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An Ode to Conservation

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Louis Bromfield’s Malabar Farm offers a perfect mix of enjoyment and education.

Ted McCombs is a 19-year-old conservation enthusiast from Austin, Texas. “Nature conservation is an important part of ensuring that our natural resources last longer,” he says. According to McCombs, museums and national parks play a great role in encouraging people to take an interest in the issue. “Most national parks may seem intimidating to those starting out,” he says. “That’s why I recommend Malabar Farm in Ohio. It’s fun. It has something for all age groups and works as a sort of primer for understanding why we must look after our natural environment.”

Why visit the farm?

The Malabar Farm State Park may not feature on the usual list of travel “must-sees” in the United States, but its relation to environmental conservation work makes it a familiar name among enthusiasts. And, the farm has an interesting history.

Set up in 1939 by Louis Bromfield, an American author, journalist and conservationist, the farm is dedicated to agriculture and promoting soil and water conservation. The journalistic work of Bromfield, who was born in 1896 in Mansfield, Ohio, primarily focused on agriculture-related issues and conservation efforts. In 1927, he won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel, “Early Autumn.” The farm is, in many ways, an extension of another book written by him in 1942, titled “A Primer of Conservation.” From 1972 to 1976, the farm was operated jointly by Ohio’s Department of Natural Resources and Department of Agriculture. In 1976, it became one of Ohio’s state parks. It has an education center with 15 permanent exhibits on agriculture, energy conservation, recycling and animal life.

Malabar Farm, however, is more than just a center of environmental conservation practices—it’s a museum of early farming and pastoral life in Ohio. In addition, Bromfield’s house on the grounds has interesting memorabilia as he had connections with many Hollywood and Broadway stars. Hollywood stars Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall even got married here.

The farm also shares a unique relation with India. “Bromfield had visited India a couple of times and liked the Malabar Coast, and hence gave the name ‘Malabar’ to his farm,” says Behrooz Avari, an education outreach specialist with the U.S. Consulate General in Mumbai. She visited the farm when she was studying in the United States in 2006. Her tour of Bromfield’s house was memorable.

“It is a beautiful farmhouse with cozy rooms filled with antiques and wonderful paintings, and a three-car, heated garage,” she says. “The barn opposite the house had farm animals. I was delighted to see cows, horses, turkeys, ducks, rabbits, pigs, goats and sheep. It was a great first-time experience petting newborn lambs and a pony, hearing piglets oink and watching fluffy chicks dash about.”

Hiking and other activities

The farm has abundant hiking grounds and the open greens are designed to help visitors appreciate the power of scientific agricultural practices. Mount Jeez, which overlooks Malabar Farm, offers great views of the Ferguson Meadow and falls.

The trails are perhaps its biggest draw. “We went on the Butternut trail through a forest on the farm and to a small cave area. The trail was lovely, and the forest was filled with beech and maple trees. On the trail, we also saw the Pugh Cabin, where the opening scene of the movie ‘Shawshank Redemption’ takes place,” says Avari.

Like any historical site, the farm has its share of stories. “One of the stories they told us was about a mentally unstable lady, Ceely [Celia] Rose, who poisoned her family in order to marry a man she thought loved her,” says Avari. The Rose house is part of Malabar Farm and is believed to be haunted.

The farm holds various events to promote a greater appreciation of nature as well as to bring the community together. The Heritage Barn Dance continues a Bromfield tradition and has round and square dancing with live music. At the Old Fashioned Film Feature night, visitors can watch movies made about the books by Bromfield. The Annual Ohio Heritage Days Festival showcases crafts, antique tractors, horses, Civil War, an 18th century living history camp, and food. McCombs says this was his pictorial introduction to the Civil War. Also, while on the subject of food, the Malabar Farm Restaurant, which sources locally grown produce for its menu, is highly recommended. “We ended our tour with a delicious meal there,” says Avari.

For the locals, the farm is where proposals, weddings and long lazy summer day plans happen. For travelers, this might just be the spot to take a break from hectic schedules.
Mount Jeez, the campgrounds and the picnic areas remain open from May to October during daylight hours. Visitors can take guided tours of the house for $4 (Rs. 270 approximately) and the farm for $2 (Rs. 130 approximately). The tours are not available during state and national holidays.  

Paromita Pain is a journalist based in Austin, Texas.