We've been busy this spring. Busy with farm work, yes. But also busy with events. Farm events.
The renewed interest in local food has meant that there are a lot of people suddenly interested in and wanting to visit farms. So far this spring we've been the destination for a local elementary school field trip, we participated in our second annual Openfields Farm Tour, and we hosted a Pasture Walk. All of these events are a lot of fun (and a lot of work).
The first event, the fieldtrip, brought 20 1st-graders and their parents out to see the chickens. Each classroom at their school focused on a different farm animal, organized a field trip around that animal, and then reported what they learned back to the others. They all visited a large farm and a small farm in the same day to see the differences in production styles, which I thought was a brilliant idea.
The kids that came here had first visited Phil's Fresh Eggs in Forreston. There they got to see a video about egg production, they got to see the egg washing machines, the egg sorters, the egg packing machines, etc. Everything is very mechanized--it has to be when you're packing 150,000 dozen eggs a day (!)--and must be pretty cool to watch, especially for a 1st grader! But they didn't get to go in a see the chickens (disease control) and they didn't get to touch an egg (not quite sure why--couldn't they spare a couple?).
When they got here, I let them visit the chickens, taught them about the different breeds and showed them the food that we used. We showed them the baby chicks and explained the difference between those used for meat production and those kept for eggs. They got to hold the chicks and gather some eggs. Every single one of them got to candle their own egg, grade it and put it in the appropriate-sized egg carton. They then took home a few dozen eggs (the teachers insisted on paying for them) so they could each take an egg home with them. I joked that I took no responsibility for school-bus-induced scrambled eggs in their backpacks.
The kids had fun, and so did I, but the best thing that came of that fieldtrip was the packet of thank you letters and hand-drawn pictures I got back from the kids about 2 weeks later. They were absolutely hilarious.
Next, we participated in the Openfields Farm Tour for the second year in a row. I seriously considered not doing it this year because the tour comes at the busiest time of year for us. But it's an Extension event, and I work for Extension, and my boss and co-worker basically told me I had no choice but to sign up for the tour, the big bullies.
That's OK, it turned out to be a lovely day, Laura and Rob and family came over to help, and we had about 90 people come by the farm. Wow!
Look at that farm crew! (Madelina was such a good tour guide she was given a few tips and I even had a lady threaten to steal her away. We definitely have her slated for the marketing and advertising department.)
Here are some happy visitors taking home a dozen eggs. (This lady is running for the county board! She likes farms, so she just might get my vote.)
And Ana is taking advantage of the fact that we finally have enough people around to make a good go at a lemonade stand. Marketing and development for her, too.
All in all the day was a success.
Our final farm event was a Pasture Walk. A pasture walk is an informal event for people interested in grazing. It was hosted by the U of I Extension and the Northwest Illinois Grazing Network. Extension did a good job of advertising for the event so we had between 20 and 25 people come, which I think was a really great turnout.
I explained our operation, Jim Morrison from Extension provided some technical information about finishing animals on grass, forage values, grazing techniques, etc., and Ed Johnston from NRCS gave the crowd some information about the EQIP program, which we used to cost-share for our fences and waterlines. There was a nice article in the Freeport Journal Standard about it, so I'll let you read it.
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