October 14, 2013

Working farm offers a-maze-ing fun

Misty Watson

DALTON — When Freeman Collins retired from the chicken industry a few years ago, he told his wife Carmen she could do whatever she wanted with their farm in the Westside community.

“In my generation everyone knew someone on a farm or they lived on one themselves,” Carmen Collins said. “Kids now are so removed from farms.... I like kids to get to see the actual farm, letting kids see cattle, goats.”

So the Collins opened Freeman Springs Farm to the public. They have several activities and sights including a corn maze, hay ride, cattle, barrel train ride for children, goats that children can pet and feed and pumpkins for sale and to paint.

The hay ride takes people through the Collins’ cow pasture where some of their black Angus beef cattle graze, and the cows are accustomed to approaching the wagon for a snack. That includes a steer named “Steak” who is considerably larger than the other cattle.

“I like the hay ride,” said 3-year-old Aidan Crowe, who was at the farm recently on a field trip with Noah’s Ark pre-kindergarten in Fort Oglethorpe. “I like the cows. They come up and eat the hay.”

The pre-K has visited the farm for the last two years.

“We’ve had the best time,” said Ali Davis, with the school. “They love the barrel train. They loved the hay maze (for younger kids). We like to come here every year.”

This is the fourth fall the Collins have opened the farm to the public.

“We’re still developing it,” Carmen Collins said. “Everyone seems to love everything we do.”

The couple says they are diligent not to let the public activities at the farm grow too large, too fast. They don’t want people to have to wait for activities or for it to be so crowded people can’t have fun.

Carmen Collins designs her own corn maze. Some farms hire outside companies to help design and cut their mazes. But after a lot of research and visiting several other farms, she decided to do it herself.

“I’ve gotten so used to doing it I can get it done in three days,” she said. “When we first started, it took me weeks. After we plant the corn, we let it get about knee-high. I have the design planned out. I know how many rows there are in each direction. I go in when it’s still short and cut it. It’s tedious, but I enjoy doing it. I try to make it fun for the kids.”

There is a scavenger hunt through the maze where children can look for popsicle sticks, which are redeemable for a prize.

This year’s maze theme is “Heritage Daze” and includes facts about the farm. The farm was recently awarded the Georgia Centennial Family Farm Award for being owned by a member of the same family for more than 100 years.

Freeman Springs has been owned by a member of the same family for at least 177 years and possibly longer, Carmen Collins said. Freeman Collins’ great-grandfather, W.H.C. Freeman, was the first family member born on the farm, and that was in 1836, she said.

The farm has served as a crop farm, dairy farm, beef cattle farm and chicken farm and has had other functions through the years. The dairy barn now serves as the farm’s country store. Items like jams and apple butter are for sale there.

“Every year I spend a little time getting the barn in shape,” Carmen Collins said. “There’s so much we’d like to do.... I’m really happy about how far we’ve gotten. We love doing it.”