Dear Friends in Michigan Agriculture,


I am writing today to provide you with an important and exciting update on the Critter Barn’s new farm and our invitation for you to be involved with the new farm we are building. For thirty years, our farm has attracted school children and visitors of all ages. We are a small working farm.


There are so many people who need a place like the Critter Barn to simply enjoy nature, to explore, to wonder, and to learn. We teach about how food is grown, so people leave with a feeling of gratitude for the work of the farmer and all those who work to provide our food. It’s our goal to inspire others with the stories of Agriculture and to help deepen the respect for living things. We have been hard at work to expand our mission and our work – but we can’t do it without your help.


I hope you will take a few minutes to review the below email that contains some of our stories, achievements, goals and impacts on the community we serve. I also urge you to consider supporting our efforts as we expand with new and improved facilities to help teach Michigan children, as well as educate people about the place for you to tell your site visitors a little bit about you and your services.

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A surprise party in 1984, planned by a group of friends, changed the course of our lives forever.
With a freshly painted barn and a few animals, our farm experience began unexpectedly.

For 30 years the Critter Barn has served children and young people through a working farm by teaching, coaching volunteers, mentoring students and adults, and caring for farm animals and gardens.

How Critter Barn Began...

The Critter Barn had no blueprint, so it’s important to me as the founder and director to keep the Critter Barn on track to follow its purpose.

Our Mission:  Critter Barn is dedicated to teaching about farming and agriculture while inspiring people of all ages, and all abilities, through the miracles in nature found at the farm.

Moving the farm forward to a new location to serve more children and youth, is our next step in the journey that began in 1984. It has been said that the farm just “sort of happened.”
But, as a witness to the past 30 years, I believe Critter Barn had a much higher calling –
far beyond my family. After witnessing the farm’s impact on countless children, my pursuit of the Critter Barn’s future is now most intentional.


The Critter Barn is a hub of activity where growing friendships, gaining knowledge and serving others is the "ultimate harvest." The blend of Hands-On Learning, offering volunteer experiences for everyone, focusing on Agricultural education, and for everyone’s benefit, designing a new facility that is totally inclusive, is a winning combination for all.


Meet Jenna...

"Let me tell you about the Critter Barn..."

"The staff makes me feel welcome and they inspire me. I wanna give a shout out to all the staff members and Mr. Wally, I love him so much, he’s my favorite guy ever. My favorite chores are when Gamby and me feed cats; I’m a cat person. Of course I love to milk goats with the milk people. I want to give a shout out too Megan, Makayla and Emma.”


                                                - Jenna, 14

                                                Special Friends Program

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"Jenna comes to volunteer every week, shows up on time, wears her uniform, and expectations are high, which prepares her for life,” her mother says. Jenna is dependable, enjoys doing chores and has grown confidence to speak with guests. As she recites the names of the staff, her smiles and comments reveal the deep friendship she has with each one. 

Now at age 14, Jenna hopes Critter Barn will hire her someday. There are dozens of “Jennas” out there who need this same opportunity.  


"What a privilege to watch a young lady like Jenna grow in confidence over nearly six years!  When she first came to the Critter Barn Jenna would hardly hold onto an animal, and now she helps milk goats - it’s her favorite thing! She takes pride in taking care of the animals and often says, “I got this!” 


"Critter Barn’s team approach has allowed Jenna to grow deep friendships with everyone on the staff and dozens of kids who volunteer here. Working with Jenna one-on-one, I’ve watched her self-esteem and confidence soar.”


                     - Mary Gamby

                       Special Friends Program Coordinator

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An average visit for our Special Friends programs is from 1 to 3 hours, depending on the individual or group. This comes at a cost of $21 to $63 for the Critter Barn. Multiplying this throughout the year, our Special Friends program requires $111,747.94 of funding for support. In caring for our animals, barns, gardens, and by assisting guests, our students are learning to care for others and themselves. They learn how to cope with changes and are free to pursue their interests in particular, favorite animals. They discover what it means to be part of our team and part of our community. 


