Larry and Lynn Bauer have traveled the world, but say they're now “living the dream” through the operation of their own child-centered, agritourism-based farm in Bristol, Va.
Affectionately referred to by area children as “Farmer Larry,” Larry and partner, Lynn, raise a myriad of farm animals and produce on their 38-acre plot of land called Fern Valley Farm in support of their fun and creative hands-on activities and events designed to educate children and their families about farm life and the importance and benefits of farming to the community.
Labeled a local icon by Lynn, Larry said smiling, “I'm famous with kids between ages 4 and 10.”
The Bauers are self-declared “non-traditional farmers” who believe in evolving with the times and elements in order to survive. Anyone can be a farmer, they agreed; a notion exemplified by their own colorful and relatively uncustomary agricultural pasts.
Larry Bauer originates from Wisconsin, where he spent the summers of his youth visiting his grandfather's dairy farm, while his wife, Lynn, was adversely reared “a city girl” in Atlanta, Ga. The two met in California where Larry was stationed in the Marine Corps and there they wed. The couple's union wrought them many welcome adventures and experiences as a military family during Larry's more than 21 years of service including time spent living in California, Hawaii, North Carolina, Kentucky, Japan and Northern Virginia, as well as raising two children of their own, now full grown and living in California and North Carolina.
Larry and Lynn's journey brought them to Bristol, Va., a place they've happily called 'home' since Larry retired seven years ago.
“We wanted to buy land,” Lynn said. “We wanted a place to settle down. We decided Bristol was the place for us... So, we came here without jobs and not knowing a single soul and plopped ourselves down on this 38 acres.”
“And, the rest is history,” Lynn and Larry added in unison.
The Bauers' original intent was simply to grow their own herbs and crops on the farmland. However, within a year of owning Fern Valley, a family member encouraged them to raise animals. The eager pair started out with 48 chickens and, within a year, had around 140 animals under their care.
Larry, who holds an undergraduate degree in agriculture and a master of science in human relations, and Lynn, who holds a master of business administration, were adequately equipped for the business of farming on a grander scale.
The Bauers began contributing to the local Bristol Farmer's Market four years ago. Mostly, “we create our own jams and jellies from local berries,” Lynn said. “We seek out other local farmers to supply the berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, etc.) so that we may support each other and the community.”
That same year, the Bauers began incorporating children's activities into their farming routine after a friend suggested it.
“We love kids,” Lynn said. So, the idea took shape and our agri-tourism business bloomed.
“It's become such a big part of us,” she explained.
Larry and Lynn said Fern Valley Farm is presently home to 27 baby lambs (28 including their first bottle-fed baby in 5 years, aptly named Miracle), sheep, a miniature horse and donkey, an alpaca, five goats, countless chickens, a turkey, bunnies, cats, three Great Pyrenees guard dogs, cows and a pig - all named by the children.
“Children need to learn about all kinds of farm animals,” Lynn said. “We teach them things like how to tell what color egg a chicken will lay and that alpacas have toes like their relative, the camel.”
Lynn said the kids also learn how to feed the animals, how to plant crops and how to cook (they taste-test ingredients).
“The kids love it,” she said. “Our goal is to have every one of them have their own garden.”
The husband and wife single-handedly keep up the farm (which includes a high tunnel hoop house), make goods for the Farmer's Market, perform free educational farm animal puppet shows at regional schools, host seasonal school tours and themed summer camps for children in conjunction with local educational standards, and host a wide range of activities including seasonal festivals, monthly family days, themed adult farm-to-table dinners, and birthday parties for all ages.
Larry and Lynn's schedule allows for very little pause. However, they said they wish to expand their educational outreach programs to inner city kids and senior citizens and, that between the two of them, they plan to write a cookbook for kids, a Farmer Larry book series, and a comedic series about life for a “city girl on a farm.”
The Bauers feel their hard work is best rewarded by children like Miles and Ruby from Naples, Fla., who return for summer camp every year.
“Just seeing kids grow. That's why we do what we do,” Larry said. “You see these little kids grow up and it's amazing.”
Fern Valley Farm is located at 19310 Rollins Drive. For more information, visit them on Facebook , at http://www.fernvalleyfarmva.com or call 540-273-9137.