With the seasons shrinking for two years, the farm hasn’t garnered much of the visitor revenue it depends on
Faced with the prospect of a bleak winter after seasons stopped in 2020 and 2021 — when it only opened for a month — Beacon Hill Children’s Farm is hoping to raise money through its animal welfare program.
The COVID-19 pandemic hit the farm early and hard, with the popular destination shutting down just days after it opened for the season in 2020.
To stay afloat, the Koenders family, which jointly operates the farm with Beacon Hill Farm Society, started a “Goat Fund Us” fundraising page on the Go Fund Me website.
This year, to ensure 100 farm animals have safe, warm and comfortable pens during the winter, plenty of food to keep up their energy and any veterinary care necessary, they are asking people to take care of one of the animals — alpacas, chickens, goats, roast pigs or young horses, for example.
There are 21 sponsorships to choose from, ranging from $25 to $150. Sponsors receive a special certificate by mail. People who shop for an animal lover can get the certificate in the recipient’s name as a gift.
Alternately, donors can pay for hay for a day or provide veterinary care for farm animals. People can even take care of the park’s free roaming peacocks, who occasionally visit the farm.
“We need support from the community to cover housing costs and feed all the animals during the winter,” said Claudia Loeb, the farm manager. “Ask for help again is not an easy step and does not feel fulfilling at all. We are well aware that many people find themselves in tense financial situations and face all kinds of different hardships. But we hope there are also some who would love to support us – and can tolerate that too.”
Located in Beacon Hill Park – which once housed a zoo that started in 1889 – the farm dates back to 1973 and is located in the same area as the zoo’s former deer barn. In the winter, the animals go to a private farm in the Michucin countryside.
When the farm is open in Beacon Hill Park, it usually gets about 2,000 visitors a day during spring break, said Dennis Koenders, who has run the farm with his wife Linda since 1985.
The shutdown in 2020, six days after the farm opened, came as a major financial hit. In a typical year, donations at the gate – the farm does not charge any entrance fees – during the summer season are usually enough to cover the cost of animal care and property maintenance during the winter.
They survived last winter thanks to government wage subsidy programs that cover employment costs. The staff of about a dozen full-time and part-time employees shrank, some donating their time to care for animals or maintain property.
The 2021 season only lasted for one month, and the number of visitors was lower than usual.
This farm, when closed for the season after Thanksgiving, was left with little or no revenue to continue through the second cold winter. The Koenders family looked for initiatives to replenish lockers, pay for feed and supplies, medical care for animals, and upgrade the farm to adhere to improved cleaning protocols, and settled on the idea of care.
“We have been blessed to have been able to bring joy and happiness to the community for the past 36 years,” said Linda Koenders. “We miss welcoming visitors and we miss our volunteers – who can number up to 100 – who help us every year.”
For more information, to donate or to select an animal to care for, go to beaconhillchildrensfarm.ca.