When you sit there by the fire pit, a polite little pig at your feet, a goat's chin in your lap, a large, gray Weimaraner named Rose keeping watch, and your kids brushing donkeys and walking around with pajama chickens in their arms, you start to think, "You know what? I could live here, too."
The Art Barn at Morning Glory Farm didn't start out like this, of course. No movie-set-perfect farm with friendly animals seemingly out of Central Casting and a kitchen garden that makes you say, "That doesn't look so hard" does. Throw in art sprinkled everywhere and a city-girl (Susan Shaw) turned farmer (Farmer Sue), complete with overalls and a floppy hat with a flower, and you may feel like you died and went to Farm Fantasy Heaven.
Behind all the fun, fur, and feathers is a story, really, that could be of many of us. Susan Shaw was a University of Georgia graduate with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design, doing the corporate thing in Atlanta--suits, high heels, the works--who took an innocent weekend drive to de-stress. Somewhere past "the castle" on Houze Road in Roswell (the one with the gnomes and the moat swimming pool) and the rural-meets-suburban beginnings of growth in Canton, a cemetery here, a collection of sheds on a front lawn there, an upscale subdivision or two or twenty now punctuating the rolling-hilled landscape, she saw a For Sale sign in front of a bright yellow house and six acres of land with a big red barn, and she bought it. Kind of just like that. She simply thought she'd run her graphic design business out of the barn, and that would be that, and wouldn't that be nice?
So she moved, she had a 40th birthday party in the barn, and folks had a great time doing art projects. Shortly thereafter, some friends of hers asked if their kids could have birthday parties in her barn. Right around then, wayward animals started appearing, needing homes. Somehow a business was born, featuring both the animals and art at children's parties on weekends. Parents loved them--show up and Sue takes care of everything. Kids loved them--hang out and hold the docile animals as much as you want, take a tractor ride on that old 1950s relic, learn how to paint a pig or sheep or chicken, have cake, walk under the "Wish It. Dream It. Do It" arch, and high five Farmer Sue goodbye. Weekends started drifting into weekday school visits, a lamb under one arm, a chick in a palm, and the suits and heels hightailed it to the closet for good.
Years passed, the farm and Farmer Sue's business grew, and somehow this whole homesteading thing started gaining traction not just nationally but locally. Atlanta became a hotbed for urban agriculture and farm-to-school (here's Farmer Sue as the featured guest expert at the middle school gardening class I ran this past school year), and guess what? Farmer Sue's been doing it, day in, day out, just 30 to 40 minutes from the city, although "city" is a loose term in spread-out metro Atlanta. To put it in perspective, The Art Barn at Morning Glory Farm is all of ten minutes from the popular north Atlanta suburb of Alpharetta.
Farmer Sue noticed the change in her customers' needs, and expanded her offerings of kids' birthday parties to include affordable family days at the farm to show up-close-and-personal how things are really done. For just ten bucks a person, whole families can learn about sheep shearing, food growing, and taking care of animals from the farmer herself at the place she calls home, all wrapped in feel-good, hands-on fun, with time set aside to create original art that everyone can do. What's more, teachers are catching on quickly that complete "farm-to-table" lessons are easy as pie at Farmer Sue's, since students can learn where their food comes from in the Mr. McGregor's Garden and the Peanut Butter and Jelly Garden, and can witness first-hand everything from planting to pollination, consumption to compost heap. The full cycle of seed-to-supper is there, and the added bonus of a hayride and turnkey art project makes this learning-while-doing extra fun.
Rebecca Barria, a metro-Atlanta-based mom and former teacher in her 30s with two young children, says she loves coming to the Art Barn at Morning Glory Farm because she enjoys it as much as her children do. As an avid home and community gardener with hopes to one day have backyard chickens (and possibly goats), Rebecca says she has much to learn, and Farmer Sue is a terrific educator.
"When I go to Farmer Sue's, I don't feel like a customer; I feel like a visitor just hanging out and taking in all the knowledge she so generously shares," Barria explained. "That has a lot to do with Farmer Sue's personality, of course, but also with the fact that her farm is authentic, that it is her actual home. When I buy eggs to take home, Farmer Sue tells my children to go find them right in the hens' nests, and they are still warm. Have you ever seen a person's face when they hold a still-warm egg for the first time in their life? It's magical. That's what the Art Barn at Morning Glory Farm is like."
Now 50 years old and newly married (the Weimaraner was her maid of honor), Farmer Sue welcomed her new husband, Pelham, to this "kids, critters and creativity" place now celebrating its tenth year. His presence is already evident in the lush pasture (now mowed daily not just by sheep but by him), the perfectly tended garden, well-managed compost operation, and the new fencing and landscaping. A city boy himself, he finally understands why Farmer Sue was late to dinner all those times, including the time she was stuck up a tree when a bull was loose ("good thing I had my cell phone," she quips). That bright blue "Pull-it Palace" chicken tractor (well, really a converted camper) out in the field? No, that wasn't his idea. Farmer Sue snuck that in ("just wait 'til I paint it with flowers!" she exclaims).
The Adirondack chair where you're sitting appears well-used, and you know a long line of moms, dads, grandparents, and teachers have sat right here and felt what you're feeling (when they weren't busy checking out the bees, doves, or ducks, or taking photos in this picture-perfect place where you've, frankly, lost count of how many animal species are present).
You watch that big "mood turkey" that changes colors constantly.
You realize that roosters don't just crow at the break of dawn.
You see how the chickens treat the confines of their coop as a mere suggestion.
You catch a glimpse of curly-haired Larry and his goat friends, one of which is surely on the roof, and Cecil the sheep ("the kind that came over with the Pilgrims," Farmer Sue is sure to tell children), whom Farmer Sue bottle-fed and who slept with a diaper in a basket right next to her bed, and those ducks that like to waddle up a plank and swim in the kiddie pool as if they don't have a care in the world (they don't).
Just about then, you hear Farmer Sue's infectious laugh and see the way the kids hang on her every word ("make a bunny basket!" she instructs, showing them how to pull up the bottom of their shirts to hold a bunny securely before she gives them each one to hold for as long as they like), and you feel something happening to you that you haven't felt in ages, if ever. A simple calm. A joy right down to your toes (in shoes that are still surprisingly clean, considering you're on a farm, which is a testament to how nice Farmer Sue keeps things). A realization that, yes, you can do this--well, maybe not all of this, but a little bit of this, back home where you live or at your school. And you almost shout out the words Farmer Sue has the kids chant when she asks them to do something new. "Can do, Farmer Sue!" Can do.
For more information about The Art Barn at Morning Glory Farm, including upcoming events and farm-to-table field trips for schools, see www.theartbarn.com or call Farmer Sue at 678-319-0286. And get ready to hold a pajama chicken.