Chesterton Tribune

 

 

Dunes Learning Center brings livestock back to Chellberg Farm

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By KEVIN NEVERS

For some oohing and ahhing--and mooing and baaing--take the kids to the Chellberg Farm site at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

Because, after a hiatus of eight years, livestock has returned to Chellberg Farm.

Over the weekend a 900-pound steer named Number 1, a Nubian billygoat named Diane, and three ducks--who may or may not have been christened--were delivered to Chellberg, where they’ll remain on loan until October.

There they’ve joined the chickens which the Dunes Learning Center (DLC) re-introduced to the farm in 2016, under a program spearheaded by DLC Executive Director Geof Benson and enthusiastically supported by National Lakeshore Superintendent Paul Labovitz.

The idea: to give urban and suburban kids--whose only connection to the food they eat may be the occasional trip to the Strack--a more immediate understanding of animal husbandry and agriculture, as well as of the ecology and environmental implications of farming.

Or as a sign fixed to Chellberg’s chicken coop reads, “These chickens will be used to help teach lessons in food production, sustainability, and nutrition to the children attending Dunes Learning Center programs and other park visitors. While visiting Dunes Learning Center, students are challenged to think about interconnections between our food system, the environment, human health, and the impacts of their choices.”

Over the years thousands of school children got just that sort of education on field trips to Chellberg. In 2009, however, then-superintendent Constantine Dillon made the decision, citing budget constraints, to discontinue all farming operations at Chellberg--including the maintenance of live animals--after the National Lakeshore’s farmer retired. A hue-and-cry ensued, several crowded and emotional public meetings were held, but Dillon was adamant: the animals were gone and would stay gone.

They did, until 2016, when the DLC re-stocked the old coop at Chellberg with a loaner flock of 10 chickens from Scherf Farms in Michigan City. Benson’s approach to the problem of funding: worry less about the dollars-and-cents of it and more about relationships, focus not on acquiring animals but on borrowing them, and then appeal to the spirit of volunteerism in Duneland.

Working closely with the Friends of the Indiana Dunes and the Westville Chapter of the Future Farmers of America (FFA), Benson succeeded last year in cobbling together sufficient funds to keep the chickens in feed and a network of volunteers to care for them. The DLC was able as well to secure a grant from the Porter County Community Foundation not only to support the pilot chicken program but also to develop a live-animal curriculum for it.

So successful was the pilot program that Benson decided to double-down in 2017.

Hence the arrival of Number 1, the steer on loan from Annette Hansen and her family; Diane, the billygoat similarly on loan from Kyle Wilson; and the ducks--who if they haven’t been named already really need to be--donated to the DLC by Julia and Lora McMeans. In October, Number 1 will return to Hansen, as will Diane to Wilson--who’ll put him to good use as a breeder--while the ducks will winter on Hansen’s property with her own raft.

“So we borrowed the cow,” Benson said. “Then we needed to borrow a goat to keep the cow company. Then we got the three ducks to keep the goat company.”

The key has been the loaners. Borrowing the animals, rather than outright acquiring them, solves a lot of problems come winter. “A lot of people don’t have the resources to take care of the animals all winter,” Benson said. “They lose their sense of humor about it.”

“Now we’ve got some momentum going, but we’re continuing to work on leveraging relationships and making the animal program work as conveniently as possible,” Benson added. “We’re trying to figure out ways to revitalize the public’s interest in Chellberg Farm, to make it a better experience for visitors and for our kids at the learning center.”

Benson did express his gratitude to Superintendent Labovitz for his support of the animal program. “He sees the importance of involving the public in environmental education and supporting the Dunes Learning Center and its partnerships,” Benson noted. “It means an awful lot to the community to see Chellberg as a real working farm, because not many of us any more have a connection to farms or know where our food comes from.”

Labovitz, for his part, is positively tickled by all the activity at the farm. “It’s fun to see some livestock back at Chellberg Farm,” he told the Chesterton Tribune. “Through a great partnership with the Dunes Learning Center, these animals will help connect our students to their food. Knowing more about how farms function to feed us will help kids grow into better informed adults as decisions are made for land use. That connection is important to keep lessons on ecology relevant, especially in urban/suburban places.”

Folks wanting to contribute toward the feeding and care of the animals at Chellberg Farm this season should make their donations to the Dunes Learning Center. Go to duneslearningcenter.org and click on the “Give” link.

 

 

Posted 5/10/2017

 
 
 
 

 

 

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