FARMILIES CONNECT™ is focused on promoting farms and agriculture throughout Michigan. This article features Farm Member, Parkside Farm located in Byron Center, Michigan. In the spring, maple trees at Parkside Farm are tapped to make maple syrup, available for purchase online. The farm features a small, registered pygmy goat herd which is utilized for farm education and the Jump for JOY Program™ and has visited senior centers and special events all over the state of Michigan. Focused on impacting the next generation through farm education and a line of adorable pygmy goat gifts, products and children’s storybooks, FARMILIES CONNECT™ founder, Nicole Zaagman encourages families to engage with their local farms and farmers.
How did you get involved in agriculture?
I grew up on a small hobby farm in Clarksville, Michigan and raised pygmy goats, rabbits and bantam chickens. My family had vegetable gardens and several acres of alfalfa that was harvested as hay every year and used to feed cattle across the road and my pygmy goat herd. My childhood was full of fun and wonder. I started breeding pygmy goats at a young age and showed competitively through the Kent County Youth Fair. While in 4-H I showed still exhibits, pygmy goats, bantam chickens, rabbits and horses. I trained my pygmy goats to pull me in a cart and went on to show and compete at the state level. My last year in 4-H I won the coveted senior showmanship sweepstakes competition after competing for 4 years. I definitely wouldn't be who I am today without my agricultural roots, ones that I am proud of and memories I look back fondly on.
What made you decide to start your farm?
After 12 long years of having no farm, I longed to get pygmy goats again. I restarted my registered pygmy goat herd in 2021 and used the herdname, Parkside Farm. Registered pygmy goats are rare in Michigan and I ended up brining animals in from California, Colorado and Ohio. As my herd grew, I decided to see how I could develop Parkside Farm into an agribusiness. With a background in dog, horse and art therapy, I decided I wanted to create my own animal intervention and therapy program utilizing my pygmy goats. After doing research and obtaining a life coach certificate, in 2023 I created the Jump for JOY Program™ in effort to spread JOY to others and provide a unique farm education program with pygmy goats for senior centers and special events.
What products or services does your farm offer?
In 2022, Parkside Farm expanded in to three properties for a combined 8 acres. The acquisition of the third property and 100 year old renovated farm house allowed us to create an Airbnb Farm Stay option for groups and families. We've hosted guests from all over the country and even international guests. This third property also hosts the maple tree grove used to collect sap to create our delicious maple syrup. Farm products currently offered include a line of adorable pygmy goat merchandise, children's storybook (Samson the Baby Pygmy Goat) and pygmy goat semen, available for shipping nationwide. By 2024, my hope is to complete the Parkside Farm expansion plan which includes plans for a roadside stand which will feature crops such as flowers, pumpkins, squash, maize corn, apples and grapes.
What unique offerings do you provide families?
Aside from the Jump for JOY Program™ in 2024 with the expansion plan, we are planning to offer a variety of family-friendly services including: historical and educational farm tours, u-pick crop experiences and agriculture events and classes. My plan is to eventually create a farm educational booklet for the Jump for JOY Program™ that will encompass the trees, crops, plant and animal life on the farm as a keepsake for families to gather tangible samples during farm experiences to incorporate in to a keepsake booklet for at home learning and education. Pending township approval, we will also be able to host small family oriented events at the farm such as children's birthday parties and family reunions and also offer the farm as a photography venue for family pictures and photo sessions.
What's the best life lesson farming has taught you?
To lead with my heart. For 12 years I tried to live a fulfilling life in different corporate positions and working in various capacities trying to fill the void of my passions of pygmy goats and living a rural, country lifestyle. In 2021, stopped waiting for approval to live the life I wanted to and set out to make it happen. Though I learned some valuable skills and lessons in those 12 years, I also think I could have saved myself a lot of heartache and tears if I'd allowed myself to lead with my heart sooner. There are no do-over's in life and I truly believe as children we know what we want to do with our lives as adults. For me, it was working with animals but I just wasn't sure how to make that happen. I encourage every parent and grandparent who brings their kiddos to my Jump for JOY Program™ visits with the pygmy goats to believe and encourage their kiddos passions and dreams.
Who has positively impacted your farm journey and why?
My parents have positively impacted my farm journey. They believed in me even at a young age and gave me opportunities to pursue the things that I loved, like owning pygmy goats, living in the country and participating in 4-H. They allowed me to branch out and try new things, never discouraging me when I wanted to start my pygmy goat breeding program and improve on my knowledge or experience. They were there for me when I needed help and also gave me the space and freedom to learn and make my own decisions regarding my animals. This belief in me fostered a sense of integrity, responsibility and accountability at a young age that has stuck with me today as an adult. I cannot thank them enough for giving me the chance to learn, grow and shine which has carried through to my farm journey, today.
Where can readers follow you online?
market innovation and agricultural education. Agritourism is the bridge for both and a catalyst of fun and learning for families to experience. The purpose of this platform is to bridge the gap between farming and future generations, making agriculture appealing and engaging for children and adults, alike. This initiative strives to connect farms and families in Michigan through growing its membership and fostering engagement between members. Help support Michigan's diverse agriculture and farms by becoming a Family or Farm Member on a platform designed to connect farms and families in Michigan.
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