Twelve years ago, Mary Droessler was ready for a change. So Droessler packed up her home near downtown Raleigh and moved with her two children to an old farm house on 10 acres in Wake Forest.
Droessler, who adopted two more children from Russia two years later, wasn't allowed to have animals as a small child. Now, with plenty of space, she started collecting. First came the goats, which she milked to make cheese. Then llamas because they're just fun to have. Chickens came soon after.
"At some point, somebody called and said 'How many different animals do you have in your petting zoo?'" Droessler said. "I looked around and realized that's what I had."
Droessler's Winterpast Farm now features an array of animals - llamas, goats, chickens, peacocks, donkeys, rabbits, guinea pigs, fish, turtles and more.
For the past half dozen years, she's opened her home to families and groups so they can come see the animals and explore the property. She brings animals to schools, churches, parties and other events so kids can see them up close. And she rents guinea pigs and rabbits to families who are considering a pet so they can see how much effort it takes.
"It just sort of evolved," she tells me. "... The word sort of gets out."
Winterpast Farm is one of the more than two dozen farms on this weekend's Eastern Triangle Farm Tour. The self-guided, driving tour tour, which runs 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, gives the public a chance to see a variety of farms - from urban mini-farms to a goat cheese dairy and more. It covers Durham, Wake, Chatham, Franklin, Granville and Person counties.
The fee is $25 per vehicle. That covers both days and gets you in to all of the farms. I recommend picking a handful so you can spend more time at each stop. And bring a cooler. There will be plenty of opportunities to bring home fresh produce, meat and other items. The tour is sponsored by the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association and Whole Foods Market.
At Winterpast this weekend, Droessler is bringing in cupcake and cotton candy vendors. She'll have handmade items for sale. And a friend will bring in a tortoise. Students from a local 4-H group were helping her paint chicken coops and cages to get ready for the weekend.
Droessler led me, my four-year-old daughter and mother-in-law for a tour on Monday. We took her suggestion and brought carrots, apples and Saltines to feed the animals.
My four-year-old fed goats, donkeys, llamas, chickens, peacocks, rabbits and guinea pigs. We walked through the farm yard among the animals - an experience that absolutely delighted her. We discovered fresh chicken eggs in one of the coops. Then we headed to the enclosure with the guinea pigs where she gently fed and petted a couple of the little guys. She was entranced.
Droessler tells me that everybody's visit to the farm is different. Some love tromping across the property. Others enjoy just sitting quietly with a rabbit or guinea pig on their lap. And, as far as she's concerned, it's all good.
Winterpast Farm is open by appointment only for first time visitors. The fee is $10 per person. (That doesn't apply to this weekend during the farm tour, Sept. 21 and Sept. 22).