Patterson Farm Market and Tours
If you ask a child where food comes from, he or she will most likely say the grocery store. Today, it’s too easy to assume chicken comes pre-sealed or fruit comes with stickers on it. Michelle Patterson of Patterson Farm Market and Tours hopes to change that misconception. “I’ve always wanted to try an educational farm so kids can learn where food comes from,” she says.
After several years of thinking about it, she went to an agricultural conference in Minnesota and learned how to build an educational component into her family farm. Then she began the Discovery Farm Tour, one of several seasonal tours now available at Patterson Farm Market and Tours.
The tour starts in the grain barn, where kids get a fruit basket to carry with them throughout the tour. They pick up a small plastic container of animal feed, and after a discussion about whether they prefer pumpkins or green beans, they are given a packet of seeds. Then they learn what farm animals eat before going into the animal barn.
There’s plenty of time to meet the goats, chickens, donkeys, turkeys and peacocks. The children learn about the animals, many of whom have been rescued or rehabilitated in some way, and they have an opportunity to feed them.
Depending on the group’s size, children may get the opportunity to pet and feed the baby goats outside of their pens. School groups use special feeding tubes that drop the feed into the pens. After the animals have been fed, children put the lids back on the feed cups for later use.
After feeding the animals, families head to the butterfly garden, where they learn which plants butterflies prefer. Although live butterflies may or may not be in residence — it’s hard to keep them corralled — children receive a plastic butterfly to put in their basket.
Throughout all the stops, the children pick up items showing that they have participated in each farm station. After learning about how to make honey in the bee house — no worries, the hive is behind glass, and the bees exit the building through a tube in the back — kids receive a plastic honey bear.
Once the kids learn about how bees pollinate flowers and make honey, they head to the virtual apple orchard. There, kids pick plastic apples from kid-sized model trees and add them to their baskets.
The most fun is when the kids end up at the dairy barn. There they have an opportunity to milk cows (not real ones) while learning how real milk goes from the cow through the pasteurization process and to the grocery store. The cows are filled with cool water, so in the summer heat, milking them is a cool break that everyone enjoys.
Next, kids take a water break before moving on to the fruit and vegetable garden, where they learn about the tomatoes, pumpkins and strawberries. Plastic fruits and vegetables are hidden beneath real plants, so kids can see what baby pumpkins and green beans look like as they grow.
Remember the plastic feed cup and seeds from the beginning of the tour? Next they come back into play, with kids getting to dig in the dirt and fill their cups with soil and the seeds they chose. They also learn about composting before they head off to the market to sell what they’ve harvested. When they take their harvest to market, each child receives a Patterson Buck, which he or she can use to buy a scoop of ice cream, a piece of fruit or a small toy from the market store.
On warm days, there’s plenty of shade to keep families comfortable. There’s also a water station near the playground that is included halfway through the tour.
If You Go
Patterson Farm Market and Tours
10390 Caldwell Road
Mount Ulla, NC 28125-8707
Hours and Admission
Discovery Farm tours are available Mondays-Saturdays, 9 a.m.-1 p.m. through Sept. 25 (closed Labor Day). Tickets are $8 per person for children over 2 and are sold in the market store, where the tours begin and end. Tours length depends on the age of the children and how many questions they ask. Playgroups and school groups are welcome with reservations for parties of 10 or more. Puppet shows are offered on Mondays and Tuesdays for groups.
Kim Justen, a freelance writer, lives in Advance and is the mother of two.