Drive up to Stoney Lane Farm and it's not people that come out to greet you when you get out of your car -- it's chickens. Dozens of beautiful, fat hens run up to see who's visiting.
This welcome couldn’t be more charming, and one can't help but assume that the chickens are unusually intelligent birds who want to know what the visitor has come for. But no, says owner Karen Parsons, they're just hoping for food.
These chickens are truly free-range birds. They run free on Parson's 32-acre property off Ben Miller Road in Richland from sunup to sundown.
"The chickens are creatures of habit, and they don’t wander far," Parsons said. "They take themselves into the barn at night and then we close them in, not because they'd leave, but to protect them from predators such as foxes and raccoons."
In addition to the 120 chickens, the farm is home to 15 sheep, a goat named Billy The Goat, five friendly cats, and a lone rooster named Greenie. He's there just for fun. As Parsons explains, chickens lay eggs regardless of the presence of a male. The farm's purpose is to educate visitors, and this city visitor already learned something.
Stoney Lane Farm is a local attraction, but it's also a working, self-sustaining farm for the Parsons family, which includes husband Kevin and daughter Kelly, a senior at . Two older children, Tim and Amy, live away from home.
The Parsons moved to this property from Hampton 15 years ago. They were interested in living off the land and Kevin wanted to try raising chickens, which Hampton Township did not allow. They added sheep later at their oldest daughter's request, and the goat came free with a bale of hay.
They're pets, yes, but pets with a purpose. The sheep are sheared every spring and Karen Parsons uses the wool to spin yarn for the sweaters she makes. The chickens provide eggs, which Karen Parsons sells to a roster of customers who want seriously fresh, entirely organic eggs.
Chickens, she explains, lay eggs according to the amount of daylight, so right now she's flush with eggs. Around the Christmas holidays she can't keep up with the demand because people are baking more, but the hens are laying less.
Kevin Parsons also keeps bees. and they sell honey when enough is available. Karen Parsons makes various products from the honey. They never have the surplus of honey that they do eggs.
"We can never keep up with the demand for honey products," she says. "Honey is just too popular, and honey production is unpredictable."
The products are sold from a summer kitchen that was built around 111 years ago. It's still a working kitchen, and Karen Parsons does all her canning and freezing in there.
There 's also a barn and a huge vegetable garden. The property was a turkey farm in the 1940s and has had only a couple of owners in its history. Karen Parsons says it's always been used for poultry farming.
Stoney Lane Farm welcomes visitors, and Karen Parsons says she particularly enjoys when children come to the farm to feed the animals. It's a step back in time and a glimpse of what Richland Township was like when Route 8 was made of planks, without strip malls or giant gas stations.
Which is not to say it was necessarily an easier time. Caring for the animals is hard work and must be done even on days when it's bitter cold and the snow is falling. And the garden isn't even demanding attention yet.
But the Parsons family doesn't mind. This is their dream, and they enjoy being able to raise their own food and to live off the land. As for the chickens, they're just always hopeful that the next visitor will come with treats.
Stoney Lane Farm is located at 4148 Ben Miller Road in Richland Township. Tel: 724-444-4784.