(Posted May 27, 2021)
By Dedra Cordle, Staff Writer
As an organizer for Homeschoolers of Madison County & Beyond, Kara Holland is always on the lookout for interesting and educational places to take her children and other students who are learning outside of the traditional classroom setting.
While fond of excursions to the established haunts like the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium and the Center of Science and Industry (COSI), she ultimately prefers going to outside-the-box locations as they tend to bring forth a different level of engagement.
“I find that when we go to destinations that are not as popular, it allows (the students) to experience an entirely new perspective,” she explained.
For instance, when the group goes to smaller locales, students get to know those who live within that community.
“That is immeasurable,” Holland said. “Not only are they meeting all of these new people, but they are also being exposed to all of these different trades, professions, and opportunities along the way.”
The group tries to make these immersive trips monthly but has had a difficult time finding places to visit due to COVID-19 closures or restrictions.
“We haven’t really been anywhere this past year,” said Erin Dripps, a West Jefferson resident.
Resigned to cancelled or delayed trips for the foreseeable future, the luck of the group changed recently via an opportunity that fell into Holland’s lap, or head, as it were.
Several weeks ago, Holland, a Grove City resident, traveled to London to shop for gifts and furnishings at Mimi’s Vintage Pickin’s. While there, she was introduced to local farmer Chris Kennedy.
During their conversation, Kennedy mentioned that he and his wife, Katy, raise cattle at Blue Star Farms in London.
“I thought his farm might be a great place to take our group,” Holland said.
When Holland ran the idea by the Kennedys, they didn’t need to spend much time coming up with an answer.
“We said, ‘Sure. Why not?’” Katy said.
Since Blue Star Farms became a fully operational working farm in 2017, the Kennedys have been giving tours so customers can see how the cattle are raised, but they had not thought of hosting field trips for students.
“We’ve had children, kids and grandkids of our customers walk the property before but having official tours never crossed our minds,” Chris said.
The couple quickly became enamored with the notion but wanted to lay some ground rules.
“My intention for these field trips was to give a behind-the-scenes look at a real working farm so (students) can see all the equipment and all the duties that go into raising cattle and come away with an understanding of where their food comes from,” he said. “It was not my intention to have these trips become a petting zoo.”
The first official field trip at Blue Star Farms took place on May 16. Fifteen homeschooled students spent close to two hours learning about the day-to-day-operations of the cattle farm. The tour began with an introduction to farm machinery, including a haybine and a tedder used to manage the pasture. Then it got sidetracked when Katy mentioned the barn cat that had recently given birth and was holed up below a bin.
From there, the students got to see what they came for–the cows. Or, in this case, the bull and the calves as the cows were grazing in another pasture.
“This is the coolest,” exclaimed Maddie Butcher, 13, of West Jefferson. “They are so cute!”
Despite the Kennedys’ intention to steer clear of a petting zoo atmosphere, many hands went through the enclosure to try to touch half of the herd. Chris said he allowed it because the animals were behaving and because the students were having so much fun.
“For some of them, it will have been their first time seeing a bull or a calf up close,” he said.
After time spent with the curious cattle, Chris took the tour out to one of their eight pastures to explain how the herd is rotated through said pastures and what kind of foraging plants they like to eat.
“They love dandelions,” he said. “It’s like candy to them.”
Chris and Katy had planned to show the students how the cattle are fed in the barn, but, well, you know what they say about the best laid plans, especially on a field trip.
After they placed hay in the feeding enclosure, Chris picked up the feeder trough and hollered at the cattle to “come and get it.”
The cattle stared blankly at Chris, unwilling to go do what he wanted.
“They usually come when I call,” he said while the kids laughed.
Eventually, Katy took mercy on her husband and allowed the group to hand feed the bull and calves.
“It turned into a petting zoo a little bit there, didn’t it?” Chris later lamented with a laugh.
He said regardless of the number of head pats to the herd, he thought their first official field trip was a success.
“I think they learned some of what goes into operating a working farm, and I am glad to have provided that experience for them,” he said.
Chris remembers driving past farms when he was younger, seeing animals in a pasture, and wondering what was going on behind the scenes.
“Unless you grow up on a farm, or unless you start a farm upon your retirement like I did, you’re not really going to get to have that experience,” he said. “And that is what I ultimately want by providing these tours and these field trips.
“I want people who are curious about the operations of a working farm or want to see how their food is raised and where it comes from. We welcome that and are happy to provide that education to them and, I hope, a bit of fun in the process.”
The Kennedys welcome children and adults to tour their farm and say they are looking forward to the future where more official field trips will take place. They do not plan to charge individuals or groups who wish to come out to Blue Star Farms.
Visit www.bluestarfarmsohio.com to inquire about tour and field trip opportunities.