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We are open to the public:
Monday - Friday,
Sunday and holidays
A $2 per person or $5 per family donation is appreciated for those wishing to spend time at Stratford.
The Stratford Ecological Center came to exist out of an inspiration of love. A young woman, Gale Warner, underwent a life-altering volunteer and intern experience at a place called Hidden Villa in California, near the college she attended. The place existed as a demonstration farm and education facility. While there, she felt the magic of the area and called it a "place of love."
In 1982, Gale's mother, Louise Warner, inherited the 236 acres of land in Delaware, Ohio that was to become the Stratford Ecological Center, from her father, Galen Oman. He had originally bought the land in the 1950s with visions of developing it into a majestic living environment with large property plots and a golf course. Before he could make his vision a reality, illness struck Galen. With a new outlook, he realized the land was too precious to develop and he spoke of preserving it before passing on.
When Louise and her husband Jack, who were both doctors and farmers, inherited the land they took Galen's vision along with their daughter Gale's experience and help, began the process of preserving the land and turning it into an educational resource - a place that would bring to many in Ohio what Hidden Villa brings to those in California.
The Stratford Ecological Center became an incorporated entity in 1990, bringing Jeff Dickinson, a doctorate student from Ohio State, to help with the planning and development. Jeff had worked for seven years at Meadowcreek, a non-profit environmental education center in Arkansas, giving him much knowledge and experience to share. Planning and development were off to a great start when the family was struck with tragedy. Around Thanksgiving of that year Gale was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer. Despite the news, work continued on the Center. The following spring brought about non-profit status as well as the long awaited ground-breaking. The old tractor lane into the fields became the gravel road that now leads to the Education Center.
While researching maps of the area, Jack and Louise ran across a plan for growth in Delaware. This plan showed their land as an explosion of condominiums, single-family homes and industrial sites. Not willing to take any chances with losing the land, Jack and Louise quickly inquired about officially preserving the area. After several inquiries to various organizations fell through, Jack and Louise turned to the state, hoping to declare part of their land as a state nature preserve. Two times the state came out and said there was nothing unique about this land that would entitle it to become a preserve. But Jack and Louise were persistent. On the advice of a good friend, they managed to have an Ohio Department of Natural Resources representative visit in the spring, when many of the wildflowers were in bloom. The incredible beauty and diversity convinced him that this land was definitely something special and worth preserving. In September 1991, it was made the second privately owned state nature preserve in Ohio.
Sadly, 13 months after her diagnosis, Gale passed away. Jack and Louise, heartbroken over the loss of their child, managed to begin construction of the Education Center. Gale served as their continual inspiration to make Stratford and its programs a reality.
Across the state, at Aullwood Audubon Farm and Nature Center, Paul Etheridge was working as a farm intern. Jack and Louise had met Paul at Hidden Villa some years earlier, where Paul had worked as a guide. Having heard that the Warners were starting their project, Paul, along with Aullwood farmer, Steve Miller, went on a farm tour of Stratford. Once Steve learned that the Warners were in need of a farmer, the tour quickly turned into an interview and Steve was hired as Stratford's new farmer.
Construction continued on the farm, with the shed and farmer's house being built in 1992 and the barn started early the following year. Stratford was coming along nicely, but the education programs had not yet been planned. Jack and Louise went in search of an Education Coordinator. Paul seemed to be the logical choice. Having worked at Hidden Villa, he could bring the experience of their programs and the atmosphere the Warners hoped to create. Paul was hired in early 1993. He created an education vegetable and herb garden and helped develop the orchard. By the fall of 1993, Stratford was ready to open, bringing an appreciation of the land to elementary schools from all over Franklin and Delaware counties.
An intern program was started soon after, bringing aspiring environmental educators to help with youth programming, as well as agriculture interns to help with summer growing. The mission of Stratford soon grew to involve networking in the agricultural field, as well as support of sustainable agriculture through a group called Innovative Farmers of Ohio (IFO). Farm research also became a part of Stratford with the addition of the OSU/SEC demonstration farm and Mike Anderson, who had been managing the OSU farm in Reynoldsburg. With the closing of the OSU farm, Stratford inherited Mike, a production greenhouse, a tractor and other equipment.
