Egremont — A dozen years ago, when Greenagers was formed as an umbrella program of the Center for Peace Through Culture, Will Conklin was excited to offer young people hands-on experiences in which they could immerse themselves while learning the value of teamwork, collaboration, initiative and solid work ethics; in his time at the helm, he has made tremendous strides in taking the organization in the service and volunteerism direction. Today, in addition to being incorporated as its own 501(c)(3) organization, Greenagers Inc. is poised to acquire a 100-acre conservation property that will provide a permanent home and wider reach for Greenagers’ regional jobs and conservation education programs for teens and young adults.
With more than $1.1 million quietly raised last year, Greenagers is now aiming to raise a final $350,000 to support its purchase of the historic 100-acre Kellogg Conservation Center. The property, which will be known as the April Hill Conservation and Education Center, will provide a permanent home for Greenagers, a 10-year-old regional nonprofit providing paid jobs and environmental education for teens and young adults. Greenagers’ $1.5 million fundraising target will secure the purchase and capital improvements at the property, establish reserve funds and provide for program expansion.
“We are so surprised and so very grateful that this project has struck such a chord with our community well before any public announcement was made,” said Will Conklin, executive director of Greenagers. “Apparently, our friends agree with us that this could be the most important project underway on behalf of our region’s young people. Our Egremont neighbors especially have shown spectacular support.”
Greenagers employs teens and young adults interested in conservation, farming and agriculture. Each summer, Greenagers work crews fan out to build and maintain area hiking trails, parks and conservation land, and to work on farms learning about animal husbandry and organic farming. Participants learn about community partnerships through collaborations with area nonprofits, businesses and organizations that both hire Greenagers and partner with Greenagers’ broader mission of youth and community engagement. The organization embraces the values of service and stewardship, and supports social and environmental progress in all of its work.
“The impact Greenagers has on our young people can’t be overstated, and when teens benefit, so does the entire community,” said David Sheehan, chair of the Greenagers board. “April Hill will give us room to grow and to serve more kids in a setting that mirrors our mission perfectly.”
The Kellogg property, located on Route 41, was transferred to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy by the estate of the late Mary Margaret Kellogg; the Appalachian Trail runs just south of the property. In late 2017, ATC moved to transfer its stewardship role and selected Greenagers as the organization most suited to the property. The 4-acre headquarters at April Hill is under a permanent Historic Preservation Restriction. Greenagers looks forward to partnering with local and state historical organizations to provide interpretation and increased public access to the 1744 saltbox house and accompanying barns. April Hill’s direct connection to the Appalachian Trail will afford Greenagers the opportunity to interact with the trail and its diverse users. April Hill will provide a space to welcome hikers, help them refresh their supplies, find rides to town, and listen to stories of the 2,000-mile trek. With a home like April Hill, Greenagers crews will have space to maintain tools and learn new techniques at workshops.
In addition, the care and stewardship of an historic property offers a unique opportunity for area youth to glean lessons of the past as they develop ideas for a sustainable future. “Being an historic house, we want to not just have it sit there,” explained Conklin in a recent phone interview. In fact, Conklin, who makes his living as a farmer, sees April Hill as a unique opportunity to “dive into the history of the land—that particular piece of land, that was in agriculture,” he said of the former Kellogg property. “Agriculture is a big part of the Greenagers’ mission, and obviously one of my passions. To look back and see what worked for our forebears, and what is not working now, [means there are lessons from] the past,” he explained. Conklin spoke in particular about small-scale production, local production and local distribution, all integral to Greenagers incorporating what he called all parts of our community. “To get kids involved right from the start, and instilling in them the underpinnings of ethical agricultural practices, will serve them and our community and our society,” he added, regardless of whether or not participants go on to make a living off of the land.
Greenagers will develop site-specific curricula for April Hill to augment current middle-school programs for local and, more broadly, regional schools in the tri-state area including Columbia County, New York, and Litchfield County, Connecticut. With 100 acres of diverse habitat, Greenagers will welcome rural, suburban and urban youth to hands-on activities and service projects to foster deeper connections with the environment. Perhaps most poignant, with 50 acres under Agricultural Preservation Restriction, April Hill must continue in productive agriculture. These 50 acres can become the next training ground for future farmers. Curricular connections with local schools and higher education will strengthen an already thriving agricultural community.
Greenagers’ Front Lawn Food program is its most public-facing program, providing income-eligible families with organic vegetable gardens and “Donor Gardens” for paying customers. The nonprofit has spent the past decade occupying various rental spaces in and around South County, without a permanent home. For information on contributing to the project, contact Greenagers at firstname.lastname@example.org.