Fair Oaks Dairy Farm Tour

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Anyone who drives between Indianapolis and Chicago should know well the billboards advertising Fair Oaks Dairy Farm that sideline I-65. I’ve personally driven past the exit for Fair Oaks Farms a countless number of times, always with a thought in my mind to stop and visit. Two weekends ago, I finally made good on that thought.

Located in northwest Indiana, this dairy farm is the “largest agritourism destination in America.” Large doesn’t even begin to describe Fair Oaks Farm. And “agritourism” is somewhat a misnomer, too. In reality, the farm is a massive cow-themed amusement park focused on enticing families (and, more importantly, their kids) to dairy heaven.

There is plenty that could be said of this expansive enterprise, but several resources (see “Further Reading” below) give fair account of what you might expect to see—and feel—if you were to visit Fair Oaks Farm. For now, I’ll simply allow my images give you a visual sneak peak.

Have you visited Fair Oaks Farm? Share your experience in the comments.

FURTHER READING:

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A view of the barns and water retention tank.

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A view of the barns and water retention tank.

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The barns (on left) house the thousands of dairy cows at Fair Oaks Farm. The brick building (lower right) houses the “milking rotunda.”

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From a panoramic window, visitors can look down upon the entire milking rotunda. TV screens play a video detailing the milking process at the farm.

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Cows enter the milking rotunda, are hooked up to a milking machine, and take a circular ride. The milking machine automatically falls off the udder when there is no more milk. At the end of the “ride,” cows enter back into the barn.

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All of the milk is immediately stored in these large milk tanks, located just off of the milking rotunda.

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Behind the main Visitor’s Center at Fair Oaks Farm is a well-manicured “amusement park” arena, complete with games, gardens, and go-karts. On the right, a large cow welcomes visitors to the “Birthing Barn.”

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A large space enclosed with by glass offers a panoramic view to a live birth of a cow.

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A newborn calf drinks from his mother in the stadium-styled “Birthing Barn” at Fair Oaks Farm.

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A baby (female) heifer sits in her shelter outside the main barns at Fair Oaks Farm in Northwest, Indiana. The baby cows stay in these pens for two years after which they are brought in with the larger herd and bred.

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Fair Oaks Farm draws crowds of families to tour the farm, attracting kids with a moon walk and climbing wall outside of their main Visitor’s Center.

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More games and kid-friendly attractions fill the Visitor’s Center at Fair Oaks Farm. Kid-centric media (playing on large screens on the milk carton in back) inform kids why drinking milk is important.

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Visitors can try their hand at “milking” a cow (left) and take a ride around the “cow-ousel.”

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Ice cream—and other treats—are available at the Fair Oaks Farm Cafe.

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The gift shop offers patrons a piece of Fair Oaks Farm to take home.

Field-Grown Rubies

Far out, where the roads turn from pavement to gravel and the sky turns from gray to blue, there are fields of rubies. Red, sweet, delicious rubies, ready for picking. Ready for eating. Ready for savoring. Be in wonder of the bounty. Be in wonder of the beauty.

Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture : Pocantico Hills, NY Farm Tour

After spending two days at the Kilpatrick Family Farm in Middle Granville, NY this past April, I was able to head south to Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture. For most young farmers—especially those of the “organic,” “locavore,” and “sustainable” persuasion—a trip to Stone Barns Center is kind of like a trip to Disneyworld is for a child, filled with inspiring wonder and magic, a place you dream about not only visiting but also experiencing.

Stone Barns Center is a walking exhibit of how the entire farm-to-table concept can work in real life. Situated in the Hudson Valley just north of New York City, the center farms six acres of vegetables plus over 22,000 square feet of four-season greenhouse space. A number of animals also contribute to Stone Barns’ ecosystem, with cattle, pigs, sheep, bees and chickens all represented. Everything grown and raised at Stone Barns Center is used in their very own restaurant and cafe or sold at local markets. It truly is a triumphant demonstration in how a farm focused on growing and using local, can be a successful business enterprise.

But above all, Stone Barns Center is about education and their success at drawing families and individuals out of their city dwellings to experience the “great outdoors” was obvious the day I visited. In a very honest, down-to-earth way, Stone Barns Center is not unlike many of the farm education “centers” available to families across the country. I was reminded of how Cosley Zoo in my hometown of Wheaton, IL provides the same educational opportunities to Chicago suburban families through programs like “Morning Chores” where kids can see what its like to care for and feed farm animals. Just 26 miles from me and in downtown Chicago, Lincoln Park Zoo’s Farm-in-the-Zoo exhibit allows kids to “experience hands-on lessons on the origins of food.” Take an entirely different demographic in the farm-state of Ohio, and there is Young’s Jersey Dairy in Yellow Springs where families can spend a day feeding goats, petting baby calves and learning how milk turns into ice cream. All of these are examples of the ongoing efforts to educate the public about agriculture, each catering to their unique, local audience.

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Stone Barns Center has over 22,000 square feet of greenhouse space that allow for four-season growing. The greenhouses use minimal heating, even in the coldest of winter months.

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No pesticides, herbicides or chemical additives are introduced to the soil at Stone Barns Center. Instead, the farmers rely on compost created created from Stone Barns’ natural agriculture waste products and other natural elements like grass clippings and leaves.

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Over 200 varieties of produce are grown year-round at Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture. Click here to read about Claytonia, a plant often eaten raw in salads.

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The greenhouse roof can be raised and lowered to make maximum use of the the sun and wind.

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Stella, a Great Pyrenees, keeps guard over the sheep.

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You won’t see any traditional “red barns” at Stone Barns Center. Instead, these modern hoop buildings house the various types livestock.

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The actual “stone” at Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture where both the restaurant Blue Hill at Stone Barns, and the cafe are located as well as the administrative offices and classroom/event space.

The Furry and Feathered Faces at Kilpatrick Family Farm

While growing and selling vegetables is the flagship business at Kilpatrick Family Farm (where I visited in mid-April), the farm is not without its share of furry and feathered—and fun to photograph—faces.

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WATCHDOGS
A good watchdog is essential at any farm with livestock. Prior to getting two Maremma Sheepdog‘s to watch over their brood of chickens, the Kilpatricks lost over 20 chickens to predators in one month. These two cuties have knocked recent losses down to zero. Not a bad track record for a dog with a such a mild name like Carrots, eh? (Did You Know: It’s the scent of the dog—not the barking—that warns predators to stay at bay!)

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THE MILK COW
The Kilpatricks keep one milk cow whose milk they keep for personal use. Read an earlier post to hear about my own experience hand-milking a cow.

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GOATS
In addition to cows, goats provides a great source of milk or meat. Even more, they offer a great deal of comedic relief in the barnyard. The Kilpatricks had just acquired two dwarf Nigerian kids at the time of my visit.

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CHICKENS AND DUCKS

The Kilpatricks keep a good number of chickens on hand and sell eggs at local farmers markets and grocers. Click here to read an earlier post to learn more about chickens. Only two ducks—one male and one female—share space with the chickens. I think they served as “barn parents,” or something like that.

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BARNYARD CATS
It goes without saying that cats are an essential part of any working farm, keeping the mice population firmly in check. And as much of a dog person that I am, these cats were of the hospitable sort.

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THE FAMILY DOG
The Kilpatricks keep two Border Collies as family pets—a mother and her pup. From what I could tell, Gracie (pictured below) was the hardest working animal at the farm, constantly watching out for opportunities to participate in the day’s activities. Not to be unfairly compensated for their hard work, both dogs enjoy special privileges—like warm, indoor beds and, of course, plenty of toys.

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