You can help us maintain essential programs that will bring fulfillment into the lives of other young people like Jenna. 

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Why Are We Building? 

Hands-On Learning

Critter Barn provides the right environment for children and young people to “learn by doing.” Real farm work, problem solving, adapting to changing weather on a farm, or managing unexpected triplet lambs - whatever occurs, our students and guests will encounter memorable learning experiences every day.

School field trips introduce the stories of farming to school children. Our lessons are based on Michigan's State Benchmarks for Life Sciences and Social Studies along with real farm experiences, like face to face, holding and petting, and interacting.

Classes for high school and college students in FFA (Future Farmers of America), Baker College’s Vet Tech program and MSU Internship programs in Animal Science developed further volunteer opportunities and secondary curriculum at our farm.


Our New Farm will provide improved spaces and facilities where training and learning can occur. Our plans include overnight lodging for FFA students (Future Farmers of America) from greater distances, and bunk houses for week-long farm camps. Our housing will also include apartments for students in full semester internships.

Baker College’s Vet Tech program includes Critter Barn in their Clinical Rotations because of the diversity of animals and direct involvement with daily care that helps students to accomplish core competencies (skills they must demonstrate as a requirement for their graduation).

How about cleaning out the hoop barn?

Our Critter Camp program is a prerequisite for students who wish to volunteer on a regular basis. This program began in 1998 and enrolls 300 children in summer camp from ages 8 to 15. Some come weekly, some come a few times each year. There are always approximately 450 children on the active volunteer roster at all times.

Critter Camp program requires the involvement of our entire staff. Along with other classes, Critter Barn hosts over 700 children in farm classes each year.


There are so many people who need a place like the Critter Barn to
simply enjoy nature, to explore, to wonder, and to learn.  We hope to
teach people about farming and food, to inspire gratitude for the
work of the farmer and all those who work to provide our food.
We want to instill a respect for living things.

We believe that every child deserves the support necessary to learn, participate and grow. We are grateful for the opportunities to combine farm based hands-on experiences with therapeutic education, and give students the support they need to succeed. 

Critter Barn invites children, young people and adults with special needs to volunteer at the farm. We know that human animal interaction has a profound effect on people. Children and adults respond to animals in ways they often can't respond to people.

In caring for our animals and gardens, our students are learning to care for others and themselves. Students learn how to cope with change because circumstances change frequently at the farm. They are free to pursue their interests with particular, favorite animals, and grow lasting bonds. They discover what it means to be part of our staff team and part of our Critter Barn community. It’s a sense of belonging.

An average visit for our Special Friends programs ranges from 1 to 3 hours, depending on the individual or group. Our staff works with each person or group individually. This comes at a cost of $21 to $63 per visit. Our Special Friends program represents over 20% of Critter Barn’s annual budget. $111,747.94 is currently needed for support of this program for a year.

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Special Friends Program


Participants who are elderly:

Our Critters on Wheels program travels to area retirement homes, nursing homes, memory units and private care homes.



The smiles and retelling of stories of "days back at our farm" are precious to experience. The therapeutic benefit is unmeasurable.


Inclusive Design - A farm for ALL

Imagine a place of inspiration for everyone

We began our quest for a new farm with a conversation at Ottawa Area Center.  "What will it take for your students to come to the farm?” The answers are here… in our new plans, we have provided a private resource room for persons with disabilities or special needs.  We have added bathrooms with adaptive equipment in three of our major buildings and recreational equipment from Rifton and Game Time that will provide happy experiences and inclusive play for all children. 


Can you imagine smiling kids traveling around the New Critter Barn on Tricycles? I can already hear the laughter and screams of joy!  Equipment like this tricycle, activity chairs, transfer equipment, is all too difficult to bring along for an outing, so Critter Barn is working to provide this additional equipment at the farm. 


