Urban homesteading has been a part of my life since I was little. I guess it has something to do with reading Little House on the Prairie so often while growing up, and having a mother who loved gardens and goats. Now that my own kids are able to do some purposeful digging in the dirt, I'm anxious to show them more examples of well-used land, no matter how large or small the space.
Enter Sugarbush Farms' Nature Center, a welcoming and intriguing example of urban homesteading created by Mareen and Joe Hoens. Part garden and a very large part animal sanctuary, it's a petting zoo and learning laboratory where families and school children are invited to connect with the process of growing and caring for both the land and four-footed creatures.
Check out my six reasons to visit this beautiful farm.
1. Goat Superstars
You may have met (or at least read about) these stars of the "Goats at Mayday" events held monthly at the brewery. Most of the goats are rescues; often examples of urban homesteading gone wrong where there was too little land or food to sustain the ravenous eaters. The Hoens have adopted them and use them for milking as well as just plain fun. Visiting kids will love sharing the "goat playground" out back—just make sure they wear boots and clothes you don't mind being nibbled!
2. Gentle Friends
Similarly, the farm's four donkeys are a delight to visit; gentle examples of that strong breed. As a full-time school teacher, Mareen cited the number of students she's worked with that had never met farm animals, and the need for families to learn to engage wisely and compassionately with them. Many guest have been able to quickly make friends with these, and thus begin forming a foundation for animal care and compassion.
3. Chickens and Kittens and Pigs, Oh My!
My kids' favorite thing (next to playing on the playground with the goats) had to be meeting the pot-bellied pigs, petting the barn kitten Gin, and listening to the chickens squawk over newly-laid eggs (my son was eager to get inside the coop). The Hoens' children shared stories of their adoptions, pointing out issues like one chicken's crossed beak that required her to have special food and care to thrive.
They were fascinated, even more so when I reminded them that not all people have been kind to animals, and how the Hoens are teaching others to care. It was especially sobering to my five-year-old, who held our own pets at home at little more gently that night.
4. The Garden
You may have seen my articles about local gardens to visit, and now I have to add the Hoens' to the list. A creative and flourishing example of simple flowers and vegetables grown well, their enormous garden boasts a riot of zinnias, peppers, tomatoes and a number of other varieties. I especially loved how this was no prim rose plot; the kids were encouraged to ramble through the provided paths, pick vegetables, and smell the flowers. Mareen sells bunches of the flowers when they're in season and crafts remarkable wreaths for sale with dried ones. Guests of the farm can also pick up packets of seeds gleaned from the Hoens' harvests.
5. The Buzz
The Hoens' bee hives are close to the parking area and easy for even small ones to peek at. My kids had never seen a hive before and were curious about seeing where Winnie-the-Pooh's favorite snack is made. We were lucky to see the hive on a particularly busy day, for which I was rewarded great photos and a sharp sting on the cheek. A slice of onion and a good laugh cured it, and the kids were still "buzzing" about the hive the rest of the day, especially since we brought a bottle of the delicious honey home.
6. Workshops and Farm Days
While visits to the farm are available by appointment, keep an eye out for special workshop and Farm Days, like today, Tuesday, Nov. 3, from 2-4 p.m. (it'll keep your mind off of the election). These are special opportunities for families and homeschoolers to learn more about animal care and gardening, often with crafts and activities to keep little hands busy. You'll want to follow their social media accounts to catch more of their pop-up events.
The farm is under consideration for nonprofit status, but meanwhile families be a patron of the farm by providing donations at visits or sending a gift through its Amazon wish list. Guests are asked to make a $5 donation for their visit.
Sugarbush Farm is located at 3606 Sugar Bush Court, Murfreesboro. For farm updates and special events, follow the Hoens on Facebook and Instagram, or contact Mareen Hoens directly at email@example.com.
Laura Beth Payne is a writer mama and Murfreesboro native who lives in the Blackman community with her husband and two children. Follow her at @murfreesboromama on Facebook and Instagram. Got a column idea? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.