After Episcopal

Ali Shepard '08

Henrietta, a turkey, is one of the newest additions to Burgundy Farm Country Day School and an ideal part of Ali Shepard’s ’08 work with children there.
Ali graduated from Burgundy Farm in 2004 and now lives on campus at the independent school in Alexandria, Va., where she manages the farm comprised of one pig, one sheep, two miniature horses, three goats, four ducks, 20-something chickens, and three turkeys, including Henrietta, who’s a hit with the kids. “Henrietta is a lap turkey,” Ali says. “She loves affection.”

Five years ago, when Ali began working at Burgundy Farm, a school for prekindergarten through eighth grade, there was not much of a farm program. However, Ali has expanded the program from an after-school club to a once-weekly class for first graders to learn about all things farm and barn. She created a curriculum to help her students learn about and understand their food sources. “Especially being in the city, kids lack so much knowledge about something like a chicken,” she says. “They may eat their eggs every day but know nothing about them. So, I just thought there was a real opportunity here, with having those animals, to be able to teach the kids hands on. And of course, they are going out and educating everyone else about the animals.”  
Ali teaches her students all about life on a working farm, from how to care for the animals to the biological systems of each species. She says, “It’s a great opportunity to teach the kids about care and empathy, as well as the natural and biological aspects of managing a farm. They learn about the differences between wild and domestic animals, how to read the body language of the animals, and how to understand their boundaries and respect them.”
Ali’s interest in animal husbandry began while she was a student at Burgundy Farm, when she started taking riding lessons at her local barn. Her love of animals and horses grew, and she decided she wanted to make a career out of caring for them. She founded her own equine business and, through a program of her own creation, began boarding and training horses, providing riding lessons, and practicing equine acupressure at a farm in southern Maryland. According to Ali, many vets who treat injuries or provide equine massage do not ride or train horses, and many trainers do not understand horse biomechanics. Ali formulated an integrated training approach in which she gave people lessons on their horses, working with the horses, and then also working with the horses’ bodies. “If they have a stiff part or a weakness,” she says, “they can’t perform the way the rider wants them to, and that is when they act out and any other trainer would say that’s a behavior issue.”
At Burgundy Farm, many of the kids think of turkeys as more of a Thanksgiving meal than as loving pets. But that is exactly the mindset that Ali is attempting to break with her farm studies program. Ali says, “When we got the turkeys, almost every single person asked if we were going to eat them. It’s interesting that with turkeys, people don’t see any other value than food. They’re smarter than chickens, they’re more social than chickens, they lay eggs that you can eat. But we are so far removed from them that people have often never seen one in real life.”