Spring has always been a busy time at Clark’s Elioak Farm in Ellicott City. This year is no different but for one major exception: The farm cannot open its doors to share its festivities and baby animals with the public.
“Babies are a huge part,” said Martha Clark, owner, of the popular petting farm. “There have always been babies in April – piglets, chickens, ducklings. Baby goats have always been the star of our spring.”
It was Clark’s daughter, Nora Crist, who came up with the idea to host live Facebook streams with the baby goats.
“Goats are so playful and fun,” said Crist, the farm manager. “It was so sad to have all these baby goats and no one enjoying them.”
On April 1, Crist and Clark livestreamed their first visit with the baby goats and found an instant niche on Facebook. The two now spend 30 minutes livestreaming every Tuesday and Saturday morning with the baby goats, answering questions as the goats play around them.
“More people know these goats now than ever before,” Clark said. “Whenever we start, people ask, ‘Where is Cheddar? Where’s Gouda?’”
The success of the livestreaming started Clark thinking of other ways to bring more fun to people. Clark’s Elioak Farm is home to many attractions from the old Enchanted Forest theme park, which operated for 40 years before closing in 1995. Clark talked with Shawn Gladden, executive director of Howard County Historical Society, and the two created a walking history talk of the attractions in place of the society’s traditional lunch lecture.
“We had done Enchanted Forest programs before and they are always well attended,” Gladden said. “Anything with Enchanted Forest on it and people are interested.”
On a sunny Friday afternoon, Clark and Gladden met outside the iconic white castle gates where Clark shared a little history about her family, the farm and its connection with the Enchanted Forest Park before leading Gladden around the grounds to see Cinderella’s pumpkin coach, Willie the Whale, Humpty Dumpty and other restored fairy tale structures.
Throughout the hour-long tour, questions and comments were taken from those following the livestream on Facebook and answered by Gladden and Clark. The livesteams had been viewed or replayed more than 7,000 times through Tuesday.
“It was amazing the amount of views we got,” said Gladden, who started working on another livestream lecture walk after seeing the success of the first, this one about the architecture of the Elkridge Furnace Inn for an upcoming session.
“Like any other organization, we are doing more virtual content,” Gladden said. “I think when all is clear, you are going to see a general concern . . . of people not running to go back out to do these activities. I’m not comfortable to open the museum and have 60 people for an event.”
As to when Clark can open her farm to the public, it is unclear, she said.
“We’re waiting for direction from the governor,” Clark said. “I’ve kept all my full-time staff on salary as they still have responsibilities. All the animals need to be taken care of whether they are entertaining guests or sitting in the field.”
Crist recalled other slow past years caused by bad weather or when school groups didn’t turn out.
“All of those times, we never had zero,” Crist said. “We now have zero. It’s unbelievable.”
When the go-ahead is given, Clark wants the farm to be ready to open. It already has several hand-washing stations in place. Common areas are washed regularly. Staff are working on how people will travel through the farm store and its main entrance, which also serves as the exit.
“We will be very reactive when people start to come about what works and what doesn’t,” Clark said.
Clark is also looking into selling advance tickets for timed entries to help control crowd size.
“It will be different,” Clark said. “Most important is people’s safety. We have to be patient.”
Larriland Farm in Woodbine is also patiently waiting to open. The pick-your-own fruit and vegetable farm is hoping to open with the beginning of strawberry season – typically the end of May, according to co-owner Lynn Moore.
In preparation for opening, plexiglass shields have been put in place by the cashiers and more hand-washing stations with sinks have been put in place. Plans have been drawn for opening scattered rows in the fields to keep people apart at a safe distance.
The biggest change, Moore said, will be how people pay.
“People will pay for a box on the way in,” Moore said. “Usually we weigh berries after they are picked. This way, there is less handling and interaction between customers and staff.”
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