Learn about farm life at nature preserve

It was a warm spring day, and I wanted to spend it outdoors exploring a new place with my 2-year-old son, Max.

I discovered the Stratford Ecological Center in Delaware, Ohio, while flipping through a county visitor’s guide.

I had never before heard of this educational farm and nature preserve, located a half hour’s drive north or Columbus. The nonprofit organization is dedicated to educating children and adults about the relationships between living things and their environment.

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Situated on 236 acres, the center includes a 95-acre state nature preserve, 3 miles of hiking trails and a small organic farm with cows, sheep, chickens and pigs. The farm is open to the public for exploration, and also contains gardens, greenhouses, an orchard and a maple-sugaring operation.

Hours are 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 9 a.m.-1 p.m., Saturday. So Max and I were in luck for our impromptu adventure.

I eagerly drove out to country with my car windows down. But when we arrived, if felt as though we were the only ones around at what appeared to be a private, family farm.

I stepped inside the information center and met volunteer coordinator Jane Walsh, who encouraged us to explore the property on our own. She also invited us to tag along with a group of 60 home-schooled children, who’d be arriving soon.

“You’ll want to see our crop of new lambs,” Walsh said.

I couldn’t refuse.

When the children arrived, the place lit up with laughter and excitement. Other volunteers began to appear out of barns and greenhouses. The children and their parents were divided into groups for a tour. Max and I fit right in, joining one of the groups.

Volunteer Bethanie Bidinger led our group, beginning with a tour of one of the greenhouses. It smelled of fresh rosemary, lettuce and spinach.

Bidinger, a graduate of Ohio State’s natural resources program, plucked a beet from the dirt. She then cut open the red, edible root and dabbed a bit of its juicy flesh on her cheeks and lips.

“Beets make a wonderful, natural makeup,” Bidinger said.

The children laughed and then clamored to have their own faces and hands painted red, too.

Bidinger then led us to a fenced-in area full of colorful, roaming chickens. She opened the gate and we headed inside, along with the strutting roosters and hens.

“Does anyone eat chicken nuggets?” Bidinger asked, to my surprise.

Many of the children raised their hands.

“Well, this is where they come from.”

Bidinger also taught the children where eggs, beef, ham and milk come from. Upon leaving the chicken coop, she instructed everyone to thank the chickens for all they give us.

“Thank you, chickens,” the children said.

Max and I ended our adventure in the farm’s big red barn, where we met 18 lambs, dairy goats and a llama with a serious under-bite.

It was the perfect ending to an impromptu adventure.

The Stratford Ecological Center is located at 3083 Liberty Rd., Delaware. It offers children’s farm and field trips, adult tours, family programs and farm camps that teach youngsters, ages 3 to 17, how to care for animals and raise a garden.

There is no cost to visit, but a donation is suggested.

For more information, including upcoming activities and costs of specific programs, call 740-363-2548 or visit www.stratfordecologicalcenter.org.