Clarkston Family Farm. Can you Dig It?

(Mel Corrigan, June 30, 2022)

Oakland County citizens might be familiar with Clarkston because of popular restaurants such as Honcho, Clarkston Union, The Fed, and Union Woodshop, all nestled closely together along the downtown’s Main Street. A lesser-known gem, only two miles north, is the Clarkston Family Farm, situated on the southeast corner of the Independence Elementary School property.

What is Clarkston Family Farm?

The Clarkston Family Farm (CFF) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational farm, committed to serving kids of all ages and abilities.

Their mission comprises three values (or imagine a Venn diagram with three intersecting circles). The first is education. CFF offers camps, classes, workshops, clubs, all educational programming that bring learning to life. The second is growing and sharing healthy food and feeding the community accordingly and showing people how to cook and eat well. The third is the idea of a positive community gathering space. Holding events such as the Garden Party or Monarch Festival is a way to provide a positive, outdoor experience in a safe, welcoming, and beautiful environment. All three elements work in tandem with one another, and where they overlap is the heart of Clarkston Family Farm’s work: inspiring kids (and adults!) to learn the value of our natural world.

Why was CFF founded?

Before Chelsea O’Brien became President and Executive Director of Clarkston Family Farm, she had been thinking deeply about the way kids learn and her role in that, having been involved in children’s education and in public school system for 20 years. She also observed and was involved in her own children’s learning. One of her children had some challenges learning in a traditional setting, and Chelsea saw that her daughter was most engaged while outside, exploring the natural world. Intuitively this made sense; Chelsea herself felt most engaged when outside in nature and when using her hands. She started reading everything she could find on how children are suited to learn through the natural world, a concept popularly referred to as nature-based education. She also cared more deeply about the fact that kids are smart and wired to learn, rather than how smart they are.

Her family moved from Ferndale to Clarkston, and Chelsea immediately connected with other like-minded people who felt passionate about getting kids off devices and outside and into nature to learn in conjunction with sensory rich experiences. “Healthy kids spend time in nature. Happy kids spend time in a natural setting,” Chelsea said. And her interest in educating the “whole child” grew.

Chelsea saw an opportunity to create something big and meaningful, rather than complaining about problems in public education. “I can’t expect someone else to do this work,” Chelsea said. And by “this work” Chelsea means, “To educate and inspire the next generation about healthy food, the value of nature and sustainability, and to do that all within the context of a positive community learning space.”

And that’s why she founded Clarkston Family Farm in 2017. “It was the right thing to do. It’s what’s best for kids,” she said. “It’s a wonderful platform. It has been a joy to create a beautiful, safe, interactive greenspace for people of all ages and all abilities.”

And she’s proud to have created a positive community gathering space, a place where politics don’t rule the conversation. “From conservatives to farm bureau types to the conservation or environmental permaculture organizations, everyone can agree that what’s best for kids is to get outside, get their hands in the dirt and eat more healthy food. It’s not controversial.”

Five years later, despite the incredible physical and emotional challenges of this very real labor of love, she’s still at it. “It’s the kids,” she said. “To see their curiosity ignited, to watch them, and especially teenagers, laugh and play and be silly, it invigorates and inspires me to get up and keep doing it.”

How does Clarkston Family Farm operate?

The Clarkston Family Farm is governed by its Board of Directors, which is headed by Chelsea as Executive Director. The board sets the overall strategy for the farm, in accordance with 501(c)(3) regulations, and many individuals help to bring its goals to fruition.

Numerous volunteers keep the farm running by caring for its animals and the grounds, coordinating and manning events and educational programming, and much more.

Income is generated by registration fees for workshops, products sold through the Sunflower Market, vendor fees from events, and of course sponsorships from generous individuals and groups who want to advance the farm’s mission.

If you’re interested in becoming part of the board or leading a committee, visit the farm’s Contact page, and send an email or submit a contact form.

When and how can you enjoy the farm and all it has to offer?

The Sunflower Market is open 10am – 6pm on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from mid-March through December and is run by paid staff. Stop by to enjoy the beauty of the farm, visit the animals, and buy local produce, meats, dairy and eggs as well as products from local vendors and artisans.

If you can’t visit during the week, consider signing up to volunteer on the weekend to care for the animals or water plants in the greenhouse, or attend one of many free events, such a Family Fun Day or the Garden Walk.

The much-anticipated (free!) Monarch Festival will be held August 20 from 5-8 pm, which is a wonderful example of the farm’s three values working synergistically. It’s accessible to all learners regardless of resources and ability level. There will be food trucks, too, so come and have dinner, learn, and enjoy the evening.

(Save the date for Christmas on the Farm, December 3!)

Programs and workshops for kids and adults are available throughout the year. And thanks to the wildly successful Garden Party fundraiser held June 12 in memory of a dear friend of CFF, the Wally Niezguski Farm Scholarship Fund for underprivileged youth has been established, which will enable free and subsidized high-quality nature-based programs for ALL learners, regardless of age, ability, or income.

Lastly, you’re welcome to rent the farm for your special event! Check out the bottom of CFF’s Events page to learn more.

How can you help?

CFF is presently looking for a volunteer to maintain its existing website! Interested individuals can send an email to cffsunflowermarket@gmail.com with the subject line “Website volunteer.”

Local artisans interested in becoming a vendor at a farm event or having their products considered for sale in the Sunflower Market, please email cffsunflowermarket@gmail.com.

As with all nonprofit entities, Clarkston Family Farm relies on volunteers and funds to function. Sponsorships are always welcome and appreciated.

Regardless of whether you volunteer, sell your wares, donate, or not, Chelsea O’Brien cordially invites you to visit Clarkston Family Farm: “This is a special and unique place of learning, growing, and connecting with one another, because it’s your farm, too. Without community engagement this farm would not be here today. Hundreds of individuals and organizations have contributed in their own small way (a bench, a flower, time, money, pulling weeds, and so on) to this mosaic that is Clarkston Family Farm. So come. Come often. And understand that you are not only welcome here, you are also already part of our family. Please come. Enjoy. It’s here for you.”

Clarkston Family Farm is located at 6800 Hubbard Road in Clarkston. Please visit the website and follow along on Facebook and Instagram to learn about upcoming events and more. If you’d like to become a volunteer or schedule an education workshop for your school or youth group, contact the farm.