Saturday, April 13, 2013

Farm & Ranch Living Unedited

Mulberry Lane Farm was honored to be selected to be featured in the April/May 2013 issue of Farm & Ranch Magazine. You can view the issue on our blog at F&R Printed Issue.

Some have asked if F&R had printed it as I wrote it. The answer is no. I had submitted detailed daily activities. Had they printed it all, instead of our story covering 5 pages, they would have had to dedicate the entire issue to Mulberry Lane Farm. However, they did an excellent job in editing, keeping the story line true to what I submitted.

The same holds true of the photos taken by commissioned photographer Kim Theil. Kim submitted tons of photos and obviously not all made the cut. I've included some of my favorites that reached the cutting room floor.

For those interested in the unedited version I have added it hear. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. (Easy to say a year later when the memory of the daunting task has faded.)

Unedited Submitted Version:
“Oh, what cute little ducklings!” I proudly announced.  It’s not every city girl that knows web footed birds are called ducks.  

“Bonnie, these are goslings,” said Patrick, my husband, smiling at me. 

Opening the lid of the next air hole dotted box I confidently said, “Awe, what adorable chicks!”
Pat again lovingly corrected me, saying, “Actually, these are peafowl.”  

As if I knew what a peafowl was!  Really?  And so went the first of many, many lessons.  Pat realized that taking me out of the city wasn’t going to be easy.  It was all I knew.   However, country life was second nature for him because he was raised at Green Meadows Petting Farm outside Waterford, WI.  

Although grateful for the work ethic his parents instilled in him, Pat left the farm to go to college after high school, confident there was more to life.  Little did he know that by the time he turned 50 he’d have a strong yearning to get back to his roots. 

Through a series of events, in January 2005 we had the opportunity to purchase a 100 year old, 123 acre farm in Sherwood, less than 20 miles from the city.  Financially impossible for us, Pat’s mother, Coni, offered to step in.   
My mother-in-law had always been just that, a mother-in-law, nothing more, nothing less.  We visited on holidays and at family gathering, funerals, weddings, etc.  We weren’t close.  I remembered my first marital argument with Pat, as though it was yesterday.  It was about his choice of words when comparing my chili to his mother’s chili.  No, I wasn’t close to my mother-in-law and I have to admit, I was more than a little reluctant to entertain the idea of purchasing a farm, let alone entering a partnership.  Truthfully, I was down right against it.

Sitting at our kitchen table in my beloved home, in my beloved Appleton, just miles from my beloved job, across the street from our beloved daughter and family, I asked the inevitable question. “What on earth would we do with a farm?” 

Coni and Pat looked at each other and nearly in unison chimed in, “The one thing the Keyes family does best. Start an educational children’s petting farm!!” 

After all, the Keyes family farm, Green Meadows Farm, has been thriving for over 64 years. Pat’s parents and several of his brothers had begun petting farms of their own throughout the United States including current operations in Florida, Maryland, New Jersey, and New York.  So with all the enthusiasm I could muster I gave them my blessing and promised to give moral support with the understanding that it was their challenge, not mine.  I wanted nothing to do with it.  

I quickly realized I’d managed to hold my husband hostage in the city for 30 years.  What a mistake.   Pat’s new zeal for life was contagious.   I got excited about the changes in our life and took back my words.  Shockingly, I even enjoyed the mentoring of my mother-in-law!   However, I still think my chili is better.

Coni, mother of 13 and now 79, dug right in. No stranger to trials and tribulations, she wasn’t intimidated by the looks of this idle old farm, nor was Pat.  They had a vision and their vision was contagious. 

I was impressed by her energy as Coni, with her green thumb, began working on flowerbeds as fast as the guys could clear the land.  It was exciting to see the transformation as Pat and our son-in-law, Jesus Mendoza, began the daunting task of turning the weathered farm into a family friendly, agri-tourism destination.  They skillfully restored the barns and the land, breathing life into everything old while maintaining the integrity and heritage deserved in honor of the prior owners, the Schwaubenlander family.   

While they took care of the farm’s transformation I was busy doing mass mailings to thousands of schools within a four county radius, announcing the opening of what we hoped would be the greatest field trip destination in the area, if not the state!
We took ownership of the farm in January 2005 and opened to the public in October of the same year.  Our mission is to provide an ideal country learning environment where people of all ages can interact and learn about farm animals through “hands-on” guided tours. Our 3 core values are 1.) To respect life, both human and animal. 2.) To educate our guests about the importance of farm animals and farming in general. 3.) To love, laugh & live our passion and in doing so, give the glory to God.   

