If gentle, humming alpacas and a romp around farm and pasture aren’t enough to tempt the family into the car for a drive in the country Saturday, maybe checking out a “chicken tractor” or visiting a Scottish Highlands steer will. They’ll all be on hand at the annual Harvest Festival Open Farm Day at Heartland Farms, operated by the Dominican Sisters of Peace. The event will happen, rain or shine, Saturday, Oct. 6 from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at their 80-acre farmstead 14 miles west of Great Bend in Rush County.
“If someone thinks they can’t come out because they can’t walk very far, we can accommodate them,” Wasinger said. Marmies of Great Bend will loan Heartland Farm an electric cart for the day to help those who have difficulty getting around a chance to visit in comfort.
Since 1987 when three sisters and a married couple and their three children began farming the homestead, it has been, according to their website, “a place for experimental experiential learning of small-scale sustainable organic agriculture, holistic health, alternative energy, and the integration of body, mind and spirit.” Since August 2011, five Dominican Sisters of Peace have lived at and staff Heartland Farm: Sr. Terry Wasinger, Sr. Mary Ellen Dater, Sr. Jane Belanger, Sr. Joan Ice and Sr. Marilyn Pierson.
The farm is open for visitors to tour by appointment throughout the year. Many visitors come to observe the gardens or simply to relax and renew. The Sisters also offer instruction in crafts like knitting and crocheting.
They’ve been raising alpacas since 2003, starting with three. The babies are called “crias” and at least 15 have been welcomed into the world at the farm over the past nine years. They’re raised for compost and for their fleece, which the sisters clean and make into roving, said Sr. Terry Wasinger. They send some of the roving to Phillipsburg where it is milled into yarn, and they also create their own homespun yarn.
But alpacas aren’t the only livestock on the farm. It’s also home to 50 colorful chickens that reside in the chicken house and supply at least a dozen eggs each day. Plan to visit the chicken house and view the chicken tractor.
“Its a little chicken house that moves around the yard,” Wasinger said. “Chickens scratch and drop manure, and then it can be moved to the next area.”
Neighbors including Troy Schroeder, Kathryn George and Bruce Swob will be on hand displaying livestock and products they produce from their own farms. Schroeder owns and breeds of Scottish Highland grass-fed beef steers. He will bring one of the long-horned, shaggy haired steer and answer questions about grass-fed beef. Swob, owner of Swobee Honey, will be there to talk about honey production. George will demonstrate fall decorating ideas with straw bales
Visitors interested in alternative construction methods will have a chance to visit the two straw bale buildings on site. To welcome guests looking for a retreat or for a place to facilitate self-expression, the Sisters built a hermitage, or retreat dwelling, and an artist studio from straw.
Straw bale construction is an alternative building method that often pairs post and beam construction with straw bales used as infill. A natural plaster coating can be applied both inside and out. It’s considered a green because straw bales are a natural waste product being recycled, they are renewable, and the insulative value is very high.
Guests can enjoy a unique treat during their visit. The sisters will have solar-baked cookies and lemonade available. Wasinger also encourages guests to bring a picnic lunch to enjoy on the grounds.
To get to Heartland Farms, come west 12 miles on 10th St. to the Barton Co. line, continue west on the gravel road one mile, then 1/2 mile south on Rush Co. Rd 390. On the West side, turn into 1049 CR 190.