Last week, with my fellow intern, Kenedy, I got to sit down (virtually) and talk with April Hoy, about Stratford Ecological Center. April is the Education Director at Stratford, a working organic farm, state nature preserve, and non-profit organization that was started back in the early 1990s as a family-run establishment. The farm consists of 236 acres and was passed down in the family after being inspired by their daughter, Gail, after she spent time as an environmental education intern at a similar farm called Hidden Villa, out in California.
April described the primary mission of Stratford as helping both children and adults better understand and build their relationship with nature. Stratford serves families around Central Ohio, schools and school groups, and other folks interested in learning more about organic farming or the nuanced ways we can care about the natural world. They host a number of events for different audiences such as maple sugar tapping, tours of vernal pools in the early spring, wildflower walks, and beekeeping classes.
Farm Camp at Stratford Ecological Center
April also stressed the importance of encouraging children to spend less time in front of screens and more time learning in a real-world, hands-on manner. In addition to the public programs, a program specifically for 5th graders called Messages from the Earth, and a Farm Camp that Stratford hosts, they also have a mentorship program for teens and young adults. Through the mentorship program, teens and young adults work at Stratford over an extended period of time, which allows them to settle in and understand the nuances of relationships in nature and the farm. April described this mentorship program as “very impactful and profound,” and wants to take steps in the near-future to formalize this so more people can be involved.
Sustainability at Stratford Ecological Center
Aside from the plethora of programs and opportunities that Stratford offers to the public, they themselves practice sustainability in a multitude of ways that can be summed up in three different categories: natural resources, community, and financials.
As a working organic farm, Stratford practices regenerative agriculture through crop rotation, an overlapping of fields and pastures to introduce animal manure, and a diversified selection of crops. They are completely off the grid with both solar power (through an astounding number of 144 solar panels!) and a geothermal system. In the future, they’d like to completely move away from fossil fuels, which they still use for their tractors and some other farm equipment. Stratford also protects their wetlands, harvest their rainwater, and has rain gardens throughout the property.
Stratford fosters a sustainable community through intentional grassroots community development. As education director, April is responsible for choosing the programs and classes, which is almost entirely done by listening to what the community wants. Stratford relies on a thriving group of volunteers who all have a voice, have input, and are empowered. The volunteers end up running a lot of programs based on their interests, skills, and desires for their community. Stratford has 5 paid staff, and they, along with the volunteers, host 10,000 children annually.
Financially, Stratford strives to be as accessible and inclusive as possible, regardless of income. Stratford is a non-profit organization, and they receive no state or federal funding. A majority of their budget relies on sales from their farm store, which sells products directly from the farm such as meat, eggs, maple syrup, honey, and winter greens. The main output of Stratford, however, are their education programs which take up half of their operating budget. Their programs rely on people like you, so if you are wondering how to get involved, keep reading!
How to get involved!
At Stratford, there are countless opportunities for everyone no matter your age. The best way to get involved is to go out and see the farm for yourself, and hopefully have a chat with one of the staff members or volunteers. You can also check out their website, visit the market to buy farm products, or keep an eye out for events at Stratford that will be posted on the Simply Living Newsletter.