Farmer Olympics: Greenagers go for gold with wheelbarrows, hay bales at Hancock Shaker Village

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PITTSFIELD — The world's eyes may be on the competition in Rio, but closer to home, nonprofit teenager work program Greenagers and Hancock Shaker Village have teamed up to present the first ever "Farmer Olympics: Go Pig or Go Home" at the historic landmark on Saturday.

Plucky participants of all ages can try their hand at farm-themed games such as Grain Bag Toss, Round Bale Roll, Cucumber Toss and Moo-Juice Squeeze.

Activities of varying exertions include stacking hay bales in a pickup truck; pushing a teammate in a wheelbarrow; crosscutting a log; and tossing corn ears into a barrel.

The registration fee includes one attempt at each game. People can participate as individuals or teams of two, earning points in the process. The highest point winners receive custom handmade medals and ultimate bragging rights.

Greenagers had organized similar games over the past few years on a more modest scale near its South County base.

"We are starting a collaboration with HSV that was initiated through Housatonic Heritage," said Greenagers executive director Will Conklin, "and the idea popped up as a good way to get kids here, leverage the village and all of its amazing resources, and raise money to support the work of the kids."

Greenagers offers year round environmental education to 175 youth aged 6 to 24, and paid summer jobs for high school-age teens who work at farms and sites mostly in southern Berkshire County and along the Appalachian Trail.

"Kids get their feet wet in the job market; for many it's their first job experience," Conklin said. "They learn skills and what the expectations are for workers."

Venturing north to HSV for the first time, the crew rebuilt a portion of the Route 20 stone wall hit by a vehicle, fixed a shed roof, and cleared overgrown shrubbery. They also learned about the Shakers through tours and demonstrations organized by the education department.

"One of the things that was pointed out at the first meeting was that it is important for Greenagers to have a sense of pride in the places where they work, and understand their work is important and valued," said Cindy Dickinson, director of education at the living Shaker history museum. "To me, all work should be like that."

As the primary program Baby Animals tends to attract a younger crowd, the museum wanted to connect more teenagers to the history, land and farming, Dickinson said.

"We have a nice record of internships with Miss Hall's and the Darrow School, and a number of teenagers volunteer in the summer in the Discovery Barn with an emphasis on farming and Shaker children," she said. "But we want to do more of that."

Volunteers can begin at age 13. "Some work on the farm with the animals or with plants, they go where the need is," she noted. "When the Shakers were here, boys worked with brethren in the fields, and girls helped sisters with dairy, where they milked and made butter and cheese."

Nowadays, of course, all the jobs are open to both sexes.

Greenagers focuses on engaging young people in local sustainable agriculture as well as local conservation, Conklin said.

"It's connecting young people to places and spaces that are essential to both the Berkshire area and life in general, the land and the soil, and how to preserve, conserve and grow all that."

He sees the village as a unique resource.

"There are very few other places where they could engage with a space like this," he said.

Over at the iconic round stone barn, farm manager Bill Mangiardi and his crew have been busy preparing for the upcoming games. A mountain of clean hay bales fills a stall in the former dairy, while a 100-pound pink pig waits quite unaware of her important role in the proceedings.

"The top three finishers will be tasked with maneuvering the pig into all four quadrants of the round barn without physical persuasion," Conklin said. "She's on the rest portion of her training in the barn as we speak."

While other farm animals — sheep, goats, ducks, oxen — won't be part of this year's games, some chickens are already veterans of scurrying and sauntering down the track at the chicken races during the village's Country Fair held each fall.

"In the spirit of the event we're trying to keep things local," Conklin said. "We're using hay from the village, Stone House grain from just over the line in New York; it's a way to bring attention to local agriculture."

Past Farmer Games have attracted 15 to 20 participants.

"We're hoping to get double that this year," Conklin said, "and who knows, maybe we'll get many more."

If you go ...

What: Greenagers presents "Farmer Olympics: Go Pig Or Go Home"

Where: Hancock Shaker Village, Pittsfield

When: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday; open competitions from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Cost: Participants — $15 age 12 and over, $25 team of two, free age 11 or under. Spectators — $15 age 18 and over, free age 17 and under. Includes museum admission

Registration (requested): office@greenagers.org 413-644-9090 or on event day

Information: greenagers.org, (413) 644-9090; or hancockshakervillage.org, (413) 443-0188


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