I invite you to join us as we begin our seventh spring season here at Mulberry Lane Petting Farm. During the months of May through October we’ll welcome over 25,000 guests to the farm with a quarter of them being in the month of May alone. With over 200 animals spring comes to life at Mulberry with the births of our baby farm animals:  baby chicks, baby ducklings, baby calves, baby lambs, baby kid goats, baby ponies, baby piglets, baby kittens, baby bunnies…oh baby, do we have babies!

May Day! (May 1 – Tuesday)

I’m off to work, but not on the farm.  Did I fail to mention I work for a business consultant in Appleton too? I wouldn’t be able to if it wasn’t for our farm manager Cindy Isajiw. Farmer (a term of endearment everyone at the farm shares) Cindy oversees the people end of the business including admissions of our walk-in guests, greeting the teachers and assigning the tour guides to their school groups.  You name it, she does it.    

Tomorrow is opening day and this is our last opportunity to get everything in place. Farmer Cindy and Farmer Liz (Gunyon) her assistant are cleaning and stocking the shelves with locally made jellies and canned goods along with an array of souvenirs. They’re also getting some of the spring decorations out and placing them throughout the farm.

Coni is up from her Florida farm to help. She spent the day in the flower beds and mowing the lawn. With 14 acres of manicured lawns to mow, by the time she gets to the back of the farm it’s time to start over again in the front.

Pat and some of his team got the last of the panels up around the chicken coop, the sow and her piglets are put into their spring pen, and the Hay Mow where school groups enjoy eating their sack lunches is cleared of farm implements that were stored there for the winter. 

I’m up late pulling together items that are still needed for opening. The gate sheet, the list of tour guides that will be working tomorrow, last minute emails to teachers confirming their upcoming field trips…the list goes on.

May 2 – Wednesday

Opening Day! The day we’ve been working toward since we closed last October. Boy time flies!!

It was bitter sweet.  We were excited to be open to the public again but slightly disappointed that the weather wasn’t cooperating. With a 50% chance of rain (that never came) we had limited walk-in visitors. It never ceases to amaze me how much our agri-tourism business is affected by the forecast.

Rain or shine, chores have to be done. Farmer Pat was out of the door before 6 AM and I wasn’t far behind.

Before leaving the house the phone rang. I heard chirping in the background. Yup, our 3 day old chicks and ducklings arrived at the US post office and the post master was anxious for us to come pick them up. Farmer Pat made the trip into town wanting to get them to the farm and under heat lamps as soon as possible. The little squirts are so cute and always a high-light at the farm.

May 3 – Thursday

It rained cats and dogs during the night. Over 3 inches of rain and the ground is soaked! The storm woke us up around 2AM. Following the sound of an ominous noise, I found the basement filling with water.   The sump pump was working so we cleared important things out of the way and decided it could wait until morning.

By then I was wide awake so decided to start the dish washer.  I’m the dishwasher.  Surprisingly when done, I was able to go back to bed and fall asleep for a few hours.

We had over 300 students scheduled to visit the farm but because some of the main roads were flooded, all rescheduled except one field trip of 60. About an hour into their two hour tour the skies looked dangerously dark and Farmer Cindy could see lightening in the distance so called the group into the haymow, sparing them a good soaking.

While the group had a snack in the haymow Farmers Cindy & Liz went out and retrieved two baby lambs, a few kittens and a basket of chicks which kept the students busy until it cleared enough for them to complete the tour.

On days like this, we remind the teachers that field trips like this are far more memorable for the kids than the ones that go off without a hitch.

May 4 Friday

We woke to a strange glow coming over the east horizon.  Could it be the sun?  It was a sure sign that we would have a busy day.

But first things come first.  I like to start my day with a strong cup of coffee, sitting in front of the computer, updating every social media account a business could have. I tweet about the 2 kid goats born during the night, notify our Facebook friends about an upcoming promotion and post photos of Coni in the flowerbeds on our blog. Mother’s Day is less than 10 days away so I take time to post to online community calendars about our “Moms are FREE” event.
While I was working at the computer, Farmer Pat was busy getting the farm open. Our milking cow was brought out of the barn, cleaned and placed in her day stanchion for our guests to milk. The goats and sheep are herded into their day pen from the pasture and the ponies are saddled and placed into the pony ring. Even the pig pen is spick-and-span before we open. We pride ourselves in having a clean, safe farm.

