Agri-animals at Antioch College, the Menagerie Ranch, Young’s Jersey Dairy

Photo: Pet animals, like goats, at Young’s Jersey Dairy

By Terri Gordon

Animals figure big in three Yellow Springs enterprises—Antioch College’s farm, the Menagerie Ranch, and Young’s Jersey Dairy.

Antioch Farm

Antioch College has a long history as a traditional liberal arts college with sustainability as a prime tenet of its mission. How does a herd of sheep help them achieve this goal? The sheep are part of the college farm, and it’s a little complex, but they are there to work; save the college time, labor, and money; and later, provide food.

The Antioch Farm is one of the work programs every student is required to participate in. It is also a “learning lab.” And, it grows a portion of the school’s food.

Kat Christen, the farm’s only non-student staff member, coordinates its many activities. “[The farm] is really focused on student experience,” she says. “Students can come out as part of their classes. They can volunteer on the farm. They can do independent projects on the farm. So there’re a lot of ways students can be involved.”

All the food grown on Antioch Farm goes into the college’s dining program. Staff chefs are experts with local and seasonal cuisine and incorporate the farm’s products into the menu, helping achieve the sustainability the college embraces. And, as Christen points out, “It’s under 1,500 feet to get to the dining hall, as opposed to the average meal, which is 1,500 miles.” Naturally, all scraps are composted and returned to the farm as rich soil enhancement.

“We grow a lot of annual crops,” Christen says. “Our students particularly like tomatoes and colorful beans, and we grow a lot of kale, a lot of colored potatoes, garlic. Those kinds of things are in our annual garden. We also have a food forest, and in the food forest we have perennials, things that come back every year—herbs, shrubs, and berries.”

There are also chickens and ducks for eggs—and, of course, the sheep.

While food is one way the farm helps with sustainability, the 4.6-acre solar array is another. The “solar farm” provides 30 percent of the college’s energy and saves the school nearly a half million dollars annually. There is a problem, though: mowing. Solar panels are installed on raised frames. It is tricky to mow around and under them. This is where the sheep come in. Each spring the farm acquires a small flock of lambs that are left to graze the pasture that holds the solar panels. Since they are unnecessary in the winter, they are butchered in late fall and added to the dining program.

Visitors are welcome at the Antioch Farm, though Christen warns they are not very formal! There are no greeters, no guides. Still, there are paths to follow, and interested parties can meander the grounds as they please.

For more information, please call 937.477.8654 or visit AntiochCollege.edu/campus_life/Farm.

The Ranch Menagerie Farm Animal Sanctuary

The Ranch Menagerie Farm Animal Sanctuary is, as its website says, a nonprofit, no-kill animal sanctuary for farm animals, which hosts chickens, ducks, goats, sheep, pot bellied pigs, and working class dogs. Its mission is “to provide a secure, safe, loving environment, proper nutrition and veterinary care for stray, abandoned, neglected or homeless farm animals and dogs such as Australian shepherds, collies, border collies,” and to educate the public about them. The sanctuary is also interested in sustainability, working to grow the food and hay needed for the animals, along with preservation of wildlife and its habitat. Beehives and bat houses have been installed to encourage these at-risk populations.

The Ranch Menagerie Farm Animal Sanctuary accepts visitors by appointment only.

For reservations or more information, please visit TheRanchMenagerie.org.

Young’s Jersey Dairy

The history of Young’s Jersey Dairy begins with the building of the red barn by the Young family in 1869. As Dan Young, the current CEO, relates, “It was a general farm, with a little bit of this and a little bit of that, and then the Great Depression hit and the history seems to be that the family lost the farm—and then my grandfather bought it back after World War II. He had three sons, Carl, Bob, and Bill, and they started farming.”

They produced crops, raised some pigs, and started a dairy. In the late ’50s, the Youngs built a room onto their dairy parlor so people could buy their milk. Using the honor system, folks would help themselves to jugs of milk, leaving money and the used jugs behind. As neighbors and other locals began to frequent the dairy for milk, the family started to add more items. Soon, they had outgrown the space.

“In the early ’60s, we built our first real retail space,” Young says. This space is where they first began selling ice cream too—but that’s getting ahead of the story. First, they sold Amish-made cheese from northern Ohio, as well as other convenience foods. A company approached them about making ice cream, using the milk from the Young farm, so they added ice cream to the list of dairy products they sold.

When the company quit making Young’s ice cream, the family faced a dilemma. So they decided to start making it themselves. Family members educated themselves on the process and went to work. In 1981, they rolled out the first flavors. “It’s been a good thing for us,” Young says. They now make roughly 80 flavors over a year, rotating seasonal flavors and new trials with old favorites.

The dairy also started making its own cheese about eight years ago—milk from Jersey cows contains optimal levels of butterfat (ideal for ice cream), so it’s only natural they would add it to their offerings. They make several varieties, including cheddar, Colby, pepper jack, and baby Swiss. Fresh cheddar cheese curds are extremely popular, both plain and flavored. But Young says it’s the breaded and deep-fried cheese curds that really take the cake: “We sell more of those than we do French fries!”

Tapping into both local food and agri-tourism markets, Young’s Jersey Dairy has developed into an operation that involves 320 employees—11 of them are family members—who help raise crops (they grow all their own hay); tend the herd of about 90 cows, which includes milking about 45 of them twice a day; run the restaurants; churn the ice cream; make cheese; tend the petting “zoo;” the two miniature golf courses; the driving range; and the batting cages. In the fall there will be wagon rides, pumpkins, and a corn maze.

The Young family is also involved with educating the public about where food comes from and how it is processed. Several school groups tour the farm each year, and Young is starting to work with culinary schools and STEM programs to develop relevant curricula.

“Folks are interested in where their food comes from,” Young says, “and explaining that, and helping them understand that, gives them knowledge they can use both here, and elsewhere.”

As homes are increasingly being built in farmland, Young thinks people can benefit from understanding the operational side of a farm: that animal and chemical smells drift; that plows and harvesters and other slow equipment must use the general roadways to return home; that these are the prices paid for beloved foods, like bacon and ice cream.

“It’s important to know that agriculture is an industry that happens in the area—what a farm is and the process, from the field—or in our case, the cow—to the end product. What are the steps, and what’s involved in all of that,” he says. “And it’s amazingly complicated!”

Young’s is open to the public, and they encourage people to come on out. There are even picnic areas for those wishing to pack a lunch. Folks can walk the grounds, play the games, watch the milking, and pet the animals.

“Some days it seems like it’s insanity,” Young says, “the number of things we have going, but it all fits together under creating a great experience for our guests.”

For more information on Young’s Jersey Dairy, please call 937.325.0629 or visit YoungsDairy.com.

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Terri Gordon
Freelance writer Terri Gordon writes across a range of topics, including nature, health, and homes and gardens. She holds a masters in English and occasionally teaches college composition and literature. Her blog, WordWorks (http://tsgordon.blogspot.com) is a "bulletin board" of some of her favorite things.

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