Spotlight on Blandford Nature Center’s Farm

Have you heard the one about goats frolicking on a playground?

It’s actually not a joke. The “enrichment structure” the goats at Blandford Nature Center’s farm enjoy is the result of a one-week children’s eco-engineering camp. The play structure was built for (goat) kids, by (human) kids.

The camp is just one way that the Grand Rapids-area nature center is working to educate residents about the importance of local food systems and expand access to fresh, organically grown produce.

We recently took a tour of the farm with development manager Corey Turner and farm manager Aaron Snippe to find out more about what happens on the farm and how the nature center brings the farm to the community.

First, the facts …

  • The farm is located about a 10-minute walk away from Blandford’s visitor center.
  • Organic and natural farming practices yield more than 40 different types of vegetables, made up of more than 200 varieties.
  • Fruit trees are a recent addition, with apple, peach and pear harvest expected within the next few years.
  • A 4,000-square-foot greenhouse makes it possible to grow produce year-round and also serves as a place to start plants in the spring.
  • The farm is home to the above-mentioned goats, as well as some pigs and chickens. Students at Grand Rapids Public Schools’ Blandford School are responsible for the care and tending of the chickens and even market and sell their eggs.

The community’s farm

Produce from Blandford's farm is sold at the Fulton Street Farmers Market.
Produce from Blandford’s farm is sold at the Fulton Street Farmers Market.

Whether it’s educating local children about where their food comes from or sharing the farm’s bounty with area residents, Blandford offers a variety of programs to help make the connection between agriculture and your dinner plate.

  • Camps: A variety of farm-related camps are offered each summer, with about 150 children taking part. Kids who sign up for Cycles of the Farm learn what life on a farm is like, helping out with farm chores and caring for animals. The Eco-Engineers camp teaches kids about structural challenges a farm might face and challenges campers to design, construct and test solutions – that’s how the goats got their new play place. A Farm Stand camp walks kids through the intricacies of marketing and managing money on a farm. Turner said her daughter Jayden attended the engineering camp and learned a lot of wonderful lessons, including how to be more adventurous when it comes to trying new foods. “She has begun to understand the relationship between the land, the hard work the farmers do and the food we eat,” Turner said.
  • Tours/Field Trips: Local schools can arrange field trips for students to learn about how food is grown and where it comes from. Snippe said depending on their experiences, some kids might not realize that potatoes grow in the ground or other common farm facts. He said they might see food in the context of a grocery or convenience store and taking them to the source can really expand their horizons.
  • Community Supported Agriculture (CSA): The farm offers CSA memberships for purchase. When you buy one, you get a share of the farm’s harvest every week. Over 100 people currently have a full or half share. “It’s a really great opportunity for people to eat seasonally,” Turner said, adding that her family purchases a share. “Kohlrabi, patty pans, fennel, garlic scapes and Romanesco are just some of the things that we’ve tried through the CSA that we had never purchased at the grocery store.”
  • Farmers Market: The nature center has a booth at the Fulton Street Farmers Market twice a week. Money raised from the sale of farm-raised produce goes back into programming at the farm and nature center. Snippe said connections made through the market and the West Michigan Growers Group are important. Farmers help each other out with advice and equipment and they share a common goal of growing the local food scene in the region. “The more that we can work together, the better,” Snippe said.

Moving forward, Snippe hopes to add events at the farm to celebrate fruit harvests, possibly hosting an apple cider making workshop or something similar. A pig roast will be held during the last Bands at Blandford event this season, widening knowledge about what the farm has to offer.

To learn more about the farm, visit their blog, which includes snippets of what’s happening and provides recipes for unique CSA ingredients.

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Photo credit: Julie Bitely

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