All our guests have the opportunity to milk a cow, catch a chicken, kiss a pig, cuddle a kitten, hand-feed goats and sheep, ride a pony, enjoy a hayride and much more. Therefore mornings for Farmer Pat and his team are fast and furious. It’s a lot to prepare before our first school group arrives.

The weather cooperated and the day went off without a hitch.

I often end the day the same way I started it but without the coffee.  Tonight was no different. I sat down at my computer to check emails only to find a message from one of our tour guides letting me know he won’t be able to work this spring after all. News like this, and so last minute, is difficult on us all. Reservations are accepted based on how many guides I’ve hired.  This was not news I wanted at the start of the season. Ugh!

May 5 - Saturday

Do you ever have one of those mornings where nothing goes right? First, instead of savoring my morning cup of coffee, I shared it with the papers that lined my desk. After cleaning up the mess, I turned on the computer to check the day’s weather. Four and a half inches of rain fell Thursday with another two inches in the forecast for today. Not good.  Next onto local news and learned our bank had been robbed by gun point and it was within an hour of my visit yesterday. That was a little too close for comfort.  Then Farmer Cindy called the house to inform me that last night’s lightening must have taken out the charge card machine.  Before I even hung up the phone, Pat yelled in the door that the car had a flat tire. Continuing at the computer I logged into our bank account only to find we were overdrawn!  (Can I blame the robbers?)  Finally, as I walked into the bathroom, my well-earned gray hairs were suddenly screaming at me!

You got it. Coloring my hair quickly moved to the top of the priority list. I scrambled to complete that task before meeting with a bride-to-be who’s thinking about holding her wedding at the farm later this year.

Thank you Lord, the day did turn around.  In spite of the continued gloomy weather, attendance was brisk and the soggy ground allowed me to wear my fancy new cow print galoshes; the bride did indeed book her wedding; the phone company was able to make a repair stop to the farm to re-wire the charge card machine; the tire was repaired; Pat & I went out for dinner and my hair helped me look and feel a few years younger; and I even saw my beautiful granddaughter off to Jr. Prom.

May 6 – Sunday

So much for a sunny “Sun”day! It was raining and lightening by 10AM so we never opened the farm. However, that didn’t mean WE got the day off. With this unsettled weather pattern the babies are popping left and right. We believe barometric pressure DOES affect farm animals. During the night twin kid goats and a lamb were born and another pair of twin kids during the day.

This is the first of many Sundays that won’t include church.  We’re unable to attend until the first of November. Therefore morning devotions keep us motivated and inspired. It’s a long 6 months for us and we miss our church family already.

Our twelve year old granddaughter Aaliyah spent the night so she helped with house chores while I did payroll, tour guide schedule, bank deposit, animal birth records, etc. Updating birth records this time of year is a daunting task in itself.  The farm is USDA licensed and we are proud to have passed every unannounced inspection. My goal is to keep that record going.

May 7 – Monday

We are closed on Mondays and Tuesdays in May so that Farmer Pat has a chance to get some repairs done at the farm. The excessive rain caused our hayride road to wash out. A good part of his day was spent working on that along with getting the animals to higher ground.

Mid-afternoon, Pat called me at my city job looking for help. He was stranded on the side of the road with our dump truck. My plan was to go grocery shopping after work but it’s not one of my favorite chores so I wasn’t upset that it would have to wait for another day.

Arriving back to the farm, I learned one of our tour guides has a conflict and can’t take her shift. Thankfully, with some juggling, I was able to get the shift covered. When you have a guided-tour field trip scheduled you just MUST have a tour guide!

May 8 - Tuesday

The first phone call of the day was from a teacher cancelling a field trip scheduled for later in the month. Although rare, my heart sinks whenever I receive this kind of call. The teacher shared her regret especially since our farm is their all-time favorite field trip.  She explained that her student base this year couldn’t afford the trip once they factored in bus fare.  I had a solution.   Fortunately there are families, both local and as far as 150 miles away, that support our mission to educate children about farm animals.  Thanks to them we have grants for low income students.  After securing a $100 grant, these students were back on the calendar. Yeah!

