Sowing Seeds for Tomorrow's Harvest
Christian Way Farm educates children and families through fun activities and hands-on farming, from planting seeds to making food from their harvest
“You think you came here to play, but we’re going to trick you into helping us do all the chores we have to do around the farm,” Janie Corley tells the group of anxious kids who have come to visit Christian Way Farm near Hopkinsville.
In addition to getting a lesson in the importance of agriculture, children who visit the farm actually help plant crops in spring, harvest them in summer, pick pumpkins in fall, and feed the animals all year.
Seven years ago, Christian Way’s owners, Milton and Janie Corley, decided to turn the 300-acre, third-generation family farm into a destination where school groups and families could enjoy wholesome fun and learn a little about farming in the process.
“I’d always loved this place, but I knew what a struggle it was to make a living by farming alone,” Milt says. “When the idea came to do this, it seemed like a good way to make farming more profitable.” In 1998, he quit his job to begin preparing the property for its new role, and the following year the Corleys moved from Bowling Green to their newly constructed home on the farm.
The fact that the farm is located in Christian County is just a happy coincidence—the name comes from the family’s strong faith. “When I was telling a friend what I planned to do with this place, he asked me how I was going to do it and I said, ‘I’m going to do it the Christian way.’ That’s how we got the name,” Milt says.
The Corleys are not shy about sharing their faith and consider the farm a ministry. Particularly when church groups visit, Janie weaves Christian references into her discussions about farm life, and her openness is a big hit with many visitors.
Eleven-year-old Dylan McKinney, who visited the farm with a large group from Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church in Drakesboro, was fascinated by Janie’s description of eliminating sin through faith, illustrated by a pumpkin she had carved. “I liked grinding corn and feeding the baby goats and other animals, but the story about letting your light shine for Jesus was the best part,” he says.
A visit to the farm typically begins with a welcome from Janie, who describes the farm’s history before telling the children what they will be doing for the next few hours.
Janie makes agriculture a hands-on experience by helping children learn how farm products are used to create their favorite foods. Last year, the focus was tacos. After asking the children about the ingredients that go into a taco, she sent them into nearby garden plots to gather the raw products—corn, wheat, tomatoes, peppers, onions—then helped them use a pestle to grind vegetables and herbs into salsa. In previous years, she has focused on hamburgers and fries, and even pizza, although “that was a struggle because we were dealing with things like olives and cheese,” Milt says.
Fields near the farm’s primary gathering spot are divided into sections where those ingredients, including cattle and pigs, are raised. Groups who visit in early spring help plant the crops and those who come later harvest them.
“A lot of kids haven’t been to a farm before, so it’s a great opportunity for them to see what really happens,” says Elaine Albrecht of Hopkinsville, who visited the farm with granddaughter Alaina Willhite’s Girl Scout Troop 377. “It’s a shared experience for them and gives them something to talk about other than just what’s on television.”
Meanwhile, Cheyanne Lopeman, daughter of Girl Scout troop leader Chris Lopeman, was enjoying— sort of—feeding corn to one of the farm cows. “It’s slobbering all over my hand,” she says. “It’s kind of nasty, but still fun.”
Since opening to visitors in 2000, the farm has increasingly become a family affair. Janie’s 14-year-old twins, Jennifer and Craig Lenoir, have now chosen to be home-schooled, giving them the flexibility to help during the farm’s busiest times. Jennifer serves as hostess and keeps track of the money, while Craig helps drive the tractors that carry visitors to outlying fields. Milt’s 10-year-old daughter, Rachael, also pitches in when she’s home.
“The kids’ friends like to come and stay for a few days, and they help out while they’re here,” Janie says. “We consider it a blessing to have them here, and especially to have our own children with us so much of the time and share this experience with them.”
The farm, centrally located about 20 miles from Hopkinsville, Greenville, and Madisonville, draws from a wide area of western Kentucky. Soldiers from Ft. Campbell and their families are frequent visitors, and people who visit family members in the area often ask their hosts to include a trip to the farm on their agenda, Janie says.
The family does little advertising, relying on word of mouth and referrals for all their business. In the beginning, the farm was open only on weekdays and only to school groups. Now the Corleys welcome visitors six days a week from April until November, Monday through Saturday.
“When we first started opening on Saturdays, we were thrilled if 30 people showed up,” Milt says. “Mostly we just sat around and talked to each other.”
That has changed significantly. Last fall’s attendance was up at least 30 percent and was double the attendance in 2000. Although Milt says the fall season has become more challenging as competing pumpkin patches have opened in the area, one crisp but sunny Saturday morning in October, nearly two dozen cars were already lined up when Jennifer opened the padlocked gate at 10 a.m., a new record, she says. The visitors included a Girl Scout troop with many parents and siblings, a church group, and several individual families—a typical mix for a fall Saturday.
In addition to structured educational activities for learning about farming, Christian Way Farm offers several other attractions throughout the spring, summer, and fall, including working the soil and planting seeds, feeding farm animals, a grain truck to play in, corn maze, old-fashioned corn shelling, tricycle track, straw castle, fresh flowers and vegetables, picnic facilities, U-pick pumpkin patch, wagon rides, and refreshments.
Visitors have included people from Cuba, Ireland, and states as far away as Washington and Idaho. “We want to put up a map to keep track of where everyone comes from,” Janie says.
That’s not the only change in the works. The Corleys have been approved for a grant from the Kentucky Department of Agriculture Development Fund that will enable them to build additional sheds, close the interior of an open barn that contains a small store, and replace the current portable toilets with indoor bathrooms and a large hand washing facility. They will also build a greenhouse so they can give plants an early start before the spring season begins in earnest, and anticipate hiring outside help for the first time.
The Corleys are always open to new ideas for increasing the farm’s profitability. The shop offers T-shirts and other souvenirs, including pumpkins and gourds hand-painted by Jennifer, and at the request of visitors, they have added turnip greens to the vegetables available for sale. Seasonal festivals at the farm draw up to 700 people, with many families staying all day. Janie has visions of eventually offering a day-camp curriculum during the summer.
“Even though we need to expand, we want it to stay old-timey looking and keep the experience the same,” Janie says. “We want it to continue to be an opportunity for people to slow down for a few hours and really experience what life is like on a family farm.”
VISITING CHRISTIAN WAY FARM
Christian Way Farm
19590 Linville Road
Hopkinsville, KY 42240
April through mid-November
THIRD-GENERATION FAMILY FARM
For more information on the history of Christian Way Farm, click here: Christian Way Farm