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.
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
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.
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.