Petting zoo, pony rides, balloon making, more at Darien farm event

Megan Bevis of Greenwich, 4, playing a game — Sandra Diamond Fox photo

While Alexander James Madden is only 2 years old, it was already his second year at the Darien Nature Center’s Down on the Farm event on Saturday, May 25.

The 8th annual event was held at Cherry Lawn Park, which is outside the Darien Nature Center at 120 Brookside Road.

“They have so many things for the kids,” said Darien resident Amir Madden, Alexander’s father. “He went on a tree swing and got to sit in all the tractors and visit the food trucks.”

“I like hot dogs,” Alexander said.

Kelsy Brodis, 13 months, of Darien, on a shetland horse named Candy, with her father Jonathan Brodis— Sandra Diamond Fox photo

Last year, by the day’s end, a total of 1,500 people came to the event. By the middle of the day on Saturday, 1,600 people had already walked through the gates — and more were still coming in. The parking lot was closed off and guests parked their cars on neighboring streets.

Activities included a petting zoo, pony rides, construction trucks to climb in, picnic field games, and face painting. There were also a giant balloon maker, music and dancing, and a pond exploration activity where children could search for tadpoles.

Two-year-old Alexander James Madden runs across piles of hay. — Sandra Diamond Fox photo

At a viewing area inside the nature center, guests could see dozens of animals, such as owls — named Blinken and Luna —as well as a tarantula, turtles, and Syndey, a lizard.

“We set up eggs in an incubator. Two chicks just hatched over night. They are adorable,” said Darien Nature Center’s Program Director Emily Ciffone, the day before the event. Guests could ask the staff questions to learn about the animals.

Children of all ages enjoyed watching a giant balloon making machine make bubbles. — Sandra Diamond Fox photo

The entry fee, $10 per child and $5 per adult, went toward the operating costs of the nature center, which is a nonprofit. “It goes toward making sure our preschool and after school programs are properly staffed and taking care of the animals in our animal room,” Ciffone said.

“Our goal [with Down on the Farm] is to get people out into the fresh air and enjoying what their own community has to offer,” she added.

Two-year-old Stamford resident Hannah Malerba “is having a great day” at the petting zoo and going on pony rides, said her mother Lori Malerba. “She likes Honey, the pony.”

Hannah also liked the bunny rabbits, her mother added, “and the lobster craft.”

“They do a great job,” she added, in regard to the organizers of the event.

Three-year-old Aurora Black, who was holding a sock rabbit made from rice at home, said she was planning to go on the “swing.”

Aurora comes to the Darien Nature Center on Tuesdays for the show and tell with the animals, where she gets to touch the animals.

She said her favorite animal is a “porcupine.”

“They’re nocturnal,” she said. “They chase frogs.”

Jill Pandolfino of Darien, who came with her 2-year-old daughter Violet and 4-year-old son Benji, said she likes that there are so many people she knows who turned out to the event.

“It seems like the whole town is here,” she said. “I ran into a friend as soon as I got here.”

There were sensory activities scattered throughout the farm including water tables and a corn pit scavenger hunt called The Great Grain Grab, where Benji was searching for hidden treasures that were buried inside. Once children find one of the items, they bury it back inside the corn so that others will get a chance to find them.

Benji was smiling when he found a toy snake.

Benji Pandolfino, 4, of Darien, found a toy snake in the scavenger hunt. — Sandra Diamond Fox photo

“We love the nature center,” Jill Pandolfino said. “We go every other week. They are always willing to show us the animals.”

Justin Burke of Norwalk, who was with his mother and 2-year-old son Desmond, said is was his parents who found out about the farm event.

“My mom looked it up. Desmond loves playgrounds, bubbles, going fishing, and little animals. He wants us to get a ferret but we have two dogs — named Bodi and Maverick — so that’s not going to happen,” Justin Burke said. “It’s a perfect day.”

One of the activities was Farmer B’s Wool, where New Canaan resident Barbara Wills, a.k.a. Farmer B., was giving a spinning demonstration on her spinning wheel.

The spinning wheel, which she described as “modern with an antique style” was spinning yarn. She has been giving spinning demonstrations for seven years.

“I go to preschools all over the area and do demonstrations,” Wills said. “I teach wool spinning.”

Wills owns a farm with seven sheep and a horse.

She said that each of her sheep can produce 11 pounds of wool within one year’s time.

She added that she can make a single scarf with nine ounces of wool, and can make “a lot of garments” out of a year’s worth of wool.

When giving demonstrations, she said that children “are most fascinated by how the energy in the spinning wheel transfers from my feet into the wool to make it into yarn.”

Making items out of wool requires lost of “patience,” Wills said.“It takes a day to learn and a lifetime to perfect.”

According to Wills, sometimes, “children have a hard time understanding how the wool will produce something that gets used by people.”

“By meeting my sheep and feeling the wool on them, it helps them understand what I love,” Wills said.

By holding the Down on the Farm event, “We want people to appreciate the public spaces that we have and the trails at Cherry Lawn, and know they have access to these great outdoor natural spaces,” Ciffone said.

The trail is directly in the back of the nature center building. “It’s perfect for a family to walk through. It leads over to our pond in the back.”

“There is so much here every day that they can have access to,” Ciffone said.

sfox@darientimes.com