In the early 1970s two teachers, Sally Keyes and Jean Ryan, noticed that not all students learn well in a classroom setting. They took their students on walking or biking field trips to Island Park and Triangle Park in Dayton. Students became excited about seeing “so many trees in one place”, bird’s nests in trees, bugs under rocks, and the river. When the students returned to school, they shared their adventures. Sally and Jean were sold on the value and importance of hands-on learning!
So, in 1973 Sally and Jean, along with many friends as supporters, founded Learning Tree Farm. Learning Tree Farm is a non-profit with the mission to facilitate hands-on learning experiences in a traditional farm setting. To get the Farm ready for visitors took much hard work in the barns, fields, and yards. The first year brought 200 students from Dayton schools.
Today, the Farm serves 6,000 students each year from nine counties and the number is growing! The Farm offers memberships, meeting facilities, group outings for all ages, and a variety of programs for schoolchildren throughout nine counties in the Miami Valley.
The tallest, the oldest, and for humankind, the most bountiful of living things are trees. From the substance of trees we derive, food, fuel and shelter, shade in the summer, fruit to eat, roots that help keep the soil in place, lumber for our homes, and wood for our fire; from their grace and enduring beauty we draw inspiration and a sense of renewal.
Because the Farm has over 40 different kinds of trees, because they are so prominent, and because they offer us much to learn, the co-founders chose Learning Tree Farm as the name!
There never was a specific “learning tree” for everyone. Each person looks at all the trees on the Farm and finds his or her own “learning tree”. Now, when visitors come they are asked to find their “Learning Tree” from the hundreds on the Farm!
Throughout the year, the Farm strives to have a variety of all the traditional farm animals – cows, ducks, geese, goats, pigs, sheep, donkeys, chickens, horses and ponies and assorted dogs and cats. The animals live in two barns – the Bank Barn (built on the side of a banked hill) and a Tobacco Barn (originally named for drying the tobacco that was grown on the farm). To take good care of the animals, Learning Tree Farm uses the services of a veterinarian and an experienced, dedicated farm staff.
To fully live the “hands-on experiences” everyone is invited and encouraged to pet the animals. To safeguard the visitors and the animals, remember you are a visitor in their home – be gentle, be kind, speak quietly. Please close the gates and doors if you open them, to keep our animals and farm safe.
Some animals come to Learning Tree Farm with a name. Sometimes animals are born at the farm, and our staff give them names. You can ask a Learning Tree Farm staffperson what an animal’s name is. Visitors are encouraged to name the animals for the day!
The Farm has a vegetable garden, an orchard, grape vines, and an herb garden. Flower gardens grace the yard around Century House. Hay, straw, corn and soybeans (on a rotating schedule) grow in the fields.
The vegetable garden has raised boxes for growing fruits and vegetables. In the spring, the vegetables garden grows many kinds of lettuce, carrots, early peas and radishes. Berries are very plentiful, too. In the summer, an abundant supply of tomatoes, onions, beans, cucumbers, various hot and sweet peppers and some ears of corn occupy the garden. The fruit trees bear apples, pears and peaches. In the fall, rutabagas, squash, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and broccoli grow. In the winter, the gardens rest.
The grape vines produce purple grapes that are used to make juice and jam. Polly’s Herb Garden is behind Century House. Basil, lavender, sage, rosemary, thyme, Italian parsley, costmary are regularly planted herbs.
Each garden is used as part of the programs. Visitors learn that the tops of some plants, bottoms of other plants and the middle of plants are edible. Tasting and smelling are integral to hands-on activities!
Learning Tree Farm produce is sold or bartered to help sustain the Farm.
Everyone is encouraged to see all features of the Farm. You can spend the day visiting the animals, exploring the herb, vegetable and flower gardens and the orchard. You can ramble on our woodland trails, through the meadows, hay fields, and thickets. You can learn about pioneer living in Century House and the adjacent Milk House, Wash House, and the Carriage House. You can explore the Bank Barn and the Tobacco Barn and perhaps help collect fresh eggs in the chicken coop. There’s a play area with a tractor or two and a playhouse, and trees to climb. Bring lunch and drinks to enjoy in the covered picnic shelter. There are usually a few barn cats to pet, as well as our canine staff, who welcome visitors and safeguard the farm.
Learning Tree Farms offers programs to all ages from throughout the Miami Valley region. All the programs focus on hands-on experiences. All aspects of the Farm – animals, gardens, fields, people – are used to enrich the experience. You can find complete information about our programs here.
Century House, the original homestead, was built in parts. The first part has one room downstairs with a winding staircase that leads to a room upstairs. The downstairs room was used as the kitchen and sitting area with the original fireplace still usable. The 6 additional rooms were added with the last room added in the late early 1900’s. Indoor plumbing was added in the 1970’s. Four outbuildings on the Farm are a Bank Barn, Tobacco Barn, Carriage House, and Smoke House. The fifth building includes the Milk House and Wash House, together as one.
Learning Tree Farm is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization that is governed by a Board of Trustees. The Farm receives support through admission fees, program fees, memberships, foundation/grant awards, fundraisers, and generous donors.
You can find more information about donating to Learning Tree Farm here.