PLEASE NOTE: This post was written in 2016, and while it should still give you a good overview of the experience, it is also possible that it may contain some outdated information. Please check their website for the most current information, especially about things like hours and program schedules. If you notice something in this post that needs to be updated, please feel free to leave a comment with the updated information, or email us at email@example.com and we will be happy to make the updates. Hey, it takes a village, right? 🙂
We love all the outings we write about (otherwise we wouldn’t write about them!), but every so often we stumble upon a really extra special kind of outing. The kind that shows us what passion and determination can accomplish. The kind that helps us learn and grow as a family. The kind that inspires us to make a difference in the world.
That’s exactly the kind of experience we found several weeks ago when we visited Open Farm Day at Common Ground in New Haven.
In order to fully understand the experience, you need a little background on this inspiring place. I encourage you to read the detailed background story of Common Ground on their website, but I think this paragraph (excerpted from the site), does a wonderful job of encapsulating what we found there:
“As a whole, Common Ground is a center for environmental learning and leadership located in New Haven, CT. It is a place where all members of the community – young and elementary-aged children, middle and high school students, the general public, and environmental practitioners – can find connections to the local environment, each other, and opportunities for learning and engagement.”
One of their popular programs is Open Farm Day, which takes place every Saturday from April through the end of November from 10:00am to 2:00pm. I should mention that this is a FREE event, but donations that help support the farm and the many programs are very much appreciated.
When I read this description from their website I knew that we had to check it out!
“Enjoy Open Farm Day at Common Ground every Saturday from April through the end of November. Explore our beautiful urban farm, help dig and plant in the children’s garden, and ask farm staff your backyard gardening and composting questions. The animal yards are open for visitors to meet our chickens, ducks, turkeys, goats, sheep, and pigs. Trail maps are available for self-guided hikes in West Rock Park, including the family-friendly Old Oak Nature Trail.”
So we picked a Saturday in June and headed down to New Haven for our adventure.
Common Ground is located in the lovely West Rock Park.
As you pull into the parking lot, bordered by a garden, surrounded by trees, you may even forget that you are actually in the middle of an urban center.
The parking area is adjacent to a wonderful garden where staff and volunteers from the community cultivate produce that is sold at their Summer Farm Stand.
It’s a real working garden, so although you are welcome to look at it and walk through it, it’s more for observation than participation (unless you are there as a volunteer, of course!). Don’t worry though, there is another garden made just for kids 🙂
Although you can see the area where Open Farm Day is taking place from the parking lot, you are not close enough to really see the activities going on. You will have to walk a short distance to get to the farm area.
Fortunately, there is great signage pointing you in the direction of Open Farm Day and other activities that might be going on.
Although Open Farm Day is a FREE event, donations to help support Common Ground and their wonderful community programs are always appreciated. There is an area outside the farmhouse with additional information and a unique spot to drop off your donation. Seriously, what kid wouldn’t love getting a chance to feed the “donation chicken”??? 🙂
I should probably stop here and mention that there is some construction going on in the high school building. This doesn’t affect Open Farm Day in any significant way, but you might see some miscellaneous construction equipment (like a dumpster or bright orange cones) in the background of some of these pictures. Just wanted you to know that this is only a temporary addition to the landscape 🙂
The farmhouse is where you will find the family restroom. It is just through the door and to your left and there is a changing table in there.
Open Farm Day is really what the title says. The farm is open for visitors who can explore freely and there is no real structure to the activities. Here are the areas/activities we explored:
Chickens & Ducks
In this fully enclosed area there were a bunch of beautiful chickens running around. These are friendly birds! You can pet them, hold them, follow them around and see what they like to do– it’s a close encounter of the poultry kind! The ducks were in a separate area where you could enter and see them, but apparently they were feeling a little crabby that day so they weren’t allowed to play 🙂
You might even get to hold a freshly laid egg!
There will always be a staff member in this area when it is open (you are not allowed to go in without a staff member present), so it’s a great place to go first so you can ask questions and find out what else is going on that day, and what other areas you can explore.
As you exit that area, you’ll find hand sanitizer available at the gate. You definitely want to make sure you sanitize your hands after touching the animals. There is also an adorable outdoor sink nearby, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
The area just outside the chicken yard has tables and they also had some sidewalk chalk out for kids (and grownups too!) to play with. That was a big hit with my guys.
Just steps away from the chicken coop, you’ll find an amazing Children’s Garden.
Nearby is also where you will find that charmingly rustic outdoor sink I mentioned earlier. I’ve never seen my kids so excited to wash their hands! This is clean water, so you can use it to fill water bottles for drinking as well.
