Old McDonald Has a Farm
The classic nursery rhyme about a “quack quack” here and a “moo moo” there comes to life at Old McDonald’s Farm in Sale Creek, just north of Chattanooga. Every fall, the working 2,170-acre farm opens to the public, welcoming visitors of all ages to come spend a day on the farm.
Eight generations of the McDonald family have lived and worked on the farm since James and Kitty McDonald first settled it in 1821. Today, nearly 700 acres of property are used to grow row crops – corn, soybeans, wheat and grass hay – and raise Angus beef cattle.
In 2011, the McDonald family added agritourism to the farm’s offerings, transforming it into a fun and educational day trip destination in September and October.
“After six or eight years of drought, we realized we couldn’t support the farm just with row crops and cattle any more,” says Brant Crowder, farm manager. “We were already hosting church picnics and family weddings, so we decided adding a public fall festival would be a way to support the farm. Kids have so much fun, and families spend time together. It’s rare to see people sit and look at their cellphones here because they’re fully engaged in whatever activity they’re doing.”
Activities on the farm include picking a pumpkin from the pumpkin patch, navigating through a corn maze, petting farm animals, taking a hay ride, playing Farmersgolf, digging in a corn crib and challenging a friend to a pedal tractor race. In its first year, Old McDonald’s Farm hosted 6,500 visitors. Last year, more than 18,000 visitors spent a day on the farm.
“We hope to have 20,000 in 2015,” Crowder says. “We try to add new attractions every year, and we keep enough employees on hand to answer any questions people have and make sure their visit is enjoyable. It’s pretty neat to have a couple thousand people in your backyard for the weekend.”
In 2014, Old McDonald’s Farm opened a new exhibit called Farm Life Experience in one of the barns. Children enter with a shopping list of items to find and tasks to complete, including gathering eggs from the chickens, feeding the pigs, picking tomatoes, corn and apples, and gathering potatoes and onions. When they exit, children receive a sticker that reads, “I was a farmer for a day at Old McDonald’s Farm.”
“Even the parents love going through it with their kids,” Crowder says. “It teaches kids their food doesn’t just come from the grocery store.”
About 35 members of the McDonald family still visit the farm for family reunions and corporate meetings. Family members Bryan Reinke and Frank McDonald are managing partners involved in the day-to-day operations.
Crowder says opening the farm to visitors has caused them to look at agriculture differently, through the eyes of someone who isn’t familiar with the industry.
“We have to pause and think, ‘Would this be fun for them? Would they find this interesting? Is it safe?’ ” he says. “We’ve had kids come off a school bus and say, ‘We didn’t know there was this much grass anywhere.’ Other kids will jump into the corn crib and ask, ‘What is this stuff?’ Some of them have never been out of downtown Chattanooga.”
Teaching kids and adults about the wonders of agriculture makes Crowder’s job rewarding.
“We’re passionate about helping people understand how valuable the family farm is to our nation,” he says.
In 2016, Old McDonald’s Farm plans to hold a spring festival in mid-April coinciding with their annual 5K Mud Run. The Mud Run raises money for a different cause every year. In the past, it has benefited the Ronald McDonald House and a local animal shelter.
In December 2016, Crowder says they plan to add a holiday festival called Christmas at Old McDonald’s Farm, where visitors will be able to pick out a live Christmas tree, take photos with Santa and go on a hayride through Christmas lights.
Plan Your Trip
The farm is located at 16705 Coulterville Rd. in Sale Creek. A gift shop on site has farm souvenirs and fall decor for sale. The farm’s cafe serves barbecue sandwiches, hot dogs, nachos, popcorn, ice cream, fried pies and other goodies. For more information, call (423) 531-CORN or visit oldmcdonaldsfarm.net.