Fall in the Hudson Valley provides every type of excuse to get kids and adults out of their homes and into the bountiful farmland that surrounds and sustains the community. There is no shortage of apple- and pumpkin-picking opportunities, hayrides, corn mazes and even a River-to-Ridge trail that takes locals and visitors right through the Wallkill View Farm cornfields and into the Mohonk Preserve.
Still, farmers are innovators, whether it’s helping to create new apple varieties with the Cornell Cooperative Extension, like the Snapdragon out at Dressel Farms, or finding new organic ways to protect crops from insect and frost damage. In the case of Hurd’s Family Farm in Modena, it’s taking abandoned, broken-down farm equipment and revitalizing it into a Ninja Warrior-styled obstacle course on which kids (and adults) of all ages can test their strength and agility. As if there weren’t enough for kids to do at Hurd’s Farm while picking apples, navigating their way through a tricky corn labyrinth, taking their turn at an apple-launcher or a spin on the cow train, now they can exhaust themselves, in true farm fashion, by climbing all over repurposed farm equipment. There are old apple pallets, deer fencing, wax barrels, tires, irrigation pipes and a truck for them to run through, climb on, crawl under, balance along and gingerly slide across with intricate maneuvers.
It all started with a farm junkyard. “There were old tractors, tires, barrels, posts,” said Sarah Potenza, the manager of the family farm. “Rather than put it into a landfill, we kept trying to think of ways to make good use of it.” At a family meeting, the idea was thrown out to create an obstacle course: almost a farm version of the über-popular Ninja Warrior courses glamorized on television. One of the Hurds’ grandchildren actually asked if participants would fall into a swimming pool of water if they fell off the course, noted Potenza.
“It took a lot of preparation. First, there was major draining work that we needed to complete, and then we had to measure and remeasure and test out different obstacles. It was a process, but a fun one,” she said as her daughter — aptly named Cortland — toddles around the hay barrels inside the Hurds’ Dutch barn.
Not only do the Hurds want to encourage families to come outside and pick apples and enjoy a day on the farm, but also to be active and to learn about agriculture in a way that connects them to the land. Throughout the main barn are panels of beautifully rendered farm vignettes of “how a pumpkin grows,” illustrating the planting of the seed to the ripening of the popular orange delight. There are also pastoral scenes that mark the various agriculture periods throughout the last century, notating when certain crops began to be harvested in the Hudson Valley, from apples to pears to peaches and corn.
“The obstacle course fits right into what it is we are trying to do with the farm,” mused Potenza, whose partner is Charles Hurd. “We want to create an atmosphere for families and friends to leave their phones at home and spend time with each other engaged in outdoor activities.”
Once they built the obstacle course, they found that kids and adults cannot get enough of it. Located right in the center of the farm, behind the giant slide and cow train, it sits with kids going through it five and six times in a row. “They love it,” said Potenza. “Even I can’t help but try and go through it, each time a little faster — and I’m 35 years old!”
This is in keeping with the Hurds’ love of “healthy lifestyles” and farm education. Between the wooded paths and running to get the best and juiciest apple or the plumpest pumpkin and now the obstacle course, Potenza promises that kids will go home tired. “That’s our goal, and I think we achieve it!” she said.
Adding to the exercise and fitness aspect of the new obstacle course are also the agricultural education component and the “idea that you can reuse and recycle and repurpose things in a creative way,” she said. Each obstacle has a “fun farm fact” that goes with it, explaining what the equipment had been used for, like the wax barrels or the deer posts. “For the deer posts, the question is: ‘How high can a deer jump?’” explained Potenza. “Eight feet! Which is why we have deer posts all around the farm.”
The seventh-generation farm, which has been in existence since the 1800s, keeps changing with the times, yet savoring all of the very best aspects of those good old days. If you want to learn more about Hurd’s Family Farm, go to www.hurdsfamily.com or call (845) 883-7825.