Just beyond the sink, there is a little sand pit with tons of toys tucked into a nook behind the farmhouse. What a fun surprise!
Somehow we missed it on our visit, but there is also a mud kitchen immediately to the left of the hand washing sink, under the apple tree. It is fun, messy play, so you’ll want to be prepared for wet and muddy shoes and clothes if your kiddos are going to explore this area.
The entrance to the garden is right there opposite the sink. I don’t know the actual reason they call it the Children’s Garden, but I have a hunch it’s because kids are welcome to explore, pick and taste. Also, there are no pesticides used in this garden, so it is safe to eat veggies picked right off the plant. Every crop is well-marked to notify visitors both of what is growing there, and if it is ready to be picked.
The peas were one of the things ready for tasting on the day we visited, and the kids had a great time hunting for pea pods, breaking open the pods and tasting the peas!
There are even watering cans available if your kiddo would like to give the thirsty plants a drink!
After the kids had eaten a handful of peas, we decided to move along and visit with some other animals.
Sheep, Goats & Pigs
Behind the farmhouse and just up from the Children’s Garden you’ll find some additional animal enclosures that house sheep, goats, and pigs. Though they are not all always there depending on what is going on. On this day, we only saw the sheep and goats there.
The pigs were MIA, but usually they are in an enclosure just over this bridge.
If you keep walking into the woods here, you’ll come upon a campground with a grouping of cabins that is used for Common Ground’s various programs–including overnights! We just had fun exploring them 🙂
After we had finished checking out the cabins, we headed back down past the farmhouse and the high school towards a little marshy area that is apparently great for frog sighting.
We could certainly HEAR the frogs, but we couldn’t seem to spot them. We walked all around looking.
But no luck today! It was fun to try to find them though.
West Rock Park contains some hiking trails, and the most family-friendly trail, the Old Oak Trail, has an entrance just up from the frog pond.
We actually didn’t end up walking that far because I had forgotten the bug spray and it was a bit buggy in there (I had recently fallen victim to a vicious gnat attack in my garden at home, so I was a little bit bug-shy at that point). But the part that we walked was pretty wide and flat, so definitely an easy walk for little ones. I don’t know about bringing a stroller though, because the ground was a little uneven with some ruts and whatnot, and there were rocks and roots around. I’d recommend a wearable baby carrier if you’re exploring with a non-walker. Maybe a heavy-duty stroller if you really had to? But since I didn’t walk the whole trail, I can’t say for sure that wheels would work.
Another nice thing is that there are picnic tables, many of them covered, scattered all around the property. So you can bring a lunch or a snack and enjoy it there.
Speaking of food, after our short foray into the woods, the kids were beginning to drop (not so subtle) hints that they were ready for lunch. And since I hadn’t packed us anything, I knew we’d have to wrap up our visit pretty soon.
This was such a unique and fun (and FREE!) activity. And since the farm is dynamic, it will never be the same place twice. In fact, we found out that many families come out just about every week to see whats’s going on in the garden and visit with the animals.
Whether you live around the corner or you’re just passing through New Haven, you should definitely check out Open Farm Day at Common Ground. It’s a fun, educational and enriching activity for the whole family. And it might just inspire you to get growing in your own backyard. Worked for us!
We hope this special place inspires you too 🙂
358 Springside Avenue, New Haven, Connecticut
Contact Jesse at 203-389-4333 x1221 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about Open Farm Day.
For information about additional community programs, you can contact Rebecca Holcombe at email@example.com.
Open Farm Day runs every Saturday from April through the end of November, from 10:00am-2:00pm. Drop in anytime!
Open Farm Day is a FREE event, but donations to help support Common Ground are always appreciated (plus then you get to “feed” the donation chicken!)
Common Ground has many other community programs as well (you can even host a birthday party there!). Check out their website for more information.
Stroller Friendly: Somewhat. You could navigate most areas with a stroller, but we’d recommend a wearable baby carrier for non-walking kiddos.
Coffee Mug Friendly: YES
Restroom: YES. There is a family restroom located in the farmhouse.
Baby Changing Station: YES
Food for Sale: NO
Outside Food Allowed: YES; there are lots of great picnic spots
Cash Required: Bring cash if you would like to “feed” the donation chicken
Dress Code: Nothing specific, but you might want to wear sneakers or good walking shoes since you will likely walk around a lot and possibly go on a short hike. Bring sunscreen and bug spray. Oh, and extra clothes if you plan to let your little chefs make some culinary creations in the mud kitchen 🙂
Age Recommendations: All ages!
Evening/Weekend Hours: YES
Discounts: Open Farm Day is FREE
Birthday Party Venue: YES
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