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Retired School Teachers Create Wildlife Farm Legacy

Only 48 of the Kavanaugh Wildlife Farm's 84 total arces are culivated.
Renee Wilde
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WYSO
Only 48 of the Kavanaugh Wildlife Farm's 84 total arces are culivated.

On a farm in Greene County’s agricultural countryside, the shared vision of a pair of retired school teachers is changing back the landscape, by creating a welcome habitat for both agriculture and nature.

Today on County Lines, Producer Renee Wilde takes a horse drawn wagon ride through a Jamestown farm, that lifetime resident Eugene Kavanagh and his wife Dorothy bought for their local community.

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Credit Renee Wilde / WYSO
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WYSO

Two huge, white draft horses are getting ready to take farm visitors on a tour of the Kavanaugh Wildlife Farm. Brooklyn Dean is one of the volunteer helping tack up the two thousand pound animals. She’s also the driver for this morning’s horse drawn wagon tour.

“If the weather holds up usually we stay pretty busy during the summer, especially the fall, I think. It’s gorgeous out here that time, for sure,” say’s Brooklyn. “ A few weeks, maybe a month ago there was a doe that had a couple fawns with her, but we turned one of the corners of the trail and one of the little babies just hopped along in front of us up the trail, I don’t know, a good three or four minutes. He just led the way. It was kinda cool.”

This property once belonged to two former Greene County high school teachers, Gene and Dorothy Kavanaugh. They bought it in 2010 and hired Nova Brown to run it a year later. Nova is the farm manager here, and she leads the tours.

“Gene and Dorothy wanted to give back to the community that Gene was born and raised in. And they just wanted to help bring wildlife back into the community,” Nova says while brushing a big draft horse, “and use this farm as a teaching tool about wildlife and farming.

It’s that balance between wildlife and farming that really comes across during the wagon tour. Out of the 86 acres on Kavanaugh farm, 48 are cultivated. So one side of the grassy path that we’re being towed down is a solid wall of corn, easily 12 feet tall. But, on the other side of the wagon a fence row is being re-cultivated.

“So we started letting everything grow up. We actually three years ago put fence rows in almost completely around the whole property. We’re adding more trees, We’re building another woods, We put in a wetlands,” Nova explains on the wagon tour.

The Kavanaugh Wildlife Farm offers tours.
Credit Renee Wilde / WYSO
/
WYSO
The Kavanaugh Wildlife Farm offers tours.

Jay Dilly is a volunteer with the Orange Lotus Adult Services group. He tells me this is their second trip to the Kavanaugh Farm.

“Yeah, they love it, Jay says between taking photos, “ ‘Cause, they stop along the way, and there’s a duck pond out there. Nova’s great ‘cause she tells you about everything as your going out through it. Tells you all about the farm here. It’s unbelievable that it’s free.”

The Kavanaugh’s set up a trust, to fund their wildlife farm, but sadly, Nova says they never got to see their own dream come true.

“Gene passed away in October 16, 2011, and Dorothy passed away on November 3rd. This was just barren farmland at the time, so we had to construct the barns and the trails and the pastures, and neither one of them got to see it to complete fruition.”

After only six months on the job, it fell to Nova to carry on Gene’s vision. Together with a board of 5 director’s and some local volunteers, Nova worked to make the farm a popular destination for both humans and wildlife.

“When we started construction here we saw no rabbits, the bird population was a whole lot smaller, just wildlife in general, we didn’t see hardly any deer. And it’s not an overnight process, at all,” Nova explains, “But, yes, wildlife has definitely increased. I did a trail check this morning and ran into a whole bunch of deer and a great horned owl just flew down in front of me. But we have a couple that live around here so we’re pretty lucky with that.”

Although Gene is not with the farm physically, his spiritual presence can still be found.

“He would just do the most wonderful things for anybody, And this is part of what he wanted to do to give back,” Nova says, “The rides and everything will always be free. We will never have anything here to sell. We like to try and give as much as we can to specialty auctions and things like that. Occasionally we get t-shirts that we’ll give away. But if anybody asks for donations to their causes, we try to give as much as we can. To specialty auctions and things like that. Whenever somebody asks us, we’re always willing to give.”

The Kavanaugh Wildlife Farm is hosting an open house to the public on Saturday, October 27th. 

County Lines is made possible by a grant from Ohio Humanities

Renee Wilde was part of the 2013 Community Voices class, allowing her to combine a passion for storytelling and love of public radio. She started out as a volunteer at the radio station, creating the weekly WYSO Community Calendar and co-producing Women’s Voices from the Dayton Correctional Institution - winner of the 2017 PRINDI award for best long-form documentary. She also had the top two highest ranked stories on the WYSO website in one year with Why So Curious features. Renee produced WYSO’s series County Lines which takes listeners down back roads and into small towns throughout southwestern Ohio, and created Agraria’s Grounded Hope podcast exploring the past, present and future of agriculture in Ohio through a regenerative lens. Her stories have been featured on NPR, Harvest Public Media and Indiana Public Radio.