On the Fall Equinox, 3 inches of rain fell at Stratford Ecological Center on Liberty Road. The next day, which coincided with the famous Little Brown Jug harness race at the Delaware Fair, was so cold that after being outside for any length of time, the only thing to do was retreat and enjoy a steaming cup of frothy hot chocolate! Since then, most days have seen temperatures in the high 70s, 10 degrees above normal, and the landscape is verdant.
Farm and nature tours are in full swing, and the children’s response to the beauty around them is to run and run on the open pathways between the fields and in the flower-filled prairie. In quieter moments, they push through the corn stalks to discover how many ears grow on one stalk or find seeds in the prairie that will stick to an animal’s fur and be transported to a new home. At the new amphitheater on the Sugar Shack trail, a group of home-schoolers took a respite. They sang and the quietest child agreed to recite a poem. She spoke just above a whisper and not very long, but the others applauded, and to me it was the essence of Stratford — to include each child.
The Free Range 5K Run on Sept. 25, operated by the Columbus Running Company with our young professionals assisting and promoting Stratford, saw over 50 runners and their young families. The families explored the chicken coops and barn, where guides answered their questions. Many of them were new to Stratford and were glad to know there were other opportunities for a return visit. Not everyone ran the course through the woods, entrance lane and fields, some walked and took in the sights! Our new-born calf, Dolly, obliged by lying beside the fence, and the multi-colored piglets raced to greet them.
Farmhand Mark picked up spelt seed from Norwalk, Ohio. It is a long round-trip but that is the closest supplier of organic seed. A total of six acres in fields 8 and 9, the east half of the North Pasture, and the burn pile area east of field 4 have been cultivated and planting is almost complete. The corn is ready, as determined by our ability to dent a kernel and dry enough when bitten, but the moisture is higher than the desired 20% or below, so it could be another two weeks to harvest.
A 2008 hay rake called a wheel rake made by Walton was generously donated by a farmhand after the breakdown of our old one created a headache during our final hay making. The old one has been repaired, but there is no guarantee a worn part will not fail again and will remain as a backup. The new rake has four revolving spiked wheels on either side of an inner fixed wheel. They feed the center wheel with grass, which is fluffed up and laid down in a row for baling.
Farmhand Paul drove Frances, our sow, to her breeder in New Philadelphia on Oct. 5, where she will remain for some time to ensure she is in-pig. A fifth calf born this year on Oct. 5 was a bull we named Sparky because he escaped through the electric fence and hid in the neighboring corn! It took five men working in a line across the field a long time to find him! A sixth heifer calf, the color of mahogany, was born without incident during the night of Oct. 11.
Our ram, Sir Patrick, ran with the ewes all summer and breeding may have already taken place, so it could be an early February lambing. Farmer Jeff decided to keep our buck goat, Legend, to breed for another season, and he will join the nannies in November. His breeder plans to donate a new buck to us in the spring. The mobile chicken coop was moved from the North Pasture into the west end of the Orchard for the winter and is presently occupied by 25 chickens.
This month, we welcome two new staff members. On Oct. 4, Emily Kridel, our environmental educator and volunteer coordinator, began her training before Emily Rudy leaves at Thanksgiving to spend more time at home. Happily, it is not goodbye as she plans to return as a volunteer. Kridel was an education intern at Stratford in 2016. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Science and Sustainability Studies, and after a yearlong internship at Glen Helen Outdoor Education Center, she spent the last three years as the education director at Camp Oty’Okwa in the Hocking Hills.
On Monday, Oct. 18, after a long search, we are excited to have Erin Gliatta, our new executive director, step into Farmer Jeff’s shoes as he becomes our full-time farmer. Erin’s responsibilities include our future development, as David Hoy will retire at the end of December. Erin is well versed in connecting with people through her work with State Auto Insurance and the American Heart Association. Her choice to live on 70 acres with her husband and two young children, in a sustainable manner, indicates how fully she understands the connection between people and nature. She will be a great fit with Stratford.
Some people predict we will continue to have a warm fall, and others say we are in for a hard winter. Either way, we can chose to spend time outside and benefit by the improvement it so often brings to our well-being. Stratford is open to the general public by registration on Thursday and Saturday mornings.
Pauline Scott is a farm and nature guide at Stratford Ecological Center, 3083 Liberty Road, Delaware. She can be reached at 740-363-2548 or by email at [email protected] Website: StratfordEcologicalCenter.org.