly natural and intuitive in a way that's built in."

Jacobs' wife, Dina Rudick, is a photographer at the Boston Globe, and they have a house in Somerville, Mass., with six chickens and nine raised beds. The Farm School, in Athol, Mass., is a few hours away, so they don't get to visit too often. But they see his education as something they are doing together, and eventually they hope to lead a more agrarian lifestyle, along with the baby they are expecting in May.

And, Jacobs says, the best thing about being a photographer on a farmer's schedule — the light at sunrise and sunset is amazing.

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