Something magical happens when a child gets to see farm animals up close and personal. Experiencing the sheer size of a cow, the soft fleece of an alpaca, and the grunts (and yes, even the smell!) of pigs is a fascinating experience for kids of all ages. Cathy and Hugh “Doc” Curtin in Clover seek to share their farm experience with school groups and the community through farm tours and a Fall Festival.
The Curtins live in a 150-year-old farmhouse on Paraham Road in Clover. For over 25 years, Doc has been raising beef cattle, growing hay and corn for the cows and building and maintaining both new and historic farm buildings on the property. The Curtins and their two children, Katelyn and Laird (now in college), planted a large vegetable garden for the family and raised a few egg-laying chickens.
The Curtins added a few other farm animals along the way, including goats, horses, pigs, and turkeys. When in high school, Laird expressed an interest in raising alpacas. His parents thought it was an excellent way for Laird to learn about the business side of raising animals, and invested in a few alpacas. Laird took on responsibility for feeding and caring for the animals, as well as shearing and processing the fleece. Cathy then spins the fleece into yarn, which can be used for knitting.
Now that Laird is in college at Penn State, his mother Cathy takes care of the alpacas and other animals on the farm. Laird still helps out during his vacations from school, and also works on the farm’s website and social media. “He likes to be involved, keep tabs on us.” said Cathy. “He is always posting updates on our Facebook page or tweaking the website, even when he is at school.”
Cathy is passionate about educating and encouraging young people to take an interest in farming. When her children were growing up, they often hosted church groups and school friends at the farm for outings and parties. After Katelyn and Laird left for college, Cathy’s hospitality needed an outlet. She found that outlet in hosting farm tours for school children.
“We offer the tours for six weeks during the fall,” Cathy said. “I have several friends and family members who are certified teachers, and they help me run the tours. We keep it very structured. We have several stations, and rotate the groups through. We can handle up to 150 students per day. Last year, we had over 1,800 kids come to our farm tours!”
While at the farm, the children go on a barnyard animal tour, where they get to feed the pigs, see where the chickens lay their eggs and observe the gigantic beef cattle from just a few feet away. They go on a hayride out to the pumpkin patch and see what food looks like on a vine, instead of a grocer’s shelf.
The children are escorted to a hay loft, which has been converted to a replica of a one-room schoolhouse, complete with vintage desks and farm tools, Here, they listen to a story about the life cycle of a pumpkin and learn a bit about the farm’s history.
“Our motto is “Preserving Yesterday, Cultivating Tomorrow,” explained Cathy. “We really want to instill an appreciation for our history as well as the importance of farming for our future.”
The creativity of the Curtin farm staff really shines in the educational game area set aside for the farm tours. Children milk a model cow, ride stick ponies, wander through a hay bale maze and play carnival-like farm games to learn about animals and crops.
At another station, the kids meet some of the alpacas and watch a spinning demonstration. “Most children think that hats and scarves come from Walmart,” Cathy laughed. “I show them how the animals provide fiber to make the things that we wear.”
Last year, Cathy started the Curtin Farm Fest, a one-day festival with vendors, food, and farm tours. “I wanted to open up the farm to the whole community, if only for a day,” said Cathy. “Last year we had 27 vendors, everything from stained glass artisans, weavers and spinners, painters and potters, hand made jewelry and musicians. The response was overwhelming! We had over 1,200 people come.”
The festival is scheduled for October 15 this year, and Cathy expects it to be even bigger than last year. “We’ll have local farmers selling produce, meat and honey, plus artisans and antique vendors. We’ll even have a blacksmith this year. People can come and shop, eat and see all of our farm animals.”
What’s next for the Curtins? Cathy mused, “We’re starting something new all the time. The farm tours have opened a lot of doors. People will ask about things, like free range chicken eggs. So I’m giving that a try, and hope to market the eggs locally to neighbors, the community and local restaurants.”
The Curtins have even begun offering their farm as a birthday party venue. “Doc and I have worked really hard on restoring this farm, and my goal is to share it. Many people have never seen a real pig, a cow up close, or where food comes from. I just want to share and educate.”
Want to go? Don’t miss the Curtin Farm Fest, Oct. 15, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Rain or shine. The farm is located at 407 N. Paraham Road in Clover.
More information is available at www.curtinfarms.com or on the Curtin Farms Facebook page.