Category Archives: dempsey corners farm

Retro Play on the Farm

Dempsey Corner Orchard in Nova Scotia’s apple belt is a gem of a place. In the gentle rolling hills of the Annapolis Valley’s North Mountain an old playground standard and some do-it-yourself offerings take pride of place in the working farmyard.

Far from the unforgiving eyes of municipal insurers, from the exacting measurements and impact calculations of playground inspectors, this is a place where kids can still have some exhilarating, retro fun.

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There’s some no holds barred spinning on one of the few remaining roundabouts in a radius of hundreds of miles. Once a playground stalwart, the roundabout is now a very rare sighting in our small corner of the world, definitely on the endangered list and not likely to be making a comeback.

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It’s like a magnet for kids who are pulled to it immediately on arrival. Most of them would have never have experienced the delicious centrifugal force of a whirling roundabout. Apparently the sheep even like to get a spin in now and again too.

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I finally get up my courage and hop on board. Just a short ride brings back fine memories – happy, smiley faces all around.

Add a circle of tires sand pit and there’s no end to digging and jumping fun.

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Sailing through the air with the greatest of ease.

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And crossing chasms with bold steps.

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Just as we are packing up, we discover some antique transportation à la Flintstones. There’s a snappy bespoke convertible…

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…and a pick up ready to haul wood, apples, corn.

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I’m interested in hearing from readers who know of simple yet magical, tucked away places like this that they’d like to share.

Do you remember when?

This was our second trip to Dempsey Corner Orchard. I wrote about the first trip in Harvest Playground three years ago. How quickly the kids are growing…

Harvest Playground

Dempsey Corner Orchards is a special treat for kids particularly those whose daily comings and goings are in an urban setting. It’s a real hybrid experience. There is the wonder of animals – chasing chicks and hens, petting calves and watching the goats face off against each other. There are fruit laden orchards with succulent harvests of apples, pears and peaches. And in the farmyard and its environs a playscape, built to the scale of open skies and rolling hills, is a busy scene of bustling energy.

Front and centre as you walk into the farmyard there’s an old fashioned spinning, spinning roundabout with kids hanging on as best they can. You know the kind, you remember them from your childhood but they’re very difficult to find in most public playgrounds today.

On this one the pink paint is smoothed off in the central area by so many little feet, knees and behinds clamping down and rubbing across the surface as they struggle to hold their position against the pull of centrifugal force.

The octagon platform draws kids like a magnet. It’s never idle during our visit. A well worn dirt track circles the equipment showing that kids love to get into this groove. There are those who want to be spun and spinners eager to oblige giving their all with mighty pushes before they pull themselves aboard the whirling platter. The smaller kids have to be reminded not to let go. Because of their virtual disappearance from public playgrounds, playing on a roundabout/merry-go-round is a first time experience for many of the kids who visit.

For a gentler spin cycle, there is the teepee pole tire swing. It is a beauty to behold – a massive, deep treaded, sky blue tractor tire suspended on heavy duty black cord. It can comfortably sit six young ones with ample rope for everyone to hang on. At the base the distance between each of the three supporting poles is about 10 feet. The teepee tip where the cord is secured is about twelve feet off the ground. It makes for a great arcing gigglefest ride to recurring choruses of, ‘more, more, higher, higher’.

Around the corner from the main house is an open air sound garden. It’s adjacent to a path that leads up to the orchards and planting grounds. This is the home amphitheatre for the Demspsey Corners Cacaphony Orchestra. An array of blackened and stainless steel kitchen and farm implements suspended from three strands of chicken wire fencing are the instruments of clatter bangdom. They are poised for smashing, tingling, kabooming, howitzing – making noise, music, percussive masterpieces.


Climbing the path up the gentle hills of the North Mountain it’s play in a natural environment. I think my ears begin to stop that ringing feeling as we approach the orchards. Adventurous 5 and unders try their luck at stepping stone balance while crossing a small brook. It’s not a totally successful expedition as everyone has dry feet on the other side. There is corn and apples aplenty to pick, patches of colourful gourds in surprising and unpredictable shapes to walk through. It’s an opportunity to gather fresh produce at the source, a glorious paradise for city folk.

We’re here on Open Farm Day, a relatively new development in Atlantic Canada. The purpose is to get people visiting farms and raising awareness about local agriculture. It’s catching on in Ontario and Manitoba too as well as Maine, pockets of New York state and the UK. Check with your local agricultural, or farmers’ organization to see if there is something similar close to you. I can’t guarantee a rockin’ playground like Dempsey Corners Farm but there’s sure to be fun for everyone, some good food and a chance for city dwellers to see how it’s done down on the farm.

After loading up with apples and getting a few ears of corn for maman, it’s time to start thinking about home. Back in the farmyard, the roundabout is a must before we head to the car to buckle up as is a bit of digging and scuffing around at Firestonehenge. This 20 foot diameter sandpit with plenty of digging machines, shovels, rakes, pails and sundry other earthy toys is a great build and get dirty spot. We don’t get to the rollie pollie hay pile but we’ll look for that on our next visit.

For a couple of hours on a weekend morning under September’s pastel wash sun all is idyll and we adults are momentary heroes. It looks so easy as we walk around and play with the kids. It’s long hours though and hard work to keep an operation like this one going.

During my high school days I worked briefly on a 6,000 acre wheat farm in Saskatchewan. Big Bill Labuik was a fine host and tireless worker. He had us out in the fields from dawn till dusk. Turned out we weren’t farming stock and Bill had to let us go after mangling a rod weeder and inadvertently popping wheelies with the tractor. I left there with a deep respect for farm families and the work they do for all of us supermarket types.

Dempsey Corner Farm is open to the public June through October as are many working farms. Check your local agritourism listings to see what is available close to you. Support family farms, local produce and reconnecting with our food.

Take a peek and see what farmers from these areas offer: Quebec Agritourism; California Agritourism; Colorado Agritourism; Tennessee Agritourism; Australia Agritourism.

Many thanks to the friends who invited us on this expedition. Don’t forget in North America it will soon be time to head for the pumpkin patch.

All materials, unless otherwise attributed or credited, copyright ⓒ 2010 Alex Smith.

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