Open (Barn) Door Policy

With trails to explore and a barnyard full of animals to interact with, Retreat Farm in Brattleboro offers a day full of outside and unplugged activities for area families. Throw in its weekly Food Truck Roundup series and multiple arts events, such as Music Under the Stars, and instead of just one outing, the farm has become a place to visit over and over again.

However, given community statistics that show a majority of families in the Brattleboro area receive free or reduced lunch, returning over and over again to experience the many aspects of Retreat Farm may not be possible for everyone. But in believing that all families should be able to take advantage of the site and its amenities, Retreat Farm offers an accessibility program designed to minimize out of pockets costs to make continued visits to Retreat Farm possible for all.

“In the Open Barn program we wanted to be sure all socioeconomic backgrounds could visit the farm,” said Lindsay Fahey, chief operating officer at Retreat Farm. “Before (we took over the property) the admission price was lower, so we are trying to honor the old program and property, but (when we) adjusted programming, we had to adjust prices but didn’t want to leave anyone out.”

With the Open Barn program, families receive a day admission for $3, or for

$20 a family of five can purchase a year-long membership. This compares with standard $90 price for a five-person family membership or a day pass cost of $8 for adults and $6 for children older than age two.

In order to qualify for the Open Barn program families simply provide proof of their enrollment with EBT, Medicaid or the Reduced/Free Lunch Program by appearing in person at the Farm’s Learning Center and Farm Shop. Among the benefits of the Open Barn Family Membership are unlimited visits to

the children’s farm and forest, retreat trails and retreat meadows; invitations to member-only events; a 10 percent discount at the Retreat Farm learning center and shop; plus early registration for summer camp, special events and workshops.

“It is important to us to have everyone come as we believe that the solution to challenges we are facing will come from different backgrounds connecting in a welcoming, inclusive place where we can share ideas and relationships with people not like ourselves in a safe and welcoming place. In this way everyone is exposed to things outside their normal circle and can then bring vitality to our community. There is not another place in Brattleboro where so many people can gather and enjoy their time together,” Fahey explained.

For individual families there is the opportunity to reconnect with each other. As a working farm, Retreat Farm draws families to an outdoor setting away from devices and in such a manner that pulls visitors back to the land and animals.

“There is a connecting back to what sustains us, plus the restorative benefits of connecting with the land and animals that nourish us when families come to visit the farm,” Fahey said. “We’ve heard that our Open Barn families enjoy the space and how they can come back to it.

“They like that we have family-friendly events that are accessible to everyone. Parents are finding the farm is just as much fun for their kids as it is for them. The kids are also learning about farming as it is relevant to the community.”

With the establishment of the Open Barn program and the realization that it was both relevant and appreciated in the community, Retreat Farm decided to take its programming to the next level. In 2019, it will host two concerts under the stars that are open to everyone at no cost.

The first concert took place on July 13 and featured the Brattleboro Music Center’s Brass Quarter. The second

will be Aug. 17, with performers Keith Murphy and Becky Tracy, who will be playing traditional Celtic, French and Canadian music on fiddles, guitars and the mandolin.

During these performances, families are invited to bring blankets, chairs and a picnic and to relax. Children who get antsy can play in the enclosed area while parents continue to enjoy the music in a low-key environment.

“We started with the Open Barn program, but now recognize we need to move to arts and events programs,” Fahey said. “So, we have two free concerts this summer. Accessibility

for us is in everything we do in both experience and price point, and we are trying to weave through these

two factors.”

Another area in which Retreat Farm has worked to make the experience open to all is with its weekly Food Truck Roundup. Every Thursday night through Sept. 5, from 5 to 8 p.m., local food trucks make their way to Retreat Farm and offer a variety of culinary options for families to pick from and try. In addition, families eat to the sounds of local musicians who play throughout the evening.

To make the Food Truck Roundup more accessible to all, this year Retreat Farm has 325 coupon booklets that contain four $5 coupons, for a $20 total value, that families can use with any of the vendors on any Thursday.

Of course, much of what Retreat Farm is able to do, including many of its accessibility programs comes with the assistance of community partners. There are in-kind donors, for example, who share their excess scraps to help feed the animals, and financial contributions by a number of local businesses and organizations.

“An education program requires philanthropic dollars as it will not be self-sustaining on its own,” Fahey said. “We are an independent nonprofit, so we are not part of another foundation. There is no endowment and we are only in our third year of operation.”

With programs such as the Open Barn, Music Under the Stars and Food Truck Roundup opening up Retreat Farm to the entire community, the organization is looking forward to expanding its footprint to serve the community even better. Among the upgrades Retreat Farm would like

to implement are transforming the barnyard into an interactive space, restoring a historic barn plus adding a kitchen and a classroom for year-round events, more engagements with local schools, enhanced camp weeks and an early education component based on the needs of the community.

Most importantly, however, Retreat Farm will be looking to continue provide an opportunity to connect, both to family and neighbors, and with the animals and land, for all those in southern Vermont and New Hampshire.

“A visit to Retreat Farm can include quiet time cuddling a bunny or a kid goat, active time hiking a trail or picking peas, and quality time with family and friends taking in a performance or enjoying a delicious local meal,” said Wendy Ferris, advancement director at Retreat Farm. “We believe these activities are a reason to unplug and connect to what really matters to each visitor.

“We want to make sure the conversations, personal connections and sense of well-being offered at Retreat Farm are accessible and affordable for everyone.”

To learn more about Retreat Farm, including all of its accessibility programs, visit online at

retreatfarm.org or on Facebook at facebook.com/RetreatFarmBarnyard.