May 9 – Wednesday

Remember the gal who didn’t know the difference between a duckling and a gosling?  Remember the city girl who couldn’t tell a chicken from a peachick?  Believe it or not she now has her own educational segment on a Green Bay TV station! Once a month we take farm animals to the studio for a live segment of Bonnie’s Barnyard. With the next show this Friday I spent time on the computer researching and confirming animal facts. Sunday is Mother’s Day so it seemed appropriate to feature female rabbits (does) and her baby bunnies (kits).   After all, with a gestation period of only 31 days, throughout history the rabbit has been the symbol of fertility.

I realize I’m beginning to sound like a broken record but once again my evening was spent working on covering a shift that a tour guide needed to change. We do have a policy that once a schedule is out it is their responsibility to find a replacement, unless, of course, I make the scheduling error. However, I usually find myself helping as much as I can. How does the saying go? You’re only taken advantage of if you allow people to take advantage of you.  Guess I need to do some soul searching.

May 10 – Thursday

This was a fun day on the farm.  A group of school children were playing on our old fashion playground this morning when a little girl started to scream, “Come here!  Hurry!  Get one of the farmers!”  All the children gathered around, surprised to find a momma cat and her brand new litter of kittens in a tractor tire! It was such a delight to see the excitement on the playground.   Later in the afternoon another school group was lucky enough to watch a mama goat bathe her two just-born, wobbly-legged baby kids.  I never grow tired of how excited our city guests get over what we as farmers take for granted.

May 11 – Friday

“Welcome to Mulberry Lane Farm. I’m Farmer Bonnie and I’ll be your tour guide today.”  I wish I had a nickel for every time I’ve said that. I’d be a bizillionaire!
With our new hires in training, I found myself touring twice today; first, a group of lively first graders and in the afternoon, a play group, Moms with toddlers. Touring takes a lot of energy but it’s very rewarding. Before leaving several of the children wrapped their arms around me, sharing their gratitude.

It was the perfect ending to a great day that started extra early with my monthly TV segment of Bonnie’s Barnyard. I’m a little anxious bringing the animals to a live set because you never know what might happen.  It’s not like farm animals are potty trained!  However, the morning news crew has grown fond of the routine and this morning’s guests, kid goats, lambs and bunnies, were stars.   I felt like a proud mom.

May 12 - Saturday

Exhausted from yesterday, my inner alarm clock didn’t go off this morning. Pat woke me at 6:00 wondering if I was okay. He knew I had a full day ahead and was concerned to find me in bed.  How thoughtful of him…but I would have rather stayed asleep. This 55 year old body is feeling its age.

I decided to jump on some house chores and paperwork before heading out of the house. I threw a load of laundry in, caught up the dishes and folded clothes.  Then I looked over the next tour guide schedule before posting it, updated payroll records of the new hires, emailed our insurance man about upping our building coverage now that the new roof was on the hay mow, updated birth records (another 6 kids born during the night), tweeted about the kids and put the video of Bonnie’s Barnyard on our blog.  By then it was 9:00 and I was ready for bed.  But wait…it was nine in the morning, my day was just starting!! 

It was a fun Saturday.  Perfect weather, excited guest, and farm animals that acted like movie stars made me grateful that I got up to face the day.

May 13 – Sunday

Mother’s Day at the farm is always exciting.  We offer free admission to Moms and many families have turned us into an annual outing.  They love visiting new-born farm animals.  The weather was perfect again so all hands were on deck.  In addition to our regular staff we called in our daughter, Felicia, to work The Granary (admission barn), our 17-year-old granddaughter to help with tours, and our 12-year-old granddaughter to be a runner (takes new arrivals out to join the ongoing tour).  Plus our 3-year-old grandson co-managed with Grandpa helping him oversee the barnyard, including the pony ring and the hayride.   Coni made time to catch up on mowing our fast-growing (thanks to all that rain) grass and I ran around like a chicken with its head cut off!  (No pun intended.)

Our afternoon guests were treated to a very special event. They were able to watch a nanny goat give birth to triplets! One mother shared that it was her best Mother’s Day ever. I think she was just elated that she wasn’t the one giving birth to triplets!

