Clinton County

Melissa Kossler Dutton
Lunch at Bonnybrook Farms.

When I told the boys we were going to spend the day touring farms in southwestern Ohio, they were expecting cows, pigs and chickens.

But what they got during a visit to Clinton County, where freeways and traffic lights give way to winding roads and rolling hills, was an exotic adventure. Yes, the rural area has plenty of traditional farm animals but it also is home to wallabies and alpacas. Visitors have plenty of opportunities to pick and taste locally grown produce.

Located about 60 miles from downtown Columbus, Clinton County offers families the chance to sample life in the country. You'll need a full day or maybe two to check out all the region has to offer.

Horsefeathers Farm (7200 state Route 350, Clarksville 45113; 937-289-3504. Despite the name, the real attraction here are wallabies. Owner Bob Heyob raises them and loves to share his passion for the mini members of the kangaroo clan.

Heyob's Wallaby Encounter ($6 per person with a minimum charge of $40) includes facts about the marsupials, opportunities to hold the animals and a lesson about endangered animals (some breeds of wallabies are endangered). Don't be surprised if Heyob's miniature deer, Dear Abby, comes by for some loving during the 45-minute presentation. This "muntjac" or barking deer species is extremely curious about visitors.

Heyob, a retiree who breeds wallabies for numerous zoos, opens his farm to the public because he wants to share his knowledge and his wonderful property. In addition to the barnful of exotic animals, the farm includes a pond, picnic shelter and a creek bursting with fossils.

Heyob, a lifelong fossil and arrowhead hunter, also offers a presentation about the area's early history.

His late wife, Mary, felt strongly that they should bring children to the farm to meet the animals and experience a day in the country.

"She said, 'We're being selfish if we don't share this,'" he said.

Branstrator Farm (885 N. George Road, Clarksville 45113, 937-725-5607,and A&M Farm Orchard (22141 state Route 251, Midland 45148, 513-875-2166. If you find yourself in the mood to do some farming - or at least harvesting - Clinton County has several options to pick your own produce.

Branstrators Farm, which has been in Jon Branstrator's family for five generations, grows asparagus, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and peaches.

Branstrator, who has traveled and worked extensively in Central America, embraces innovative farming techniques. He is dedicated to using environmentally friendly farming practices.

The farm also welcomes visitors every fall and spring for weekend festivals. The Three Sisters Harvest Festival, set for Oct. 4-5, focuses on the Native American practice of planting corn, squash and beans together for a symbiotic relationship. It features hayrides, pumpkin smashing, music and more. The spring Strawberry and Asparagus Festival celebrates the beginning of the growing season and includes music, vendors and more.

A&M Farm Orchard, a family-run operation, offers pick-your-own strawberries and 15 varieties of apples. Apples generally are available from September through Halloween.

Bonnybrook Farms (3779 state Route 132, Clarksville 45113, 937-289-2500. For a more traditional farm experience, check out Bonnybrook Farms. Home to horses, goats and donkeys, the farm offers a variety of seasonal events (prices vary based on the activity).

In the fall, the farm offers lantern-lit wagon rides that are family-friendly but a little spooky. The farm also has a corn maze and giant slingshots for launching pumpkins. During the summer, the farm hosts chuck-wagon dinner rides. Upon arrival, guests can fish, visit the petting zoo, play with the giant slingshots and explore the farmyard. When the dinner bell rings, it's time to gather for a barbecue dinner followed by a wagon ride through the countryside. Dessert is served at the campfire, where adults dine on homemade cobbler and kids can make s'mores.

The farm's setting on 370 acres is a wonderful patchwork of old forest, farm fields and green meadows.

KB Alpacas (3816 Gurneyville Road, Wilmington 45177, 513-324-2151. Kim and Brad DeLaney also are driven to share their property because of a sense of gratitude for the lifestyle they have found along a country road a few miles from Interstate 71. The couple breed alpacas, co-own a mill where they spin the animals' fleece into yarn and run a small store that sells goods made from alpaca fiber.

They began researching the animals, which are native to the Andes Mountains, after their children grew up and moved out of the house. After volunteering at another alpaca farm, they knew that it was their calling.

"We just fell in love with the animals," Kim DeLaney said.

They enjoy watching the animals develop personalities and choosing just the right names for them.

They welcome people to the farm by appointment, but also free of charge. The couple will often share some history about the animals and allow visitors to interact with a few of them.

General Denver Hotel (81 W. Main St., Wilmington, 45177, 937-383-4141. For good eats, visit the General Denver Hotel. Built in 1928 as a luxury destination between Columbus and Cincinnati, the hotel includes a restaurant featuring a varied menu with lots of kid-friendly choices, including locally raised lamb. Guests are encouraged to linger over meals and savor the historic building's charm.