Kids learn from an Oxbow Farm educator. Credit: Devon Hammer
During these pandemic times, our days are filled with “school,” screens and very little actual human connection. Our family's recent visit to Oxbow Farm & Conservation Center for outdoor, hands-on learning provided a literal and figurative breath of fresh air.
Oxbow Farm in Carnation is a nonprofit focused on sustainable farming methods. Through education programs and its Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, the farm's mission is to inspire people to be stewards of the earth.
New-style field trips
With regular school field trips — a mainstay of Oxbow's education programs — off the table, Oxbow staff pivoted and created a new program: Family Farm Adventure, a private, COVID-safe experience designed to connect local kids with farming and nature. The program welcomes families or small pod groups on individual field trips.
My sister, with whom we're “bubbling,” and I thought the farm adventure sounded like the ideal supplement to online learning for our kids (ages 8, 5 and 3). We weren’t wrong!
Down on the farm
Upon arriving, we quickly appreciated the beauty around us. Oxbow Farm is set on 240 acres of forest and farmland bordering the Snoqualmie River. We spent most of our time in the one-acre kids’ farm area, (near where Oxbow's Oxtober Festival takes place weekends in October).
At the kids’ farm, we found a huge garden with rows and rows of beautiful vegetables and fruit, along with a cool grape vine-covered area, the Living Playground, tons of shaded picnic tables and plenty of open space.
Learning about plants
The Family Farm Adventure theme for fall centers around learning and experiencing the six main parts of a plant. Each tour is different and you can make requests on what you would like to cover. For our tour, we learned a cute song listing the six parts of a plant and went on a scavenger hunt around the farm to find each one. An Oxbow educator served as our guide.
The kids got to dig in and harvest some goodies from the garden and then try a taste of each part of the plant. This was, of course, the highlight of our day. I was delighted to see my choosy 5-year-old try each and every vegetable. The kids also enthusiastically announced “I picked that!” when the veggie they picked by hand was on the cutting board. Equally outstanding was my kids’ eagerness to show off all they learned at home that night. My 3-year-old can still recite all six parts of the plant — with a few hints from her brother.
Another highlight of our visit was harvesting seeds out of dried snap peas. The kids created their own seed packets and got to take home all the seeds they harvested. They are eager for next spring to get them planted in the ground.
The kids also loved the grounds themselves. They discovered all sorts of plants and bugs, and they loved the Living Playground with its Living Tunnel, a tunnel system formed with grape and hop vines. We almost couldn’t get them out of there!
The COVID procedures at Oxbow Farm seemed expertly implemented and we felt very safe the whole time. Our interaction with anyone outside of our bubble was limited to the two farmers guiding us. We wore our masks, as required, the entire time, except while eating. There's also a cool handwashing station which was a feature in itself. The water is stored in a giant barrel with a spout which drains into a bucket below. The kids were actually excited to wash their hands!
Although my 3-year-old and 5-year-old were fully engaged and have actually retained a lot of what they learned, the two-hour adventure might be a little long for some tots. I would recommend bringing your own snack and planning on a break in the middle to refuel. You can easily separate your group to snack and drink with masks off at a safe distance from others.
Hopeful for the future
I found our afternoon at Oxbow an incredible experience for both the kids and adults, and we all left with a new appreciation for farming and sustainability. In the midst of a confusing and chaotic year, Oxbow Farm felt like a refuge where I truly felt hopeful for the future.
Learning about the work they do to make a positive impact on our environment, how they inspire youth to be earth ambassadors and their support for people in need through hunger-relief programs, I couldn't help but feel optimistic. It was an experience we won’t soon forget, and the kids are already asking to go back.
If you go...
Find it: Oxbow Farm & Conservation Center is nestled in the countryside between Redmond, Duvall and Carnation. Use the public entrance marked with a large "Welcome to Oxbow" sign. Check the website for directions. Some GPS systems will lead you to the old entrance at 286th Ave which is just about 3/4 of a mile north of the official entrance. (I missed the entrance the first time and had to turn around.)
Open hours: You need to book your Family Farm Adventure in advance, online. Time slots are 9–11 a.m., noon–2 p.m. or 3–5 p.m., Monday–Friday, through November.
Cost: Family Farm Adventures are available on a sliding scale of $50–$150 per family group. However, no one will be turned away. If cost is a barrier, reach out to the farm to make arrangements.
Safety protocols: Book with your family unit or COVID Pod of no more than 5 people total, with a maximum of 3 children. Mask are required for the duration of your visit (except when eating). Handwashing stations and sanitizer are available onsite. Plan to fill out a sign-in sheet that includes COVID-related questions.
Other ways to visit Oxbow: Oxbow's Oxtober Fall Festival happens every Saturday and Sunday in October. There is no fee to visit. You will find pumpkins to purchase, a few fun activities like a pumpkin slingshot and a hay ride with a fee, farm-fresh produce for sale, access to the Living Playground and more. The farm also hosts Oxbow Open Farm Days on select days in the summer to explore the farm on your own. These will hopefully return next year.
Shop Oxbow goods: You can find produce harvested from Oxbow Farm at the Issaquah Farmers Market on Saturdays, May through October, and the Mercer Island Farmers Market on Sundays, June through September. There is also a farm stand on site, open select dates through the summer and every Saturday and Sunday in October. Or bookmark Oxbow's CSA for 20 weeks of organic produce, plus U-pick privileges, next year. Another option is their 6-week Fall CSA that runs November 11–December 16.