Activity chairs provided at the farm will enable people to transfer from their wheelchairs for more hands-on fun and the use of a large tray. 


It's our Mission, (a paraphrase)
a farm for all ages and all abilities

where everyone will have a great time!


Most people are not aware about the personal challenges of bathrooms that a person who uses a wheelchair faces every day. Rather than limit the opportunity of coming to the farm, Critter Barn is working with the Rifton Equipment company to provide what is needed. This transfer support station will be in our bathrooms to assist guests who use wheelchairs.


We are raising funds for 22 pieces of Rifton adaptive equipment that are necessary to make visiting our farm a possibility for our friends who use wheelchairs or walkers. We want all of our guests to stay around the farm as long as they want to! For 30 years at our current site, we have not been able to provide this accessibility.


Playground Equipment 

Inviting children of all abilities to participate will make playtime inclusive and enjoyable. This is a view of a ramp (instead of steps) leading to slides.


Equipment from Game Time (through the Sinclair Company) will add an inclusive play area to our farm. Critter Barn’s younger visitors need an occasional place for play, a place for a break from organized activities, even a place to play while others finish their lunch break – or while a busy mom has a chance to sit and rest!

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Story Of Agriculture - Growing Our Food

Let's celebrate agriculture!

At the New Critter Barn, people of all ages will explore how “farmers feed the world.” How will this happen? With the help of some major producers (who have their own strategies of reaching out to developing countries), we will share stories of farming from around the world.


With the help of folks who Critter Barn knows, especially contacts from Michigan Agribusiness, we will share Family Farm stories from around our State and around the US in an area called Farmers Hall in the future Welcome Center. International flags will be flown in front of our Welcome Center representing the countries featured in our teaching. Guests will also see Family Farm stories in the entrance rooms of the modern barns at the new farm for hogs, dairy cattle, poultry and sheep.


In 2009, Critter Barn was fortunate to partner with Michigan Allied Poultry to establish a small demonstration Layer Hen building on our current site. This realistic Enriched Cage Model and photos taught our students and guests about commercial egg production. Our new Layer Hen facility will be cage-free. 

This was a conversation starter about other agricultural commodities, housing and handling, food safety, animal welfare and a variety of questions. The agricultural community sees Critter Barn as a Voice to the Public, but we rely on our Agribusiness friends for the answers. 

Our ultimate plan is to build models of commodity barns and crop and garden plots for guests to observe and for students to work.  

The goal has always been to show how agriculture raises our food today.  Nostalgic barns allow for guest engagement while the  modern models will be run by staff, students, interns and veterinarians.


In addition to modern production model barns for hogs, dairy cattle, poultry and sheep, the Old Mill will be the new home to Maiden Mills and Alisa Crawford, who will run a solar powered mill at the Critter Barn and offer demonstrations and educational programs. Her stones will grind wheat and corn and make wheat flour and other mixed products like pancake mix or muffin mixes that will be for sale in our store and available in our concessions. Modern processes of Michigan Millers will be shown in the display area with photography and videos. 

Kaleb and Danien are eager and ready to raise food in our bigger garden at the new farm and to participate in the “farm to table” experience!


Lets Grow Together!

Our future sustainability depends on farming, and our souls can be enriched by the miracles in Creation as seen at a farm. From the ground to the table, there is so much to learn!  Please consider partnering with the Critter Barn and help to make this exciting educational campus a reality.


Our first buildings are under construction and we plan to move in the Spring of 2021. Your help is needed!


MABA Michigan Agribusiness Association has endorsed the Critter Barn’s vision. Pictured here is President Chuck Lippstreu and Critter Barn Founder and Director, Mary Rottschafer on October 24, the Critter Barn’s Foundation Celebration.

This graph shows the support raised and needed for Phase I, to relocate the current farm. Total estimated project cost for all phases of Critter Barn's New Farm is $6ML.

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