By Susan Hayhurst
Special to the Tribune-Star
WHITELAND, Ind. —
Have you ever visited a working dairy farm? Does your child know milk comes from a cow, not a grocery store? Have you or your child ever been up close and personal with a cow?
Kids of all ages will get to experience all of this and more thanks to special events coordinator Amy Kelsay of Kelsay Farms in Whiteland. A 500-head Holstein dairy and 2,200-acre grain farm, the Kelsays opened their operation as an agritourism venture to the public in 2007. Why potentially complicate the 24/7 operational responsibilities of a large dairy farm with the public wandering through?
“The bottom line is so many children are so much further removed from a farm environment than they once were,” Kelsay said. “When I once heard a child say they had seen a cow for the first time at a zoo, I was like ‘oh my’! I knew I wanted to give kids the experience of a real working dairy farm. I wanted them to know where milk comes from, what calves look and feel like, where they could ask questions and learn about how important dairy products are to their health.”
Kelsay Farms is the only dairy operation left in Johnson County. It sits in a unique location, the west perimeter is shared with I-65 and the northern edge near Greenwood, a southern suburb of Indianapolis, continues to see urban sprawl grow closer and closer.
“It’s our responsibility to share with folks what we’re doing, how we’re doing it safely and environmentally conscious, and to be good stewards of what we have,” Kelsay said. “We want the farm experience here to be friendly, welcoming and a great learning opportunity.”
Like a pied piper, Kelsay comfortably leads an enthusiastic group of preschoolers and kindergartners from Indianapolis’ St. Matthews Catholic School to their first tour stop, a tent full of straw bales. Once the kids are seated, her bright blue eyes sparkle as she introduces herself and tells the group the family farm partnership is celebrating a significant milestone. “I’m so excited! Our farm is celebrating its 175th anniversary this year. The farm began in 1837 and I’m a member of this family farm. I’m the sixth generation of this family, the fourth generation is still working here today, and the seventh generation plays here every day!”
Her passion never lags as she tells the story of the farm and what they do. Kelsay’s experience is rooted in her rural upbringing near Farmersburg. Ed and Judy Heady encouraged their children Amy and Chad to raise and show pigs in 4-H at the Vigo County Fair. Amy graduated from Purdue with a bachelor’s in animal science followed by a master’s from the University of Illinois in agriculture economics. She found her love of working with youth as a Johnson County Purdue Extension Educator until 2005.
“I absolutely loved being in Extension,” said Kelsay with emphasis. “But I realized that once I decided to be at home with my growing family and then launch our farm venture with our first corn maze in 2007, I have my own extension and educational opportunity right where we are on the farm. I love, love, love what I do here with coordinating tours and special events. And I love it that now our children, Jenna, 8, Josie, 6, and Jack, 3, all love to come help when I’m working. Josie even sometimes cries when she’s not allowed to come because she wants to ‘work!’ ”
Kelsay Farms is well run by a family management team and a dedicated group of employees. The team is comprised of three partners — Merrill (father and the farm’s general manager), Russ (a son who runs the crop, equipment and maintenance areas) and Joe (a son who runs the grain marketing and accounting areas). Joe is Amy’s husband and is also the state’s Department of Agriculture director.
The farm employs 12 full-time workers, and Kelsay Farm Tours employs 22 part-time workers for this year’s Fall Festival. Adam Monhaut has worked for the Kelsays for almost 11 years and enjoys helping Amy lead tours through the operation. “I grew up on a dairy farm in northern Indiana, and I have kids of my own, so I enjoy helping educate visitors about what we do, how the cows are milked, why it’s important to keep a clean environment for the animals, and then cap my part of the tour off with the opportunity for the kids and adults to pet calves.”
While the farm offers tours throughout the year for special visitors or dignitaries, school and group tours are offered in the spring and during the Fall Festival. Summer camps also frequent the farm for field trips. The festival runs a month with this year’s being Sept. 29 through Oct. 28. Hours are 6 to 10 p.m. Fridays; noon to 10 p.m. Saturdays; and noon to 6 p.m. Sundays. They are open daily to the public from noon to 6 p.m. through Oct. 19. Admission is $8 per person and children 1 and under are free.
Admission includes all the activities on the farm including the milking parlor, where you can see cows get milked; visiting the freestall barn, where cows spend their time and eat; viewing modern farm machinery; and learning how calves are cared for.
The Kelsays have also created myriad entertaining events. Visit the seven-acre corn maze both during the day or for “Flashlights at Night;” play on Bale Mountain or in the Corn Crib play area; or try your hand at pumpkin bowling. Hayrides, the Moo Choo Express, a cow-themed tractor-led train, and weekend festivities like face painting and live entertainment lure families and those wanting to get a taste of life down on the farm. Dairy treats, pumpkins and gourds are also available for purchase on weekends.
Whether you visit to learn it takes 12 pounds of whole milk to make one gallon of ice cream or scream your lungs out as you get lost in the corn maze, Kelsay Farms welcomes all to “experience the farm.”
For more information visit www.kelsayfarms.com or www.twomaidsamilking.com.