Visiting a Pioneer of Sustainability 14

When my cyber-friend Vera Marie Badertscher told me of her plans to visit Malabar Farm, I immediately requested a guest post. She was kind enough to comply! If you’re intrigued after reading about her experience, you’ll want to head over to A Traveler’s Library to read her related post about loving the land.

A visit to Malabar Farm makes you fall in love with the earth all over again. When you live in the city rather than in the country, it may be more difficult to grasp the concept of sustainability. A visit to a Mid West icon of agricultural sustainability can remind you of  the virtues of protecting the earth and the value of even the most humble eco-system and wild animals.

The wooded hills alternating with patches of lush corn fields and golden grain, the neat gardens surrounding a beautiful hill-side farm house/mansion, the towering barn with cattle and chickens and hay to jump in and room for a barn dance–form a landscape that could have been painted by Grandma Moses or Norman Rockwell.

Novelist Louis Bromfield (1896-1955) returned to his home territory near Mansfield in north central Ohio after living in France and India. There he created Malabar from three nearly depleted farms. With decades of hard work and by spending most of the fortune he had earned by writing, he nursed the land back to productive health. The state of Ohio now runs Malabar as a State Park and working farm. Here, many visiting children get their first clue that milk comes out of a cow instead of a carton, and beef comes from an animal rather than a plastic package at Kroger’s.

Bromfield switched from writing novels to writing books that extolled sustainable agriculture, starting in 1933 with The Farm and in 1939 Pleasant Valley. The sometimes controversial amateur agriculturist developed a loyal following. He championed keeping domestic animals out of the woods, so that the eco-system of wild animals and wild plants could heal the land. He preached the Soil Conservation Service’s instructions about contour plowing to form a series of small dikes down a hillside and prevent soil from washing away.  He believed in leaving weeds between corn rows to hold moisture in the soil. He believed a farmer should have varied crops and animals so that he could be self-sustaining, and he succeeded during World War II to avoid rationing shortages.

Since he wrote for movies as well as in novels, many Hollywood notables flocked to Malabar, and he put them all to work.  They say that Edgar G. Robinson particularly liked to work at the roadside stand selling fruit and vegetables. The vegetable stand still operates, selling produce, maple syrup, eggs, butter, and other farm products. Next door you can eat in an old stage stop that has been converted to a fine dining restaurant. The restaurant sources its ingredients from Malabar and other farms in the area, providing the freshest and highest quality food, and providing a model for using local produce.

In addition to daily tours from Memorial Day to Labor Day, and reduced hours during the fall, you are welcome to hike the trails and see the outside of the buildings any time. The State Parks Department runs a year-round series of enticing activities.  Personally, I would love to be there for maple sugaring time. The drawing of sap from maple trees and creation of that fantastic syrup has always seemed magical to me.  But you might prefer the barn dances, or haunted tours, or Farm Fun Day with tractor pulls and other old fashioned contests. If you’re in Ohio in December, take a holiday candle-light tour of the big house where Bromfield lived and worked.

No matter when you visit, start at the visitor’s center, where you’ll see a model of the farm, information about Bromfield the writer, and many displays that point out the importance of farm products to our everyday life.

You can read about the book Louis Bromfield wrote about Malabar, Pleasant Valley at A Traveler’s Library. Vera Marie Badertscher, a freelance writer who long ago moved from Ohio to Arizona, writes about books and movies that influence travel at A Traveler’s Library.

All photos courtesy of Vera Marie Badertscher

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14 thoughts on “Visiting a Pioneer of Sustainability

  • Vera Marie Badertscher

    Thanks for spreading the word about Malabar Farms, Kris. One of the most interesting displays in the little museum tells how all the parts of the cow are used–baseball gloves, glue, medical uses like sutures–things you never dreamed of.

  • NoPotCooking

    Wow! Sounds like a great place to visit!

  • Vera Marie Badertscher

    Thanks, Susan. It’s one of those places that is just naturally photogenic. And NPC, when you visit, you’ll LOVE the restaurant in the stage stop. Matter of fact, one of their featured dishes when I was there was cooked in–guess what?–parchment paper!

  • Connie

    Thanks for pointing us in this direction- loved this ‘take’ on Malabar Farm– Now after reading what had been posted on your site AND this, I’m wishing I could go visit right now.

  • Kerry Dexter

    enjoyed this visit to Malabar Farm, Vera nd Kris. thanks. somehow I’d never associated maple sugaring and syrup making with Ohio — I always think of Vermont and Quebec in connection with maples.

  • Vera Marie Badertscher

    Kerry: Ohio probably doesn’t have a lot of maple sugaring left, just as the farm land is slowly disappearing in general, but the maples make those hillsides gorgeous in the fall. And the horse chestnuts and buckets, and oaks, and elms and locusts and and and…..

  • Vera Marie Badertscher

    Adding to my reply to Kerry–the northern part of Ohio was mostly settled by New Englanders (my own family migrated from Massachusetts to Ohio in the early 1700s, and you know that people generally settle in land similar to that they left, so there’s definitely a New England vibe there.

  • Donna Hull

    I like the idea of combining travel with environmentalism. It’s about time I visited the Midwest. I’ll put Malabar Farm on the list.

  • MyKidsEatSquid

    I can second what Vera says about NE Ohio (I’ve discovered people here often call it neo) having a New England vibe. It’s interesting that this area was once New Englanders’ Western Reserve. I’m fascinated by this museum–I’m going to have to visit there myself.

  • Jane Boursaw

    Love hearing about places like this, because we seem to be heading back towards sustainability (I hope). We can learn so much from the past. This place sounds gorgeous, to boot.