May 14 – Monday

Since the farm is closed today Farmer Pat took the opportunity to work the fields, getting most of them ready for corn.  But just as important would be the time he spends getting the pumpkin patch ready.  Although we have tons of visitors in May who love interacting with baby farm animals, the numbers pale in comparison to October.  In the fall, at the end of their tour, all guests visit the Pumpkin Patch to pick a free pumpkin.  The draw of the pumpkin is amazing!!   And to think Mom and Dad Keyes began this marketing concept nearly 50 years ago purely by accident. Dad Keyes had planted a few too many pumpkins in the family garden so he offered their guests an opportunity to pick them. It was such a hit he planted extra the next year and still more the next…the rest is history.

I was home from my city job and grocery shopping just in time to get brats on the grill before Pat literally dragged himself into the house.  I could tell he’s been wearing himself thin by looking at his dry, cracked lips.  Still, he greeted me with a smile of accomplishment.

May 15 – Tuesday

Pat yelled into the house, “Two more mouths to feed.”   The births might be good news for our local feed mill but they don’t pay our feed bills. Not that I’m complaining, we love all the new babies born in spring and they’re also great for business.

The farm was well staffed today so I took the opportunity to sneak into the house and pay some of those bills. Well, at least I wrote the checks. It may take a few more field trips before I can safely put them in the mailbox.

With that said, we are very optimistic our children’s petting farm is going to make it. We had real concerns right up to the fall of last year.  Until then we struggled to make ends meet, especially with the renovations needed on the farm and the recession. The wonderful turn-out on Mother’s Day confirmed our optimism. To date this month, we have as many family guests as we had the entire month of May last year. If the trend continues we are on track to double our numbers.  I’m loving the odds.

May 16 – Wednesday

A local elementary school has a reading incentive program that Mulberry Lane Farm participates in. Students who read 350 hours during the school year are eligible for free admissions to local attractions, restaurants etc. I received an email from the lead teacher that 275 students accomplished the task. I took time this morning to create our free admission coupons so students can receive them before the end of the school year.

As well as schools planning activities to help their students stay busy over summer break, so are parents. Birthday party reservations are steadily rolling in. I reserved two birthday today alone.

May 17 – Thursday

We have learned that no matter the age or the background, there is something about a farm that brings out the joy and self-worth in others.  This sentiment couldn’t ring truer than with the group I booked today.   A non-profit that assists children who are deaf and hard of hearing is bringing a group of families this summer. 

They love Mulberry and we are blessed to be able to provide an interpreter for their tour. One of our personal friends and occasional helper at the farm grew up with a deaf mother.  She works for the Appleton School system as an interpreter and has agreed to tour with the group.  This kind of group brings out the joy and self-worth in us as well. 

May 18 – Friday

Farmer Pat was excited to head out the door this morning.  It’s planting day and a light rain is forecasted this weekend. When farming, timing is everything. He’s excited to get the corn in the ground just in time for Mother Nature to water it.

I also scurried out the door but not before taking the time to put our sheets out on the clothes line.  Whatever happened to that tradition?  As I drove into town it occurred to me that this form of yard art dwindled the closer I got to the city.  I personally know some “city people” who have never experienced sheets fresh off the line.  It’s one of the simple pleasures of country life I hope I never take for granted.

May 19 - Saturday

Our weather has been crazy this month.  It started with record rainfall and now we’re dealing with record breaking heat.  I’m anxious to see what the end of the month will bring, snow?

There’s a bright side to every challenge, something my mentor, Coni, taught me.   What’s the bright side to sweltering 89 degree temps?  How about dramatically increased popsicle and cold beverage sales in The Granary?  Yea!

I was also thankful for the strong breeze…I think.  It made the heat a little more bearable but with the men working the fields I came in tonight with skin that felt like sandpaper.  Anything that was blowing in the wind today stuck to us.  Ah, a shower never felt so good.

May 20 - Sunday

It was a great day on the farm.  We were busy, our guests were excited, and our team is turning into a well-oiled machine.  It’s going to be a great summer. 

On a side note, I’m part of the Launch Team formed by our church to find a space that can better accommodate our growing membership.  Today was the meeting for our congregation to vote on the purchase of a building the team recommended.   I couldn’t attend but thanks to technology, received a text within minutes of the vote…100% approval!!!  Impressive.

May 21 – Monday

A small business owner who noticed we use Facebook to promote the farm asked me today if I like using social media.  That’s a tough question to answer because I was born and raised in the heartland of the paper industry.  Most of my uncles, cousins and even two sisters worked their entire lives in a paper mill and with the decline of paper advertising many mills have closed.

