Mitchells offer a farm experience

NEW HAVEN — Two little girls run in circles round and round a tree. They race each other in a circular labyrinth, marked by rocks in the soil, each trying to make her way to the center first. “I made it!” one of them suddenly shouts, and with a proud smile, sits herself down at the bench in the center.
It is Wednesday morning, and at Treleven Farm, Wednesday mornings are Open Farm Days for families.
Don and Cheryl Mitchell, the owners of the New Haven farm, host a morning of fun and exploration for children ages 3-8. Children can participate in arts and crafts, swimming in the pond, an educational puppet show and even a self-guided tour around the farm based on a treasure map.
The Mitchells bought the property in 1972 and over the years turned it into a sheep farm. However, their vision for the farm didn’t end there. The couple is invested in education and the community, and while many farms are private, Treleven Farm is always open to visitors. It is part of an effort that the Mitchells hope will provide more connections between the farm and the community.
“The farm-to-table movement has been changing the relationship between the farm and local communities,” Cheryl said. “We’re a small part of this larger movement, but we’re very excited to be part of it.”
Treleven Farm’s connection with the community is largely educational. Don and Cheryl Mitchell often pair up with other members of Treleven’s board to offer workshops and classes on the farm. The topics range from meditation to narrative therapy. While these activities mainly target older participants, the Mitchells also offer educational activities for children.
“Kids are exposed to so many messages that humans are adversarial to nature, and we’re trying to correct this,” Don said. “We want to show them that humans can live in the natural world in a way that’s beneficial on both sides and creates beauty.”
This summer, Don and Cheryl developed Open Farm Days, an experimental event that grew out of the farm’s Nature Camp that had run in the previous two summers. Families can drop by the farm at any point on Wednesday mornings to participate in any of the activities the Mitchells have set up.
“It was hard to get a reliable group of families to show up consistently throughout the summer,” Don said. “Nature Camp was also more work for us.”
As families pull up into the farm, the Mitchells greet each child with a treasure map, the main attraction of the event. The map takes the children and their guardians on a guided tour around the farm, going from the home pasture with the sheep to the labyrinth to the beaver wetland.
Along the way, the Mitchells have put down placards at each location, providing learning opportunities in natural history, geology and biology. At each stop, participants collect stickers to mark their achievements on their treasure maps. Each child who collects all the stickers is entered into a raffle to win a jar of fresh honey from the farm.
While some children follow each step of the map conscientiously, others are more interested in the farm itself. They flock to the tractor, ask the Mitchells for rides around the farm and sit in the home pasture, where the sheep and lambs may nuzzle up to them.
“There are many things that are attractive to kids on farms,” Cheryl said. “They’re very excited about the tractor and the golf cart, petting the sheep and swimming in the pond.”
The interactive nature of Open Farm Days extends to the puppet shows that Cheryl puts on for the children in the afternoons. The children like the performance much more when they can be a part of it, according to Cheryl, and she takes volunteers from the audience to play characters in the show.
“It’s a powerful educational tool for the kids,” Don said. “They really listen and take it all in.”
Mariah McGill of Middlebury and her 5-year-old daughter, Maisie, have been frequent attendees at Treleven Farm’s Open Farm Days.
“We came for the last session of Nature Camps last summer and it was awesome,” McGill said. “I asked to be put on the mailing list for events at the farm and we’ve helped out with haying, lambing and bottle feeding the lambs. It’s such a magical place.”
Open Farm Days at Treleven Farm are Wednesday mornings from 9:30 a.m. until noon. The event will run until Aug. 17, and families are encouraged to bring a bag lunch and bathing suits. For directions, go online to treleven.wordpress.com.

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