In 1973, two elementary school teachers who saw a need to reconnect their students to nature started Learning Tree Farm, a nonprofit, traditional working farm in Montgomery County. Now fifty years later, with technology, packed schedules and limited access to green spaces, it seems Jean Ryan and Sally Keyes’ mission is more important than ever.
“We encourage children to taste the vegetables growing in our tasting garden and make the farm feel like their own for the day they are visiting,” conveys Executive Director Heather Ritter. “We provide a truly hands-on farming experience that you won't receive at other farms and centers.”
Arriving at the farm feels very much like visiting a friend. The experience is self-guided and allows guests to go into the animal pens and walk through the pastures interacting with the animals in their natural setting. “A favorite activity at the farm is picking up a chicken,” shares Heather.
Outside of visiting the animals, kids may play on the nature playscape or follow the storybook trail to the tire swing. Learning Tree Farm also offers unique events like Sheep Shearing Day, when visitors are invited to watch and learn about sheep herding and shearing. There are summer camps, story times, volunteer days and a Nature Preschool.
Each month there is a plethora of calendar activities including Summer Saturday Farm School kicking off in July. Autumnfest, the farm’s annual fundraiser event held September 16 features pony rides, food trucks, educational and craft booths, hayrides, live music, pumpkin chucking and farm demonstrations.
Learning Tree Farm has seen amazing growth over the years. During the farm’s first year, 200 children visited for field trips. Attendance for field trips alone is now more than 9,000 children per year. Along the way, the farm has stayed true to their mission and made improvements to the experience. Heather came on board in 2019 as executive director and saw the farm through additional pandemic challenges.
“In 2020, we were able to raise $43,000 from donors to install city water and a hand wash station for our visitors,” shares Heather. In 2022 they laid concrete paths throughout the farm property to allow individuals with disabilities to have equitable access to their animals, gardens and shelter house.
During Heather’s tenure, the farm has added scouting programs, started a pollinator program, began college internships, and started the Saturday volunteer days that allow participants to dig into a variety of tasks needed at the farm. “I am very proud of the amazing staff of 26 individuals we have at the farm who help us develop and run the programs, nature preschool, and field trips,” acknowledges Heather.
Outside of volunteer days, and volunteering for big events like Autumnfest, the farm also welcomes corporate groups to set up a day to volunteer for team building. Other ways to support Learning Tree Farm include financial donations and donations of supplies. “We love receiving gift cards from Tractor Supply, Amazon, or Lowes,” says Heather.
To find out more about the programs and how to support Learning Tree Farm visit LearningTreeFarm.org.
“We encourage children to taste the vegetables growing in our tasting garden and make the farm feel like their own for the day they are visiting.”