Aaren Harris, Founder and Lead Teacher
Aaren Harris, the founder and lead teacher at Little Wings, has been dreaming up this venture for 20 years. She was a child swept away by nature who grew into an adult who loved small children. After graduating from Union College as an English Literature major, she taught emotionally disturbed children at Oak Hill School in Scotia, NY for two years. This program focuses on experiential education in the outdoors and was the catalyst for her insatiable search for more homesteading knowledge. She had a few farming relatives, but they ran a dairy. She was determined to "return to the land" by learning as much as she could about growing vegetables and old timey, homesteading skills. Alas, it seemed like most of the farmers were gone or old. Most of the farmland that surrounded her in Saratoga County as a child was gone, replaced with housing developments. All that valuable knowledge, once commonplace, slipping away. Farmers were just a sideshow at a county fair. Where could she find some? Agh, the Saratoga Farmer's Market!
She met Chris Lincoln and Tamara VanRyn at the market and noticed that New Minglewood Farm was the only certified organic farm at the market. She begged them for a job! She completed a 2 year apprenticeship at New Minglewood Farm, a NOFA Certified Organic veggie farm in Greenwich, NY. She conceived of a plan to one day start a school that could teach many of these lost skills. She began absorbing skills like seeding, growing, harvesting, curing, storing, pickling, canning, preserving, fermenting, drying, fencing, animal husbandry and self-sufficiency skills and read as much as she could, her books and growing library often taking the place of real instruction. She found NOFA (National Organic Farming Association) NY and the Greenhorns. There were some folks farming veggies nearby! But few of them were young and just starting. And we were all so busy, we could never have time to meet! How would she ever afford land sold at development rates?
In her twenties, she hiked all three of America's long distance trails-the Appalachian Trail, The Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trail- over 9,000 miles in total in the wilderness of America on foot. The CDT was her first date with her husband Chris, a Brit with an allotment and a love of plants. When she returned indoor life and a 9-5 seemed impossible. She was a part of nature now and felt trapped in the walls of most buildings and most of the rules and rituals of finer society. She was mostly feral. Where to now?
She and her partner Chris Harris were given the opportunity to be caretakers and later owners of a part of Wing Road Farm, one of the oldest farmsteads in Greenfield, NY preserved by a conservation easement through Saratoga PLAN. For 3 years she grew vegetables for the Ballston Spa , Greenfield and Saratoga Farmer's Markets as well as ran a small 25 family CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). Aaren and Chris purchased another 3 acre development plot adjacent to their plot and turned the development rights over to Saratoga PLAN. At that point, it became too difficult to earn a living wage on the farm with the amount of debt they took on. So in 2010 they took a break.
During her time farming, Aaren realized her favorite part of farming, which felt quite lonely and isolating at times, was educating the young children who came to the farm to pick up their weekly veggies. So from there, she turned to early childhood education. Could this be the answer to keeping the farm active, and productive while making a living wage? But she couldn't just open up a school. First she needed experience with all types of little learners. Her first assignment was at Capital District Beginnings in an integrated Head Start classroom in Ballston Spa for 4 years of learning as a special education teaching assistant. She had an amazing team of mentors there and worked with diverse children with many different developmental paths. It is here she learned about equity, trauma, and the disadvantages of plugging children into technology in their early years. She began pursuing her Masters in Early Childhood at St. Rose while pregnant for her son Rew. The nights were long and the farm suffered from benevolent neglect, but she finally graduated with an Master's of Science in Teaching and an Initial Certificate in Early Childhood in 2017. Her first classroom of her own was at the Ballston Area Community Center as a Universal Pre-Kindergarten teacher for the Ballston Spa District, helping hundreds of local children have a successful transition to kindergarten. After four years at the BACC, she began dreaming up this program.
This program is the marriage of her love of farming, the early years and the forest. Her goal is simple- to provide an environment that nurtures a child's love of our planet, farming and the forest through hands-on outdoor experiences through the seasons on a magical piece of land in Saratoga County. She wants this model to be copied and reproduced all over the country. Farms make wonderful classrooms. Growing little farmers and stewards of the land should be a universal goal toward maintaining a habitable planet for future generations.
Jill Blackman, Assistant
Jill grew up running wild in the foothills of the Adirondacks. After graduating from SUNY Brockport she worked in the field of mental health for 7 years in western New York. In 2015 Jill and her husband decided they wanted to raise their kids in Saratoga so they bought a little farmhouse and Jill has been a stay at home mom for the past 6 years. She and her kids have raised chickens and cows, learned how to garden, and spent as much time as possible enjoying nature together. Now that her youngest is in school, Jill is excited to share her love of the outdoors with the children of Little Wings!