Malabar Farm: Visiting a Pioneer of Sustainability

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My cyber-friend Vera Marie Badertscher visited Malabar Farm. She was kind enough to share some of her experiences here. 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. Novelist Louis Bromfield created Malabar Farm from 3 nearly depleted farms.

Malabar Farm

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.A visit to Malabar Farm makes you fall in love with the earth all over again. Novelist Louis Bromfield created Malabar Farm from 3 nearly depleted farms.

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 Farm from three nearly depleted farms. With decades of hard work, he nursed the land back to productive health. (He also spent most of the fortune he had earned by writing.) 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. Or that 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. Bromfield 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. Leaving weeds between corn rows to hold moisture in the soil was smart and easy. He believed a farmer should have varied crops and animals so that he could be self-sustaining. He succeeded during World War II to avoid rationing shortages.

A visit to Malabar Farm makes you fall in love with the earth all over again. Novelist Louis Bromfield created Malabar Farm from 3 nearly depleted farms.

Famous visitors at Malabar Farm

Since he wrote for movies as well as in novels, many Hollywood notables flocked to Malabar. Bromfield 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.  This provides the freshest and highest quality food, and providing a model for using local produce.

Malabar Farm offers daily tours from Memorial Day to Labor Day, with reduced hours during the fall. Visitors 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. There, you’ll see a model of the farm and information about Bromfield the writer. There are also many displays that showcase 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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Meet the Author

Kris Bordessa

Kris Bordessa founded Attainable Sustainable as a resource for revitalizing vintage skills. Her book, Attainable Sustainable: The Lost Art of Self-Reliant Living (National Geographic) offers a collection of projects and recipes to help readers who are working their way to a more fulfilling DIY lifestyle.

14 comments… add one
  • Vera Marie Badertscher Nov 14, 2011, 6:28 am

    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 Nov 14, 2011, 7:28 am

    Wow! Sounds like a great place to visit!

  • Susan Nov 14, 2011, 8:27 am

    Gotta love those photos! Thanks so much for sharing, Vera.

  • Vera Marie Badertscher Nov 14, 2011, 8:46 am

    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 Nov 14, 2011, 11:48 am

    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 Nov 14, 2011, 12:20 pm

    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 Nov 14, 2011, 6:08 pm

    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 Nov 14, 2011, 6:09 pm

    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 Nov 16, 2011, 3:44 am

    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.

  • merr Nov 17, 2011, 5:33 am

    So interesting to trace the roots of sustainability.

  • MyKidsEatSquid Nov 17, 2011, 7:31 am

    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 Nov 17, 2011, 12:43 pm

    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.

  • Lisa C Apr 13, 2019, 11:12 pm

    Drove through Malabar Farms after going to my uncles funeral in Akron, and traveling to Columbus for a visit with family. It was closed, but had a few awesome additions that weren’t noted. The farm has an area where people can camp with an rv or tent further away from the farm. The farm was fallow when i visited, and seems like a show case more than a real farm, but it does have a restaurant, and right by the restaurant it has an old fashioned fridge! That was pretty neat to see, I had to describe it to an old-timer to figure it out. He said the water is brought from the cold ground, and run through a concrete frame of 1 foot troughs (Think a Water World for G-I-Joe small men), which cools whatever is in the troughs down. It ends in a deep water bath that is where the milk urns would be kept. Interesting farm gadget! But that was just a piece of what this genius that survived the war created. Hopefully they will hire a park superintendent that knows how to and will put the farm back to work.

    • Kris Bordessa Apr 14, 2019, 4:07 pm

      Thanks for this!

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