Sparks Cedarlee Farm to host free ice cream social, farm tour

Published 9:38 am Thursday, May 16, 2019

CASSOPOLIS — The sweet sound of children laughing, playing and enjoying ice cream cones will soon drown out the usual mooing that can be heard coming from the 1,600-acre dairy farm.

Once a year, the farmers at Sparks Cedarlee Farm, 59085 Gards Prairie Road, Cassopolis, opens the proverbial gates and let the community in to see what life is like on an active dairy farm. To sweeten the deal, they give away free ice cream and organic milk samples from Horizon Organic to anyone who attends.

The ice cream social and farm tour, now in its fifth year, will be hosted from 2 to 5 p.m. on Saturday, May 25. Funded through the Cass County Farm Bureau and the United Dairy Industry of Michigan, the event offers a variety of activities for families. Folks who attend the event will park about a quarter-mile away from the barns, and will be treated to a horse-drawn wagon ride to and from the action. While there, participants can tour the farm, observe cows being milked in the milking parlor, get their face painted or play in the one-of-a-kind “sandbox.”

“One thing that’s always a big hit is a corn sandbox — kind of like a sandbox but made with corn. The kids can spend the whole day in there,” said Ken Sparks, co-owner of the farm.

Along with all of the family-friendly activities, attendees will get a free family photo taken that day that they will mail to their address after the event.

Perhaps the most-anticipated feature is the ice cream. According to Sparks, it comes directly from Plainwell Ice Cream company, served in a cake or waffle cone, and is available in eight flavors.

“We go all out to be sure everyone has the experience of eating ice cream on a real dairy farm,” Sparks said.

In past years, Sparks said they have gotten between 700 and 800 people attending the event.

“We just really enjoy being able to do this for the community. We love to open up our farm and support dairy in our community,” he said.

Among the 1,600 acres of certified organic farmland, there are 500 cows producing 3,000 gallons of milk a day, four chicken barns full of hens that lay 30,000 eggs each day and fields of corn they raise themselves to feed their animals.

“Although we can’t schedule it, a few years ago attendees got to watch a calf being born,” Sparks said. “That was a real treat.”

Everyone will get to see cows being milked at the milking parlor and may be able to bottle feed a calf, if they are willing.

“We feel this is important because it gives the community a chance to see a working farm in action and have a better understanding where their food comes from, specifically milk and dairy products,” Sparks said.

The event will happen rain or shine, Sparks said. With the ample amount of indoor space, they are able to accommodate a large crowd. Since the event does take place on a working farm, Sparks suggests wearing something comfortable.

“If you want to have a more adventurous time, wear some rain boots. Otherwise, regular street clothes should be fine,” he said.

Sparks is a sixth-generation farmer and co-owns the farm with his brother and uncle. The farm’s roots date back to 1829 and has been in the same family ever since.

In 2011, the Sparks brothers and their uncle set out to bring the farm back to life and decided the best way to make it profitable was to convert it to a dairy farm. Since then, they have grown from zero employees to about 40.