On July 28 and 29, the 12th annual Family Days on the Farm event was held on a 115-acre farm in Christiana. An estimated 7,000 to 8,000 attendees from the Lancaster area came to hear from experts on fitness, healthy food and farming and to browse the wares of vendors in those spheres.
Although the event is geared toward the Amish, it truly is a time for everyone, young and old, Amish and English, to appreciate the finer points of healthy living and to learn from one another. Relationships are formed each year as people ask questions and discuss matters not only with the presenters invited to the event, but also with the vendors who come. This year, 47 vendors set up tables and spaces to interact with the thousands of people who turned out for the event.
One of the biggest draws this year was Joel Salatin, a well-known organic farmer, lecturer, and author of 15 books about ecological farming. On Friday evening, he gave a three-hour keynote overview of his Virginia farm, Polyface, which produces beef, pork, rabbit, duck, poultry, eggs and lumber. The inclement weather on Friday brought the speech to an end only a few minutes early, and he returned on Saturday to hold three workshops: “Using Your Imagination to Maximize Your Farm’s Potential,” “The How-Tos of Relationship Marketing,” and “The 12 Principles of Creating the Farm You Love.” The crowd seemed to appreciate the authentic humor he used to present his facts, which stem from his own life experience and have been proven by his failures and successes over the years.
In addition to Salatin, other presenters from around the country led workshops in the homemaker’s tent, the human health and nutrition tent, the demo tent, and the horse arena. The noon keynote on Saturday was given by Dr. Michelle Perro, a seasoned pediatrician, author, and advocate against GMOs and pesticides. Her talk, “What’s Making Our Children Sick,” was followed by an hour-long question-and-answer session.
Since the event is designed for whole families, fun activities were planned for children in their own tent, with miniature goat demonstrations, pony rides, games and storytime.
According to Moses Esh, chairman of the board that oversees the event’s seven committees and over 100 volunteers, Family Days on the Farm was inspired by a similar, farming-focused event in Holmes County, Ohio, that a few of the local Amish visited over a decade ago. The first Lancaster event took place in 2011, held on Jake Zook’s farm — coincidentally also in Christiana — and roughly 2,500 people turned out. Although the event has expanded in many ways since then, Family Days on the Farm’s mission is still to focus on education, health and organic farming, and it certainly has resonated with the local community.
Keeping everyone well fed and hydrated is a main concern at such an event, and a well-oiled system has been established over the past decade. The majority of the food and water for the two-day event is provided by local organic farmers who donate everything upfront and then are paid according to the donations collected from attendees. Admission, parking and food are all pay-what-you will, and almost every year they “pretty much break even,” said Esh.
Volunteers prepare the food on-site, keep it warm or cold, and present it in an organized, tidy and pleasing manner, serving it outside with plenty of tables and chairs in tents to accommodate diners. This year’s menu included haystack salad with locally grown greens and artisan cheeses, french fries made from organic potatoes fried in lard from pastured pigs, and chili made with grass-fed beef raised on chemical-free pastures.
Cold drinking water was provided free of charge, as were refillable plastic bottles so that there would not be empty disposable water bottles and lids scattered around to pick up after the event. Eight companies sponsored the water bottles, which attendees got to take home: Cavallo Health, Groffdale Machine, Natural Way Minerals, Nevco Fuel Service, NewLight Health, Peaceful Sleeper, Pleasant View Plumbing, and Yonie’s Harness Shop. This model not only eliminates waste but expedites the post-event clean-up, a significant benefit since the field needs to be free of debris within hours of the event ending so it can be returned to the farmer ready for livestock to use.
Next year’s event will be held July 26 and 27 at the farm of Elam Stoltzfus at 362 School Lane Road in Gap.