Baurs handling Fern Valley Farm with kid gloves

AFP correspondent

BRISTOL, Va. (June 9, 2015) — Fern Valley Farm in Washington County, Va., north of this city that borders Tennessee, is a fun place to visit and learn about farming.
Just ask the children who recently attended Isobel Smith’s fifth birthday party how much fun they had and what they learned.
“It was the best birthday party ever,” Smith told her grandmother.
Larry and Lynn Baur have developed the farm they settled on here in 2006 as a place to both farm and educate people about farming.
One of several ways they do it is with children’s birthday parties.
The animals at Fern Valley play a big part in the celebrations, much to the delight of both children and parents. Butterscotch, a three-legged dwarf rabbit and Sarge, a big white dog who helps guard the farm’s sheep and goats, are part of the welcoming committee.
For the birthday the tiny bunny was the first animal the little people got to hold and touch.
Small hands brushed gently across his soft fur, seeming to give him pleasure and thrilling the children.
Larry, a retired career Marine, and his wife have circled the globe during his career.
Lynn said they looked for a place to retire in Japan, Hawaii, California, North Carolina and Kentucky and decided to settle in Southwest Virginia in the foothills of the Blue Ridge. Since arriving they have developed a farm/agritourism operation that draws different groups.
“We’ve always been in the right place at the right time,” Lynn said.
They were traveling from Gatlinburg, Tenn., where they had been to a DeLorean car show with their oldest son, a fan of the cars, to their home in Northern Virginia. The sun broke through the clouds as they were driving near here and they realized this is the place they wanted to be, the couple said.
They called a realtor who found what would become Fern Valley Farm. When they moved here they knew no one, Lynn said, but today friends abound, thanks in great part to their work in the schools teaching children where their food comes from.
Larry is “Farmer Larry” and Lynn is “Ms. Lynn” to visitors, school children and the community at large.
She said they were afraid, at first, that people in an agriculture area would resent the newcomers from Northern Virginia, trying to tell their children about farming, but that was not the case. They found many of the children here did not know the origin of their food.
Isobel’s parents, Robert and Carol Smith and her brother Francis and their guests said they were delighted with their experience at Fern Valley.
Activities at Fern Valley begin with a set of rules children and adults are taught before anything else takes place. The rules are simple but vital. Lynn sits the children down and tells them the rules and why they have the rules, demonstrates with her hands and has the children repeat them before starting and often thereafter.
“Be safe” is Rule No. 1. She fits the safety lesson to the activity and uses questions the children must answer to be sure they understand. She stresses that each child needs to be a good listener in order to learn and be safe.
“Don’t chase the chickens” is Rule No. 2. This rule is used to teach the children to treat chickens and other animals gently and quietly and to not cause them stress.
Rule No. 4 is “show love to the animals.” She teaches the children the animals will love them if this rule is followed.
Rule No. 5 is “no swinging on trees.”
She tells the groups breaking tree branches can damage the trees that provide so much to the environment.
Lynn adds one more rule for parents and teachers, “let no child be left behind.”
Larry said the animals on the farm include Katahdin sheep, Boer goats, a miniature horse, a donkey, an alpaca, a turkey, as well as cattle, chickens and a pig.
The farm also includes a variety of food crops that are sold at the Bristol Farmer’s Market and made available to the community in a variety of other ways.
Last year the Baurs expanded their gardens by adding a high tunnel greenhouse that contains 30 raised beds for growing vegetables. Another 30 raised beds outside make a large vegetable garden. They have one full-time employee to handle the garden in summer.
They take their educational programs to area schools and have a summer camp for ten weeks each year. These are themed and limited to 14 children per week.
Children get to learn about farming, how to make their own lunches and clean up, and how to have fun. They even have a puppet show.
The agritourism aspect of the farm grew from people suggesting events be held in the big barn like structure the Baurs first built for living and working quarters on the old tobacco farm.
More events became part of the farm and now include all kinds of celebrations as well as the teaching events.
This year they have created the Fern Valley Foundation, a charity to raise money to feed the children here where there are many children without enough to eat.
Lynn said they thought they were retiring when they bought the farm. Now they are busier than ever and loving it.