The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

December 29, 2012

Farm a tourism hot spot

From CNHI News Service
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — A sheep farm in northeast Oklahoma has become an agritourism hot spot

Shepherd’s Cross farm near Claremore is a working sheep farm and is owned and operated by Peter and Diane Dickinson. It is an accredited agritourism facility, member of Oklahoma Food Co-op, a Made in Oklahoma company and is animal welfare approved. Diane Dickinson, a veterinarian, said they have been at the farm for 20 years, but this year marked the 21st year for the live nativity they do.

“We do a lot of mission work, but our heart turned to also helping the community,” Dickinson said.

The live nativity is not affiliated with a church. To put on the live nativity, around 200 people from the community — all in costume — took turns volunteering their time to help.

Dickinson said the nativity used to be solely a manger scene but over time has grown into a more interactive experience.

“We have dramatic story tellings every hour throughout the nativity,” Dickinson said. “Our visitors can either hear the story of Jesus’ birth told from the perspective of Elizabeth — mother of John the Baptist — the innkeeper’s wife or from the perspective of the barn animals from the manger.”

There is also Shepherd’s Shop, with many Made in Oklahoma products.

“We work a lot with the Amish,” Dickinson said. “Our barn for the nativity and shop is Amish built, and we sell Amish baked goods and jellies. We also have wool blankets, yarn and sheep pelts from our own flock, locally grown honey and hand-crafted items from local artisans, as well as from Christian missions around the world.

“We have a fair trade shop,” she said. “We bring in hand-crafted items from people in third world countries, and then 100 percent of the proceeds from the sale are given back to them.”

Dickinson said she received an email from one of her fair trade artists, who said, because of the money raised at Shepherd’s Cross, she was able to pay her workers.

“That’s a good feeling,” Dickinson said, “being able to help someone, so she can pay her workers, so they can feed their families.”

Shepherd’s Cross also has an internship program available for students.

“Many of our nation’s farmers are getting older and there isn’t anyone to take over,” Dickinson said. “Our interns can live on site and learn basic ag principles. They may not become farmers, but they will go out into the world with a basic understanding of agriculture.

“We also teach how ag applies to the Bible, and during this time of the year part of the internship is helping with the live nativity,” she said.

Along with the many other activities at Shepherd’s Cross, the farm has about 60 pecan trees visitors are invited to come gather from.

“Because we aren’t a licensed kitchen we can’t sell cracked pecans,” Dickinson.

“We sell our pecans two ways: customers can either pick on halves, where they get half of what they pick and give the other half to us, or they are $1 per pound.”

Despite the drought of the last two years their trees still produced a decent pecan crop.

“They are a little smaller than usual, but we are just happy to have some,” she said.

Whether it’s picking pecans, a hay ride through the pasture, getting to pet Abraham the llama or reflecting during a quiet manger scene, Shepherd’s Cross offers family fun for all ages.

Dickinson says she’s noticed an increase of visitors this year.

“It’s very encouraging to see so many families looking for wholesome activities to do with each other, or with friends,” she said.

“Christmas has gotten to be such a hustle and bustle,“ she said. “This gives people the opportunity to slow down and reflect on the true meaning of Christmas.”

Being a part of live nativity helps Dickinson really enjoy the Christmas season.

“By the time live nativity is over I feel like I’ve already had Christmas, so I just get to enjoy the day with my family. It’s really nice,” she said.