By Ann Thelen
Nestled in the soil-rich farmland of north central Iowa is Enchanted Acres – a place where all families can escape reality for a few hours and simply enjoy spending time together in the great outdoors. It’s that “happy place” where kids and kids at heart can channel Cinderella or Jack Sparrow, pick a perfect pumpkin, feed goats, learn all about chickens and so much more!
Now in its fifth year of operation in Sheffield, Enchanted Acres was founded by Shannon Latham – a fun-loving, authentic "farm girl" who calls herself a lifelong Girl Scout. At Enchanted Acres, Latham is the caretaker of one pot-bellied pig, 12 goats, a lot of chickens and a large pumpkin patch. Her passion for creating wonderful family experiences and sharing a love of all things food and family is contagious!
We recently sat down with Latham to learn more about Enchanted Acres.
Enchanted Acres is truly a magical place; tell us more about this wonderful space you have created.
Enchanted Acres is a place when memories are made across many generations. We focus on creating experiences for families so that they create lasting memories. By no means are we the biggest pumpkin patch in the state! Instead, we've created a place where families can visit, and kids can run and play, all while getting a taste of farm life. During the fall season, we have fun and games for the entire family including hay rides, pumpkin decorating and a fall craft workshops. We want families to create wonderful memories by experiencing agriculture hands-on by feeding our goats or firing the pumpkin cannon.
Why is Enchanted Acres all about creating that perfect family experience?
I have great memories of helping pick out our family Christmas tree each year. I want kids to have that same experience picking out their favorite pumpkin! We often forget to slow down, relax and look for family activities that we can do together. At Enchanted Acres, parents enjoy knowing that this is a safe place for kids to explore, discover and just have fun. I often have people stop and say, “I can’t believe how long kids are playing on the playground!”
What made you want to create Enchanted Acres?
I grew up on an acreage, spending countless hours outside using my imagination. I was a “’mom” to all kinds of four-legged fur babies. I spent hours running through the fields, chasing butterflies, and having innocent fun. I raised and showed registered Suffolk sheep for 10 years as a 4-H member. After college, I moved to the city. Once there, I yearned for wide open spaces and the smell of fresh-cut hay. I missed the warm feeling that spreads from head to toe when you nurture an animal and that feeling of accomplishment that comes from doing things yourself.
When I became a mother, I wanted my children to experience life’s simple pleasures – finding pleasure in rich and colorful sunsets and appreciating wildflowers that splash color in a sea of green grass! Above all, I wanted my children to have a place where their imaginations could run wild, and that’s what started the idea for Enchanted Acres. I wanted to give these experiences to as many kids as possible.
You are very passionate about agriculture and food, tell us more about what this is important to you.
Growing up, we had a huge garden. My mom raised broiler chickens. My grandparents raised pork and beef, so our freezers were full. My mom and dad would often say, "We fed ourselves tonight." I never had any fears about the quality of food I was eating. I was blessed to be in a family with great cooks, bakers and canners.
That's why I'm so passionate about helping people understand where their food comes from. Over the years, I've gotten to know so many farmers who are focused on providing a great quality of life, being excellent stewards of the land, and growing safe and healthy crops. These same farmers also take great care of their livestock. Unless you've raised livestock, you may not understand how much emphasis farmers place on care, including proper nutrition, ventilation and temperature control. I enjoy helping to share that story.
We often host kids’ tours at Enchanted Acres, and a lot of kids don’t know where their chicken nuggets come from or if a chicken is an egg-laying chicken or not. Many kids also learn that there is a difference between meat goats and milk goats. Their curiosity and expressions are amazing.
I’m always looking for opportunities to engage in dialogue with people of all ages and to help create an understanding of agriculture. Whether that’s through my blog, sharing recipes, giving kids an agricultural experience at Enchanted Acres or simply talking one-on-one with people, there are always opportunities to learn from each other and share information!
What activities do you have planned for this fall at Enchanted Acres?
We have all kinds of fun activities planned this season! We also have our market, featuring locally made items, produce and flowers for those who love a little shopping, too! And, we always love field trips, and our space is open for events throughout the year.
Our weekend activities include:
- Disney at the Farm Weekend – September 22-24, 2017
- Heritage Fest Weekend – September 29-October 1, 2017
- Cartoon Character Weekend – October 6- October 8, 2017
- Party in the Patch Weekend – October 13- October 15, 2017
- Family Fun Weekend – October 20- October 22, 2017
- Paws at the Patch Weekend – October 27- October 29, 2017
For full event details, visit the Enchanted Acres website.