On a sun-soaked day on a farm in Hamilton County, preschoolers Josie and Jaeger quickly made their way down a footpath to their favorite friend, Amelia, who was lazily eating grass and keeping her eye on the humans in her midst.
“She just loves the farm animals,” said the children’s mom Rachael Vance of big sister Josie as the little girl pet the goat through a wire fence. “We have passes to the museum, the zoo and the aquarium but she just loves to come here.”
It’s those kinds of drop-in adventures that are happening under the radar throughout the state every day. Sometimes in the state’s largest cities or Ohio countryside are small, independent farms that are open to the public year-round. They’re the hidden gems that those like the Vance family who live close by may know about, but the public in general may be unaware even exist.
“We have 122 acres and no one knows we’re here,” said Sarah Siegrist, director of development and communications at Gorman Heritage Farm in Evendale, where Josie and Daisy have become fast friends. And that’s ironic because the farm certainly isn’t in the middle of nowhere. It’s in the middle of everything.
Subdivisions surround it on all sides except one, and on that side rests the heavy traffic of Reading Road in suburban Cincinnati. The farm’s across-the-street neighbor is the headquarters and manufacturing plant for the Formica Company.
If those outside of Evendale know anything about the place, they may know about its popular Sunflower Festival in October. But it is at places like Gorman Heritage Farm where children from all walks of life visit and learn something about farming they didn’t know before. Sometimes, the questions surprise those who have worked in and around farming all their lives.
Siegrist recalls one child who came to visit on a field trip from a city school. When she saw the three cows that Gorman has on the property, she asked a relatively innocent question – where do you squeeze the hamburger from?
“In an age-appropriate way we gave her an explanation,” she said, noting that as generations become further and further removed from farm life, the need to explain that meats, fruits and vegetables don’t just show up one day at a supermarket is critical.
“We are a working farm,” Siegrist said. “Our whole thrust is education. We want visitors to know how important (the farm-food connection) is to understand, not just because of the ways (things are) grown, but the importance of growing to support the future.”
Along with visits from school children, the farm also does outreach to area adults. Children and adults alike can “adopt a garden” and help take care of a mix of animals on the farm or participate in their CSA (community supported agriculture), among other programs, Siegrist said.
A similar story is happening on another private Hamilton County farm just down the road from Gorman, at Turner Farm in Indian Hill. Both farms, which are now run by nonprofit foundations, can trace their original roots back to the 1800s.
At Turner Farm, summer camps for kids ages 6-14 are in full swing, various CSAs for produce and meats such as chicken, pork and lamb have a robust membership and construction is under way for a new demonstration kitchen where classes such as learning how “food is our medicine” will be taught, said Mary Joseph, Turner youth education director.
Like Gorman, Turner is open year-round, and visitors are welcome. “We have a self-guided tour,” Joseph said. “We can also schedule a private tour.”
Draft horses do much of the work on Turner Farm, though when kids are at the farm they are often also drafted to help out by doing chores. Some even have an opportunity to cook with what they pick from the garden.
“Seeing the kids, that’s the joy of it really,” Joseph said. “When they milk a cow or pull a carrot or radish from the ground, then they cook or bake with what they’ve done. It’s nice to be a part of that.”
Joseph, who like Siegrist grew up in an agriculture family, wants Turner to expose young people to a life that is second nature to her.
“I grew up with that experience and there are a lot of kids who haven’t had that,” she said, noting that there always seems to be that “one kid” who is not quite sure what to think about having a farming experience, but once the experience happens it can transform that child’s opinion of life on a farm to a positive one.
“That’s always good to see,” Joseph said.
Photo by Katie Farley
Gorman Farm visitors Jaeger and Josie Vance interact with Amelia.