BY MARTA HEPLER DRAHOS
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — October is one of Maria Lammers’ favorite times — and not just because she’s preparing to close her Gallagher’s Farm Market for the season.
It’s also the month she hosts about 20 class field trips at the farm just west of Traverse City.
“We pack them in, sometimes two a day,” said Lammers, who has welcomed students, mostly from area elementary schools, for the past five or six autumns. “We have fun with the kids. It’s good for them to come to the farm and do this. They like getting to run around.”
For $5 apiece, children get to navigate hay bale and corn mazes, play “farm” with a miniature barn set, make cider using an old-fashioned juice press, and feed the farm animals, including pigs and lambs. They also get to sample cider and pumpkin doughnuts and choose a small pumpkin to take home.
“This is perfect because they can run from when they want,” said Mary Kolle, one of two lead teachers on a recent Traverse City Area Public Schools Oak Park Preschool field trip to the farm. “It’s not guided. They can do everything on their own, but it’s safe. And it’s child-led interests.They’re exploring what they’re curious about. That’s what I love about this kind of trip.”
Trent Gle, 5, was most curious about the animals but also liked the tractor tire sandbox, from which he scooped out sand with a Tonka dump truck.
“We’ve been here before as a family, so he’s been talking about it for days,” said mom Taffetta Gle, a field trip helper. “His favorite thing was feeding pigs and sheep.”
For Ellena Cotturone, 3, it was a toss-up between chickens and a rabbit.
“She’s having a blast,” said mom Monica Cotturone, who enjoyed the unseasonably warm weather with her daughter. “She wants to hug a chicken, but she can’t catch one.”
After a half-hour or so of playtime, parents and teachers rounded up the kids for a snack at a long picnic table set up for the occasion. Then the students gathered around the juice press, where they fed a variety of apples into a hopper and watched as parent Andy Litzner turned the grinder wheel and Lammers pressed the resulting pulp.
“Watch what’s going to happen down below,” said Gallagher’s employee and family friend Rita Thompson, who pointed to a plastic tub beneath the press.
“See that juice coming out? You guys made all that cider,” Lammers added.
Thompson, who grew up on a farm, said the field trips are a chance to acquaint children with a bygone way of life.
“We get so many kids who live here who don’t know about farming,” she said. “How often do you get to feed a pig or hold a rabbit or look under a chicken and see eggs?”
Hoxsie’s Farm Market has field trips scheduled every school morning between now and Oct. 25, said co-owner Judy Hoxsie. The farm about three miles east of Acme gets as many as 80 or more preschoolers to second-graders at a time from as far away as McBain.
“It’s just crazy how much it’s grown,” she said.
Hour-long tours take students by tractor-drawn wagon to the orchards, where they pick their own pumpkin out of the pumpkin patch and snatch an apple off the tree. They also learn about honey bee pollination and other factors that affect growth.
“If they’re lucky, they can see one of the migrant workers picking apples and the big apple bags they put them in,” Hoxsie said.
After, the kids re-board the wagon for a ride to the farm’s historic red barn where they can climb on a giant haystack, ride peddle tractors and play on a rope swing. Doughnuts and cider also are served.
“For us it’s just the satisfaction of knowing they get to see the farm and to have the wide open space for them to run around and enjoy,” Hoxsie said.