History of Auerfarm
Today's 120-acre 4-H Education Center at Auerfarm, located in the northwest section of Bloomfield, Connecticut was deeded to the non-profit Connecticut 4-H Development Fund, Inc. in 1976. The farm is committed to growing its successful educational programs and community outreach efforts on this historic community resource.
The farm, founded in the early years of the 20th century, was honored as a model farm in 1950 and was the site for the annual Connecticut Farm Conference in the late 1940's and 1950's. The driving force for the long-term success of the farm was Beatrice Fox Auerbach. Mrs. Auerbach achieved national prominence in the 1930's as the first female president of a leading department store, G. Fox & Co. Her good business sense, humanitarian work practices and philanthropic ventures left a legacy from which people benefit today. She came to run the farm when her husband died in 1927, two years after buying the farm, she took leadership despite no knowledge of farming.
For 40 years she managed the 230-acre Auerfarm with three production divisions: a dairy with 60 purebred Guernsey cows, poultry with more than 20,000 chickens and apples on more than 300 trees. Both the dairy barns and poultry houses were known for testing the latest technology. Milk was processed on the farm. Milk, eggs and other farm products were sold at the G. Fox Department Store. Nine homes on the property housed farm families and a dormitory housed seasonal employees.
Dignitaries from throughout the country, including Eleanor Roosevelt, visited the farm and were impressed by the quality of the crops and animal production. Farmers from abroad came to learn modern practices for use in their countries. Mrs. Auerbach also supported 4-H by sponsoring the statewide 4-H dress revue held at the department store.
Building on the Auerbach Legacy
Mrs. Auerbach's 40 years as head of Auerfarm is a story in itself. The Auerbach legacy is indeed compelling as history. It is equally compelling today as a unique guide for the expansion of what has been created at the farm.
By the beginning of the 1970's, the Auerfarm Guernsey herd was donated to the dairy program of the University of Connecticut. All of the chickens went to market. The apple orchard was the only remaining operation. At this point, the 4-H clubs of Hartford County had more than 1000 members. Creatively, an orchard partnership was formed between the 4-H clubs and the Auerbach family. The 4-H clubs had full use of the orchard including the sales room as long as they maintained the orchard. Club members and their leaders worked throughout the year. They pruned, sprayed, mowed, harvested, graded and sold the apple crop.
The Auerbach heirs recognized the value of 4-H and the positive experience the farm provided to the children who were involved in the apple project. This led to their decision in 1976 by the Schiro and Koopman families to give the farm to 4-H with an agreement to maintain the property as open space and provide a community resource where children and families learned about and enjoyed the ambiance of the farm.
Remaking Auerfarm in a New Role
The immediate challenge in 1976, for a new non profit, was to renovate and preserve deteriorating structures while creating a plan to achieve the mission given them for the long term.
People throughout all levels of the extended community banded together to make things happen. 4-H leaders and members, Seabees, CETA employees, Eagle Scouts, small businessmen, UConn interns and high school students rolled up their sleeves to empty and clean buildings, remove invasive plants, raze buildings, repair the road and paint outside structures. This legacy of community care for the farm continue as many organizations and businesses still donate hours to keep up the grounds.
A standing committee of the Connecticut 4-H Development Fund, Inc. was established to develop a strategic plan and make decisions for day-to-day operations. Farm animals were purchased and a demonstration barn area was built. Raspberries, cornfields, hayfields Christmas trees, and a dwarf orchard were planted and the acres of pasture were fenced for farm animals.
The Learning Center, the first classroom, was created from a renovation of the creamery and a small barn. It was dedicated on September 28, 1978 for the purpose of providing an agricultural- based education program for children. The 4-H Center also actively invited the local community and general public to learn about farming and to enjoy the farm.
The 4-H Center has used the rich 40-year legacy of Beatrice Auerbach to create both a successful education program and an important community outreach effort. Today, the challenge is to expand on this success.
Expanding Community Outreach
Since 1976, hundreds of thousands of young people and family members have enjoyed informal visits to the Center for "pick your own crops," walked the farm roads, met the farm animals, observed wildlife, painted and photographed the wondrous sites. Generations of family members have come to celebrate birthdays and other family gatherings.
Each year, thousands of people are attracted to the Fall Festival, a community event for individuals to experience a wonderful family day. There are hayrides, pony rides, barn visits, and lessons on making apple cider and ice cream, farm animal and gardening talks. There are displays by 4-Hers, children's games and an opportunity to walk the corn maze
Throughout the year programs are offered to schools classes, community groups and the public in the Center's animal barn, classrooms, gardens, farmland and orchards. The 4-H Center also has the only garden in Connecticut that grows food exclusively for FoodShare. Several tons of farm produce are harvested and brought to fresh food outlets. The Center provides coordination and technical assistance to grow crops for participants in the Immigrant Farmer Program.
A series of Community Outreach programs and Master Gardener Trainings have been well received.
Hand on STEM Agriculture Education
The central mission set down by the Auerbach family in 1976, was to create a real hands-on farm learning experience for students.
By the mid 1990s, the program had significant momentum. In 2004, there were more than 17,000 student and adult visits for classes and workshops. Students learn that the farmer is a scientist and that agriculture science affects everyday life. Lessons in biology, biotechnology, horticulture and math address content standards and expected performances in science. The lessons follow the Connecticut Department of Education "core science curriculum framework" for students pre-K through high school.
Programs are all based on the inquiry learning method, encourage critical thinking and curiosity, while providing concrete hands-on discovery experiences essential to motivate and inspire scientific literacy.
Today and Beyond
A large grant from the state in 2014 allowed us to transform the old animal barn into 2 large classrooms, administrative space, bathrooms and a warming kitchen. The building opened in the fall of 2015 and has been a huge hit with the children and teachers alike. This new space can hold 75 children at a time and is a great space for meetings, events and celebrations. The Learning Center is undergoing significant renovations to meet the needs of today’s learners in 2016. Furniture and technology improvements will prepare a classroom that houses students from Annie Fisher Magnet Middle School 70 days per year.
Auerfarm and The Wintonbury Early Childhood Magnet School partnered together in 2010 to bring the children to Auerfarm for over 100 visits per year. The partnership has grown and continues to flourish. Auerfarm has for over a decade hosted an Interdistrict program, where schools from Hartford or Bloomfield partner with schools from Simsbury or Granby to learn about science and each other. They come to the farm many times throughout the year and form communities here. Annie Fisher, Wintonbury and the Interdistrict program also all include a family component where programs invite families to the farm several times a year.
In 2015 the farm added a new animal barn that gives animals easier access to pastures and children easy access to see the animals as well. Alpaca, cows and donkeys now roam the pastures. We have enhanced farm sales as well -- you can purchase alpaca fleece, syrup, blueberries, raspberries and more.
We recently held our first annual Party in Plaid fundraiser and it was a huge success, raising over $10,000 to help continue our mission.
This year is special for the 4-H Education Center at Auerfarm. 2016 marks the 40th anniversary of the Education Center opening for business.