Our Mission


A new force for food, farming, energy, and the environment

To create a real-world connection with local food, healthy living, and the environment.

AYERSfoundation is a charitable, educational, agricultural, and scientific non-profit corporation. The foundation's goals are to promote, practice and teach sustainable agriculture, holistic nutrition, and healthy living as well as to increase the environmental literacy of our youth.  We passionately believe that creating a real-world connection to local food and farming is the best way to get re-grounded, raise energy levels, and increase self awareness

Our partnership pursues two complimentary strategies:

Use existing, working farms as living classrooms for inquiry-based, expeditionary learning where children see, hear, feel and smell where food and agricultural products emanate and pitch in to help with the work of creating fresh food in an environmentally responsible manner. Since 2010, we have seen first-hand how these compelling experiences prompted nearly 5000 student visitors to affiliated farms in southern Rhode Island and Eastern CT to apply their academic and thinking skills to their own choices about food, land, and health.

Help sustain and grow entrepreneurial farms and the farm economies of New England and other bioregions by building educated food awareness and demand for farm fresh food among families, schools, and other consumer groups and by helping farms develop additional revenue streams related to environmental education, tourism and new products.

What we do:
The AYERSfoundation creates agricultural learning labs with local farms using the Expeditionary Learning model. Each year, countless youth and adult participants will put their hands in the dirt to learn how the delicious food they can eat off the vines & bushes of their local farms or dug from their native soils saves energy, reduces global pollution, and promotes good health. The Foundation, together with its partners, offer a full range of food-making and farm-related opportunities, including - but not limited to - indoor and outdoor vegetable growing, tending an orchard, developing culinary skills in a commercial kitchen, wood-lot stewardship, and livestock care and pasturing. Staff will also teach by example how best management practices in farming and forestry can protect and even enhance the quality of our environment.

Our programs include:

  • Educational experiences for young students organized through their schools, clubs, and nonprofits serving youth providing compelling hands-on experiences around local food production and its benefits for our health, environment, and economy.
  • Summer camp for children and young teens focused on animals, plant care and the ethics of land use.
  • Adult classes in garden planning, soil and pest management, and other food-growing skills.
  • Promoting regional food production, including technical, mechanical, and financial support for community gardens and farms in surrounding communities.
  • Creative joint programs with "learning" partners, to teach children about the origin of food and how real organic agriculture relates to the health of soil, the food we consume, and the communities in which we live.

Our social enterprise:
The AYERSfoundation is based at Hillandale Farm, an 18-year-old organic farm in Westerly, Rhode Island. The farm has become a profitable business by selling gourmet tomatoes, field greens, select herbs and other seasonal produce directly to high-end restaurants and specialty markets.

Despite their commercial success, Hillandale’s owners, Max and Uli Hence, have long nurtured a wider vision of establishing sustainable community-based farming as a key strategy to helping communities achieve educational, economic, and environmental goals. During 2010, they received nearly 500 student visitors at Hillandale through a partnership with Kids First, an organization promoting healthy eating and physical activity for children in all Rhode Island schools and childcare centers. The Hences saw first hand the powerful effect direct exposure to real-world farming had on students. 

The Hences formed the nonprofit AYERSfoundation to carry out educational and community service goals that can’t be achieved through for-profit businesses. The Foundation is seeking a mix of individual contributions, private and government grants to enhance and expand educational facilities and support ongoing educational programming wherever its partners and affilate farms operate. Additional support is anticipated through the sale of food and other items produced by student participants in the Foundation’s (and affiliate's) educational programs.

Our work includes supportive partnerships with other for-profit farms and businesses (e.g. Ocean Breeze Farm - last dairy operation in Westerly), small community-supported-agriculture (CSA) operations, processors of locally grown foods, community gardens as well as with area schools and nonprofit participants in the emerging local food and concurrent environmental movement.

… the farm-to-school approach results in students eating more fruits and vegetables per day...making positive lifestyle changes as well as improving knowledge and attitudes about healthy eating and sustainable agriculture.
— Joshi, Azuma and Feenstra, 2008