When Mason Anderson turned five, he had 10 kids and a bunch of mountain goats to his birthday party.
He had marked the occasion with friends and family at a working farm — Downey’s Farm Market and Winery, just north of Brampton. They painted pumpkins, went on a tractor-driven wagon ride and visited animals at the petting zoo. Mom Julie Anderson says the idea of holding his birthday at a farm was a natural choice.
“Both Mason and I were raised on a farm, and Downey’s mirrored the life we shared,” says the dental hygienist from Terra Cotta, Ontario.
While going to the movies or bowling are classic children’s birthday parties, a farm-themed celebration offers a unique experience — especially for today’s young and tech-savvy urbanite.
“A farm party provides a great family experience most suburban and city kids do not get from other party venues,” says Lillian Price, special events manager at Whittamore’s Farm Market in Markham. This includes rediscovering simple country pleasures such as going on straw jumps, collecting eggs from the chicken coop or just getting up close with Farmer Brown’s animal friends.
“Most people nowadays do not have a family member that is a true farmer, or has a farm where they can go and watch the growing process,” says Ruth Downey, co-owner of Downey’s. Not only can kids enjoy a fruit platter with birthday cake, they can actually see where the produce is grown, and even pick the strawberries, raspberries and apples themselves.
For Abbey Corbett’s seventh birthday party last summer at Springridge Farms in Milton, guests fed the goats, rode a pony, walked around the hay maze and even petted a baby calf. “They were constantly captivated; there was no time to get bored,” says Carla Corbett, a Toronto-based mom who highly recommends the experience.
Turns out kids are not the only ones who enjoy getting a fun reason to spend a few hours outdoors. Many bbirthday drop-offs have morphed into family outings where the adults pick strawberries, shop for fresh-baked goodies or just enjoy a beautiful day outdoors while waiting for their kids.
“Once, we hosted a party for a three-year-old girl who had invited her grandparents, great grandparent, and aunts and uncles,” recalls Geraldine Rounds of Rounds Ranch in Elmvale. “They wanted to learn everything about farming, what we did to grow crops and raise animals; the adults were just so excited to be in a working farm.”
The good news is you don’t have to drive deep into the countryside to enjoy a celebratory pause. There are several working farms around the GTA that offer birthday packages. In the city you can host a party with a country twist at Riverdale Farms. Most offer a range of outdoor activities geared towards kids aged three to eight years, with alternate activities for rainy days. And party food can be served nut-free upon request. Be sure to dress for the weather: sunscreen and hats for a hot summer’s day and raincoats and boots if there are dark clouds in the horizon.
East Markham, Ontario
The Singing Chicken Show, an automated puppet show that sings and shares chicken facts and jokes every 10 minutes, is a favourite attraction at this 205-year-old family farm. Kids can also enjoy climbing the 1950s tractor or going on a Tractor Tire Climb. Other activities include a wagon ride, hiking up Strawberry Mountain (a chipped pathway that leads to the top of a 50-foot turbo slide) and cozying up with the barnyard crowd. Don’t worry about getting rained out; farm-related songs, games and crafts activities have been lined up to keep kids busy indoors. Party fee is $180 plus GST for eight kids, including the birthday child. This includes unlimited farmyard activities, a birthday mural, pizza and apple juice for guests (a fresh veggie tray is available, upon request), a private wagon ride and a party room with a host for two hours. Each additional child is $13.50 plus GST, and $2.50 for each adult (food not included). During Pumpkinland season, each adult is $4. A $90 non-refundable deposit is due at time of booking.
