In the middle of last week I was on the road to a conference in Wooster, OH. This is not a long road trip for me, but starting with a quarter tank of gas I ended up needing more before getting there. As I pulled off the freeway the first sign I see points off to the right and says Malabar Farm 9. Interesting; I’d always pictured Malabar as much further east. After having been harangued by Jim Bouldin and Brian Miller earlier this month for never having been to Malabar Farm I made a mental note and figured I’d need to make the trip even sooner than expected.
Our Wednesday work ended right after lunch and the evening activities weren’t coming up for several hours – so I took a look at my trusty Ohio map (those big sheets of paper that fold awkwardly and are totally confusing to anyone under 40) to see whether a good road cut off toward Malabar. One did. Off I went. It had started to snow and the countryside was taking on a fine winter glow. This particular piece of Ohio is not flat like the Lake Bed region south and west of Toledo. The roads are not particularly straight either. Brian would be right at home here (though to be fair, the hills in his patch of earth are a bit more “hilly”). It was a fun drive.
I drove into Pleasant Valley and found the farm, now a State Park, without any trouble. Middle of the week, in January, mild snow storm in progress, the place was pretty quiet. The staff was assembled in the Visitors Center, having a meeting in the library so it was closed to the only visitor they had. Bummer. Given Jim’s comments on the library I was particularly interested in seeing it. I did have a couple hours available so I cooled my heels in the mini museum area outside the library. Meeting adjourned and I got to have a look. I was underwhelmed at first, maybe Jim’s description had raised my expectations too high. But once I had begun to peruse, a member of the staff stopped in to see why I was so interested in the library. We chatted for a minute and as I explained who I was, what I do for a living, and how I came to be interested in the library he tells me I need to meet Tom. Tom is a volunteer and their de facto librarian. Great guy. We talked for a good long while – long enough I had to start watching the time so I could get back. Poor Tom must have thought I was trying to get out of the conversation.
The Visitor Center gift shop was closed, but great guy that he is Tom got them to open it for me so I could get a copy of Pleasant Valley. Picked up a copy of From My Experience while I was at it.
So Louis Bromfield was a very accomplished author (Pulitzer Prize winner), a socialite, and real promoter. He’d spent many childhood years on his Grandfather’s farm, and before the onset of WW II he brought his family home from France and bought a total of four farms in the valley which ultimately became Malabar Farm. Not able to spend enough time to run such an operation, Louis hired Max Drake to be his farm manager. Max is the real agrarian behind the farm. Louis was the money man, the promoter, the lightning rod. Max made it work.
From April to November they’ll host over 200,000 visitors at the park. The library is still being organized, there are several boxes on the floor under tables, donations coming in, and more of Louis’ own library still down at the Big House (Jim must have run out of time while he was helping before 🙂 ). I need to make time to get back and give Tom a hand [they have a title by Sir Albert Howard that I don’t have…. ]
Before I forget – Pleasant Valley Sunday – known to the map reader generation as a song recorded by the Monkees; was written by Carole King and her then husband Gerry Goffin. As a hat tip to Jim Bouldin whose own blog frequently honors good music, here is a link to a Carole King version. There is no connection between the two Pleasant Valleys, though if you read into the lyrics you might easily imagine Carole and Gerry were potentially hunting for the sort of valley which Malabar Farm still rests in today.
Another Pleasant Valley Sunday
Here in status symbol land
Mothers complain about how hard life is
And the kids just don’t understand
Creature comfort goals they only numb my soul
I need a change of scenery
My thoughts all seem to stray to places far away
I don’t ever want to see
Another Pleasant Valley Sunday