Before using Facebook we advertised in a community coupon mailer.  Although pricey ($750/ad), it reached many people who’d never heard of the petting farm.   This year, when solicited for an ad, I declined.  We reach many more people with social media and it’s free.  I felt bad when I opted out of the community mailer, worrying that before long it will also be a thing of the past.  I don’t like thinking I contributed to its demise.

So to answer his question, yes, I’m a fan of Facebook.  It helps us reach people and stay connected to our patrons.  It also helps us promote our mission of helping people of all ages learn about farm animals. But, on the flip side, it is time consuming.  I can see why large corporations hire full-time social media experts.

Tuesday – May 22

To make the farm operation cost effective, I try to schedule all spring field trips Wednesday through Friday. The weekends are busy with private groups and families making Monday and Tuesday “closed” days.  We spend them catching-up on maintenance activities.  However, with reservations up this spring, Tuesday has turned into an overflow day.  We toured 250 students today, not bad for what’s historically been a “closed” day.

Other than the field trips it was a typical Tuesday. Pat put the finishing touches on some new landscaping around the milk house.  It’s been his goal to get that area done before our first June wedding.  We giggled when we realized Farmer Cindy, Mom and I were all standing around directing Pat as he planted one of the shrubs.  I’m sure he appreciated the supervision but might have preferred our help digging the hole.
Wednesday – May 23

I knew something was up when Farmer Cindy approached me with a look of concern.  A reservation of 52 arrived with 74 in their group.  Her concern is my elation!  I’m always happy when more visitors arrive.

It’s our policy to keep groups to a maximum of 60 per tour guide.  Even though one guide can manage more people than that, we want to be sure everyone has a great experience and it gets harder as the group gets larger.  I was thankful to see one of the new hires, an energetic college student, was assigned to the group.  However, 72 people are a bit too many, so I put on my Farmer Bonnie hat and we divided the group into two.  Getting to my city job would have to wait.

I’m fortunate my boss is flexible. He knows I’ll get to the office when I can and stay as long as needed to finish my work. Without this working relationship, running the farm and working outside the home would be impossible.

Arriving home later than normal, I jokingly said, “Pat, I was feeling an unusual amount of stress and fatigue so I decided to call the doctor and amazingly he ordered us to go out to dinner tonight.”  Pat appreciates my sense of humor and replied, “Well, the doctor knows best.  Did he suggest a restaurant?”  Hmmm, maybe I should call the doctor more often.

Thursday – May 24

As I boiled a dozen of eggs for a school group this morning I recalled our Father’s Day blog posting from last year. NO iphone, NO ipad, NO ipod… just iDad time on the farm. Why the flashback to that post?

Because technology has replaced playground time with “sit in front of a machine” time and it has significantly reduced parent interaction time.  Ask today’s student if they want to have a wheelbarrow or gunnysack race, play Farmer in the Dell or Duck, Duck, Goose and they’ll look at you as if you’re from outer space.

We encourage our guests to have some good old fashion fun while at the farm. Teachers can visit our website’s “Teacher’s Page” to download our FARM Games Guide. We offer to supply the eggs from the chicken coop for the egg toss game.  To add excitement, they allow students to believe the eggs are un-cooked, but of course, they’re hard-boiled.  We don’t want to be remembered as the field trip that sent students home covered in egg splat.
100 Year Old Mulberry Tree

Friday – May 25

Today I was reminded why we do what we do.  A proud mother sent us a picture of her young son sharing the chicken he caught with his classmate who was confined to a wheelchair.  She told us her son was determined to catch the chicken because he knew his friend couldn’t.  She was so proud of him for thinking of someone else.  The scene was repeated with the baby goats, baby bunnies, and little kittens.  This is a picture I will cherish forever.

You might think the Friday leading into Memorial weekend would be quiet but we were busy all day.  Most schools had a half-day so the morning was packed with field trips.  This afternoon, families took advantage of the beautiful weather and joined us on the farm. 

We have a season pass which is basically twice the cost of a daily admission.  Many local families take advantage of this deal so we are already seeing some of our “regulars”.  Today it was a group of moms of preschool age children who showed up with lunches in hand and enjoyed each other’s company while their little ones ran around the farm.

May 26 - Saturday

As the saying goes, “birds of a feather flock together.”  Do they?  The power of imprinting is amazing. One of our free range guinea hens laid eggs in a turkey hen’s nest a few years ago.  It was the turkey hen who sat long enough to hatch them. The one surviving guinea keet was raised in the turkey pen and bonded with her new family.

