Last week, I had the chance to tour two agri-tourism operations near my hometown of Alva, Oklahoma. Here are their stories.
Jerad and JoDe Bradt wanted to get their kids out of video games and more into the real world. Jerad suggested they try raising chickens. JoDe had raised chicks when she was little, too, and remembered them not-too-fondly. But they gave it a try with a box of mail-order chicks. Soon the post office called them first thing in the morning, “Come get your package! It’s noisy!” (Good to know that hasn’t changed. Mr. McCray tells a similar story from back in the 1960’s.)
So they raised those chicks. Then another box or two of chicks. Then a miniature steer that came off craigslist because, well, Jerad wanted it. Then the llamas that needed a good home. And the llamas came with goats. And soon JoDe said in exasperation, “This is crazy! We have a petting zoo!” Then she realized, “We have a petting zoo!” and they started making plans to open the menagerie to the public.
Now there are zebras, camels, turkeys, peacocks, goats, sheep, pigs, cattle, ducks, llamas, alpaca, and of course chickens. Every one of them comes with a story, and they’re all friendly enough to pet. And there’s a picnic pavilion. And maybe a hay maze next year.
Now the kids do two hours of chores every night and still ask for more animals for Christmas and birthday presents.
Grown-ups seem to think they’re only supposed to come out if they have little kids to bring, but it turns out grown-ups love it, too.
Visit Bradt’s Menagerie online.
Fruits of the Spirit Farm
What started as Skeeter and RaeLynn Bird’s 3 daughters’ market garden has grown into a new feature in Northwest Oklahoma: a you-pick berry farm. It’s the only one in Northwest Oklahoma (north of I-40, West of I-35). That means they are fighting not only the hot and cold of the climate but also the sparsity of the population.
Skeeter is always experimenting with something on his farm, whether it’s fruit trees, or horses, or the market garden he and his daughters worked together. Now that 2 of the daughters are off to college, Skeeter is still experimenting with berries. He tried blueberries because the family missed them from their days living in Alaska. The blueberries didn’t take to the alkali Oklahoma soils, but the blackberries did. And the first open-to-the public crop is coming on soon.
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I think with the increasing desire for people to ‘know’ their farmers and for local foods, you-pick farms and market farms are viable options for people with a strong desire to come home to work on a small acreage. Very well done.