After a long, cold winter inside, few things are more appealing than having the chance to get outdoors, meet some barnyard animals, and learn more about where the food on your table comes from. What better way to welcome spring than to pay a visit to one of Rochester’s local farms?
Growing up on a vegetable farm in Ontario County, Bill Wickham always wanted to be professional farmer. He and his wife Debbie (who is from an urban background) met at Cornell University where Bill was a student in the Agriculture School. When the young couple moved to Rochester, he put an ad in the local paper: “Wanted to rent. Ten acres of land on a busy road.” Soon his dream became a reality!
Wickham Farms has grown from red carts at U-pick pumpkin patches around town to the busy family farm that it is today. As farm owners, the Wickhams' goals have included resisting land development pressures by keeping a working farm in the Penfield community and staying active in agriculture production as it continues to evolve. But there’s also a more personal motive. “It was a fantastic way for me to grow up,” Bill says, “and we wanted our kids to have the chance to do this [live on a farm] as well.” This year, Bill and Debbie’s oldest son and his wife are coming back to the farm to work, a collaboration they’re all looking forward to.
Running a business that caters to families is a delight, Bill says. He hopes that parents and children will leave his farm talking about how much fun they had, along with having learned something about New York State agriculture. He and Debbie are exposing a whole new generation to the many opportunities and careers in farming. “Agriculture is a big business for smart people,” he says. “If I can get them excited about farming, it opens a door they didn’t even know was there.”
What to Do
The Jumping Pillow
One of Wickham Farms most popular pursuits, for adults and children of all ages, is the jumping pillow. Bill is quick to share how it works. “It’s amazing!” he says with genuine enthusiasm. “Like a monstrous trampoline only bigger!” The beauty of the jumping pillow is that it’s on the ground so there’s no need for spotters or safety equipment. Those who want to bounce higher can immediately head to the center, while those who prefer to bob gently can stay on the edges.
Find the Mouse Houses
Like in the old cartoons, each little hole contains a scene of mice doing something interesting. Finding the houses and their inhabitants is a delight that never seems to grow old!
A Few More Things
There is also an agriculture-themed, eighteen-hole, miniature golf course with some farm trivia, six batting cages (slow and fast pitch), a pretend cow you can really milk, an antique tractor to climb on, and food for sale in the barn. Kids can feed farm residents their own healthy treats for 25 cents too, which provides a great photo op!
Continue the Experience
If your family enjoyed the farm visit, why not consider looking into a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) membership this year? Wickham Farms has shares which include U-pick for extra vegetables (kale!) and U-cut flowers. Both of these are wonderful experiences for children. Bill reminds us that the food chain doesn’t start at the grocery store and there’s no better way to discover where your food comes from than eating a piece of fruit or a vegetable right off the plant or vine in the field.
Mark your Calendars! The Annual Bunny Hunt
The Wickham Farms Bunny Hunt is a twist on the traditional Easter Egg Hunt. The idea came to Bill and Debbie when their kids were young. With high pressure to hunt down candy-filled eggs and shy kids often losing out, they decided it wasn’t quite the family experience they were looking for. Their Bunny Hunt is like an open house; it doesn’t matter when families show up. In fact, the later you arrive that day, the less crowded it may be. Each family gets clues for the kids to follow and a live bunny awaits them at several stops. For the price of admission, kids can take a ride on the kiddie train, make an Easter craft to take home, and nibble on a Bunny Sundae crowned with (what else?) a marshmallow Peep! All this for $5 per person.
Tails & Tales Story Times
Kids love this activity, organized by Wickham Farm’s “Director of Fun.” Much to the children’s delight, several stories are accompanied by a visit from the animals in them. Check the farm website for times and dates at www.wickhamfarms.com
Springdale Farm, located on 200 acres in Northampton Park, has functioned as a unique government/non-profit collaboration between Monroe County Parks and Heritage Christian Services (HCS) since 1993. HCS serves adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities and some of the people supported by HCS are part of the Day Habilitation
Program on the farm. There they interact with the public (Springdale Farm has around 40,000 visitors a year), feed and care for the animals, and operate the petting zoo, among other things. Dan Peters, director of the farm, calls it a “reverse integration” program, where people of all ages come to experience the farm but also get to see people with disabilities performing meaningful jobs there.
What to Do
Karen Warren wears many hats at the farm, the primary ones being tour director and farm development. She says there’s a nice assortment of animals residing at Springdale, including miniature horses, donkeys, sheep, goats, turkeys, chickens, peacocks, a pig, and a dog. Seeing these animals up close and personal can be a real sensory experience for children of all ages, especially those from an urban background, Dan adds. Spring, when many of the animals give birth, is a particularly good time for families to visit the adorable newborns. The friendly animals always welcome treats from the dispensers too.
Springdale Farm has nature trails to walk, a pond to relax by, a playground to climb on and a pavilion to picnic in (no grills please). Dan and Karen say that there’s no timeframe at the farm; you can stay for half an hour, or spend the day there.
Don’t Miss The Sheep Shearing Festival
For over 20 years, Springdale Farm has hosted this popular event. Dan explains that, since they had to shear their sheep every year anyway, they decided to host a fundraiser that would expand on the shearing theme. For just $5 per person, kids can see demonstrations of sheep shearing, wool dyeing, spinning, and weaving, as well as visit the petting zoo, make a spring craft, and take a tour of the Robotic Milking Center. And, if your children decide that they want to be shorn just like the sheep, kids from four to twelve can also get a free haircut that day! This year’s sheep shearing festival takes place on Saturday, April 29th.
The Riedman Robotic Milking Center
Over the years, HCS has added modern technology to Springdale Farm to show visitors some of the changes that are occurring in twenty-first century farming. The Riedman Robotic Milking Center, one of the first public demonstration farms, opened its doors to the community in 2004. The center has upper and lower observation areas that allow visitors to see the Astronaut System of robotic milking, developed by Lely USA, Inc. This highly innovative robotic system milks cows, without any assistance from the farmer, through a unique automated process that probably needs to be seen to be believed! Because the milking center is a working dairy, visitors must be accompanied by a Springdale Farm tour guide.
According to Dan, the Riedman Robotic Milking Center showcases yet another positive agricultural partnership for families to see. Robert Colby, of Colby Homestead Farms, Inc., manages the robotic milking center and the milk that’s generated there is collected and distributed by Upstate Farms, a local dairy cooperative.
The Benefits of a Farm Visit
Dan and Karen note that farming is a meaningful occupation and an integral part of our society, particularly in terms of land stewardship. Springdale Farm offers families the chance to see what life looks like on a local farm, as well as to learn more about where food comes from. They also remind us that fresh, healthy food isn’t the only thing people get from farms. Your crayons come from corn, Karen says, while Dan adds that pigs provide us with footballs and the bristles in a hairbrush.
Many visitors return to Springdale Farm year after year. One young boy has been coming to the farm since he was three years old. Every time he visits he tells Dan and Karen that, when he turns sixteen, he plans to come work at Springdale Farm!
For more information about Springdale Farm and the Sheep Shearing Festival visit www.springdalefarm.org
Sue Henninger is a freelance writer and a regular contributor to Rochester & Genesee Valley Parent Magaizine. Her book, The Ultimate Guide to College Transfer: From Surviving to Thriving, will be released this summer. Contact Sue at www.SueHenninger.com.