To this day she still believes she’s a turkey, even laying her eggs and nesting with her turkey lady friends. So in the hollow log lay both large and small eggs. We’ll be anxious to see what momma guinea will do when out of one of the eggs she’s sitting on emerges a turkey poult!

Guineas who think they are turkeys and turkeys who think they are guineas.  It’s a crazy world we live in.

May 27 – Sunday

Two new additions arrived at the farm today. A local dairy farmer’s heifer gave birth to mixed twin calves. Once they were sure the calves received the all-important colostrum from their mother’s early milk supply, the dairy farmer was ready to give them up for adoption. We love receiving twin calves. Being an educational farm we enjoy sharing with our adult guests the intriguing details of what it means to be a freemartin (A sterile or otherwise sexually imperfect female calf born as the twin of a bull calf). Since most of our guests are from the city it is an interesting fact that fascinates them.
May 28 – Memorial Day

Ella, the momma cat who gave birth out in the playground’s tractor tire was unable to nurse her kittens. She lost two and we couldn’t bear for her to lose any more. Farmer Liz volunteered to take the two remaining kittens home and feed them by eye dropper until they’re able to eat solids. Getting up every couple of hours during the night is more than we would ask of our staff, but it shows the champions we have on our team.

It’s near the end of May and the farm is looking its finest. We placed flags out by the rock wall near the entrance, flags in the barn hill flowerbeds and flags in potted plants scattered about the farm. The American farm is about as patriotic as you can get. We honored our veterans with free admission as a token of appreciation for their service. We felt honored so many brought their families out to spend the day.

May 29 – Tuesday

Farmer Pat and our son-in-law, Jesus, got the last of the pumpkins planted today. Now the fields are fully planted with corn, alfalfa, soybeans and pumpkins. If only Pat could relax, but no, there is still plenty to be done around the farm. His summer projects include siding and roofing the chicken coop, gutters on the haymow, replacing boards on all the park benches, etc…  Of course, that’s without Coni and me adding to it…yet!

A guest gave us some welcome perspective today.  Coni mentioned how she looked forward to seeing all the barns resided.  The idea has been at the top of our list for a while since Pat has his own sawmill and seems willing.  But as much as we think the barns need it, Coni’s listener thought otherwise.  She exclaimed, “Oh my, why would you want to reside all the barns?  They’re so picturesque.”

What we saw as an eye sore, she saw as a beautifully aged symbol of Americana.  Perhaps our guest was right. Perhaps we’ll move that task to the bottom of the list.

May 30 – Wednesday

Be careful what you wish for or, in my case, predict. It may not be snow but it’s close enough. Frost is forecasted for tonight. Our high today was our normal low. Instead of our farm guests coming in shorts and t-shirts, they donned sweatshirts and long pants.

The cooler weather didn’t stop our free range duck from having her brood of ducklings. Farmer Pat elected to move them from the barn into our corncrib. The corncrib gives our guests the opportunity to get a close-up look while still protecting the hen and her clutch from predators.

As I recorded the recent addition to our animal records, it dawned on me why Pat is so exhausted by day’s end. With the new births this month, our animal headcount reached over 200. Fifteen ponies, 23 kid goats, 15 lambs, over 50 chickens plus kittens, bunnies, pigs, cattle, peafowl, guinea fowl, turkeys, geese, ducks, a donkey, a miniature horse and one dog!  It doesn’t take long for the numbers to add up.

May 31 – Thursday

It’s the last day of school for most area students so typically today is the busiest day of our spring season. Teachers view a visit to the farm as a perfectly fun way to end the school year.  We agree and today over 500 students kept us on our toes.

By the end of the day we were ready to celebrate a very successful spring. We gathered with our entire staff on Farmer Pat’s newly landscaped patio and cracked open some bubbly. It made for a great opportunity to take a group photo as it’s rare to catch all of us idle at the same time.  This was a perfect day!

So what’s a perfect ending to a perfect day?  How about enjoying a pot of MY chili while sitting around the kitchen table with Pat and Coni, reminiscing about our meager beginnings and sharing our vision for the future?

Coni said, “Bonnie, this chili is absolutely fabulous!”

“Thanks, Mom,” I responded, giving her a hug, trying not to cry.  “I love you and have to admit, I love my life on the farm.”

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