Puddicombe Estate Farms and Winery
This family farm is also is a train depot of historical trains, including Little Pudd, an agricultural touring train that once belonged to Crystal Beach Amusement Park, and single-domed and three-domed tank cars built in the 1930s by the Chicago-based Union Tank Car Co. The good new is a train ride is included in its birthday party package ($125 for 10 children and two adults; $10 for each additional child). There are also themed parties ($12 per child) for your princess or pirate wannabe. Campfire parties, popular among the tween set, includes roasting marshmallows and wieners in the early evening, going on a wagon ride and having karaoke fun. Winter birthday celebrants can still have an outdoor party even if their birthday falls between January and April. Puddicombe’s winter birthday package ($150 for 10; $10 for each additional guest) includes a wagon ride, a visit with the winter farm animals, a campfire, hot dogs and marshmallow roast, hot chocolate and a birthday cake. And while the kids chow down on pizza and hotdogs, adults can enjoy wine and cheese on the side (Country Mouse City Mouse Cheese Trays from $24.95; adult wine tasting, $1 per guest). “Parents who used to be afraid of their children getting dirty or wet are becoming more aware of how to experience the beauty of the outdoors again,” says Kim Seager, farm recreation director.
Elisha Corbett turned five when she had her birthday party here; now age 14, she still thinks it was one of her “best birthday parties ever.” Located along the Niagara Escarpment, guests are taken on a scenic wagon tour of the escarpment as part of their birthday packages ($180 plus GST for up to eight children; $11 plus GST for each additional guest). They can also follow a corn trail, jump in the haystacks, visit farm animals, decorate baskets and climb on a pedal tractor. Getting rained out is not an issue at this farm. “All of the areas we take the children to for their party are covered; even the wagon has a roof,” says Laura Hughes, who co-manages the century-old family farm. Adults, meanwhile, can visit the scratch bakery, check out gourmet food products and have a snack while waiting for their kids at the café. “It was easy planning for her party; all I had to do was show up with my loot bags,” says Carla, Elisha’s mom.
A former cattle farm, Rounds Ranch offers farm-themed parties with a Western twist. Guests can try out the Buckin Bronco playground, roll bales of straw, herd goats, brush and feed a pony, play Bunny Bonanza in the Straw Maze or just burn energy at the Fort/Western playground. Little kids especially love visiting the baby animals at the petting zoo. “They squeal with excitement when I take out a baby goat or lamb and feed them with milk in a baby bottle,” says Geraldine Rounds. The ranch hosts an average of four parties every weekend, and Rounds says farm-themed parties are especially popular among kids aged four to 10 years. “They arrive really excited and start running from one activity to the next,” she says. Party packages start at $9.95 per person plus GST (includes a free pumpkin per guest) for the Lone Ranger package.
201 Winchester Street, Toronto
If you want a farm experience without leaving the city, just take the streetcar to Riverdale Farms on Parliament Street in downtown Toronto. For $190 for up to 20 children, you can get exclusive use of the main room and the sun room at the Meeting House for your child’s birthday party. Parents can bring their own food or they can tarrange catering with the Riverdale Friends of the Farm Kitchen. Their menu includes a choice of wood-fired pizza, homemade chocolate oatmeal cookies, cupcakes and juice. Party activities include games and a visit to the petting zoo. Kids can also watch the farmer while he goes about his daily chores; he milks the cow every morning. There is also an ice-cream making demonstration by the staff by special request. You can provide your own entertainment at your party; clowns and magicians have been known to make appearances. Riverdale Farms will be offering pottery-themed parties geared toward older kids, aged six and up, beginning this summer.
Downey’s Farm Market and Winery
North of Brampton, Ontario
This 215-acre farm has been with the family since 1920, but has offered birthday parties onsite since 1998. At Downey’s you have a choice of regular birthday parties early in the season or Pumpkinfests in the fall. “Pumpkinfest is really the best time of the year at Downey’s,” says Julie Anderson, who went on to have Mason’s fifth, sixth and seventh birthday parties at the farm. “Two of Mason’s parties were Halloween parties, and the kids arrived all dressed up. They had wagon rides through the haunted forest, apple slinging, and many other activities.” The staff dressed up the barn and made it spooky and fun for the kids. The birthday package includes invitations, a wagon ride, face painting, a birthday mural, a visit with the animals and food (individual pizzas, a drink and a farm cake, as well as face painting). The cost is $180 plus GST for eight children (including birthday child) and two adults. Each additional child is $13.50 plus GST. There is discounted Funland Admission ($3 per person in spring and summer, and $7 at Pumpkinfest). A $100 deposit is required at booking.