Peterson Farm - New Tenants

Diana Wickman with her dogs Abel, Yeti, and Scout and Simon Thorrold with Dempsey will be raising sheep at Peterson Farm beginning this month.

Two local scientists with day jobs at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Simon R. Thorrold and Diana L. Wickman, are set to sign an agreement with the town to bring grazing sheep within days to Peterson Farm, said Mark Kasprzyk with the Falmouth Conservation Department.

The 300 Committee will host a community cleanup on Saturday, May 5, beginning at 9 AM at the farm to help the new tenants get started.

“It’s going to be fantastic having them there actively managing Peterson Farm again,” Mr. Kasprzyk said.

Mr. Thorrold and Ms. Wickman are following in the footsteps of veterinarian Susan B. Schoen, who raised sheep at Peterson Farm for 20 years and trained her border collies to herd. When she moved to Western Massachusetts two years ago, the farm was left vacant. The grass grew high and had to be mowed without the sheep to help maintain the pastureland bordered by woods. Last month, in an act of vandalism, the barn windows were shattered.

Mr. Thorrold and Ms. Wickman are eager to make it a working farm again. Ms. Wickman has experience at Peterson Farm, having worked with Dr. Schoen and her sheep there before. Ms. Wickman also has three border collies, Abel, Yeti and Scout, whom she trained with Dr. Schoen.

“When she left, it left a hole in me,” Ms. Wickman said. “I missed coming here after work. It was a nice way to decompress. I love being on the farm.”

Mr. Thorrold also has a border collie, Dempsey, whom he got as a puppy from Dr. Schoen, who breeds the dogs.

Both Ms. Wickman and Mr. Thorrold were interested in having a place for their dogs to work with sheep, and when the option of having 10 acres in the center of Falmouth to do so came up, they teamed up and jumped at the chance to make a bid to the town.

“Both of us have full-time jobs, so together we will divide and conquer,” Ms. Wickman said.

The two will be volunteer stewards of the land. Their interest stems from childhoods spent on farms. Ms. Wickman grew up on a horse farm with dogs in Western Connecticut.

“It’s a way to get back to my roots,” Mr. Thorrold said about the venture.

He grew up on a dairy farm in New Zealand and spent a gap year between high school and college working on a sheep farm on the South Island of New Zealand.

They are starting out small with 10 Katahdin yearlings. Ms. Wickman said that this domestic line from Maine produces sheep that are good foragers and not picky about the grass they eat. They have hair instead of wool, so they do not need to be sheared, and they are bred to be parasite and disease resistant.

“They are good starter sheep,” Ms. Wickman said.

Later Mr. Thorrold and Ms. Wickman may add some Scottish blackface sheep, which are also good eaters, to the group. The idea is to bring the flock to about 30 in the next couple of years.

Their efforts include bringing the community back to the farm to see the sheep and enjoy the land. In the past the sheep were a big part of the farm’s attraction. Visitors looked forward to seeing lambs in the early spring.

Mr. Thorrold and Ms. Wickman may have planned events after they settle in, such as sheep herding demonstrations and school group visits. The farm links to Beebe Woods and Highfield Hall and can be part of a visit to those destinations.

Peterson Farm is one of the oldest farms on Cape Cod, having functioned as a sheep and cattle farm for 300 years under the Weeks family.

“We want to honor the tradition and history of the land,” Ms. Wickman said. “It feels like it should be a farm.”

The new shepherds are getting ready for the sheep to arrive next week with the cleanup on Saturday, May 5, and are raising funds to rebuild fencing and purchase a used small compact tractor through GoFundMe at www.gofundme.com/petersonfarm.

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