Stratford continued to grow and experience change. In late 1996, Paul moved back to California and Hidden Villa. While the search for a new Education Coordinator was underway, Jack had an unexpected heart attack and died suddenly at home. Louise and the staff were distraught but knew that Jack would want them to continue the work that he and Gale had begun.
In January of 1997, Christa Hein was hired as the new Education Coordinator. She had been a volunteer guide at Stratford on breaks from her weeks on the road traveling for COSI. Needing to get back outside to her love of experiencing nature with children, Christa jumped at the opportunity to become a more permanent part of Stratford. That same year, internships were going strong and Mike was experimenting with Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) with the help of past intern Chanda Eakins. They were selling vegetables and flowers at farmer's markets and greenhouse-grown winter lettuces to restaurants and health food stores.
At the beginning of 1998, the first Stratford newsletter went out. Meanwhile, Jeff had been directing not only Stratford but also Innovative Farmers of Ohio. To help Jeff with the ever-growing mounds of paperwork and phone calls, Stratford hired David Hoy as the first Office Assistant that summer.
A year later, farmer Steve Miller moved to a farm in Mt. Gilead to raise milk cows. That brought Jim Harpster to Stratford as the new farmer. Jim had been a head naturalist, had sold livestock supplements, worked as a social worker and was living with his family when he found Stratford. His bubbling personality, farmer embodiment and extensive knowledge of all things farming were just what Stratford needed to fill the farmhouse.
In mid-1999, David Hoy moved on to direct the Ohio Wildlife Center, and Shelle Dohn took on the role of Office Manager and Volunteer Coordinator. Shelle had been a spirited volunteer guide and ran her own real estate appraisal business. The staff was delighted to have her join the family.
By this time, the children's program had grown to capacity and the schools were put on waiting lists. Two to three thousand kids were visiting annually to experience the farm. Christa opened the first Stratford Day Camp the summer of 2000. Adults also started coming to Stratford to learn about nature, farming and homestead skills with the beginning of the Adult Education programs.
That fall, Mike Anderson, with a new baby on the way, decided to farm on his own and purchased land around Sunbury. It just so happened that Paul Etheridge was passing through town to visit when Mike shared with him his plan of leaving Stratford. Paul had an idea for the land that Mike had been farming. He would put it into production as a CSA/Food Bank Farm. Taking ideas from his friends at Crown Point Ecology Center in Akron, Paul came up with a plan and returned to Stratford as an employee in 2001 to operate a 30 member CSA, giving the surplus to Meals on Wheels and People in Need.
In 2001, IFO received a grant and was able to hire a full-time Director, relieving Jeff of his dual directorship and bringing Laura Ann Bergman into the Stratford office space. The education program also received a grant that year to fund another position. Shannon Kishel briefly joined the staff as Education Assistant. When she moved on to start a community garden program in New York in 2002, Chris Byerly, Christa's husband, took over Shannon's education duties. In addition, he began to work with volunteer crews and youth-at-risk. His handiness and ability to get things done brought about the creation of the job " Operations Manager. Up to this point, the staff had all shared cleaning and mowing responsibilities while Jeff and the farmer had been the ones to make building repairs.
In mid-2002, Terri Litchfield joined the staff as Office Assistant to allow Shelle to spend more time on here appraisal business. Terri had been a spring ag intern, was a neighbor and a generous office volunteer with valuable computer skills.
Near the end of 2002, Farmer Jim decided to move on and explore the potential of sustainable development that could include farming. Jeff, having been doing planning, research and office work since before Stratford was a reality, decided to get back to his farming roots and take on the position of farmer.
In 2003, Jeff moved into the farmhouse and became Stratford's third farmer. He also kept his role as Director. That same year, Paul decided to partner with Ben Sippel, a past ag intern, to operate a 120 member CSA, utilizing not only Stratford land but a neighbor's land as well. That summer, as part of the growing Adult Education program, a straw-bale garden shed was built in the children's garden with the help of boy scouts, staff and many mud-caked volunteer hands. Through the years, eagle scouts have built not only the straw-shed roof but also a bird blind, sugar shack bridge, mezzanines for equipment and a picnic table shelter.
In the summer of 2003, Shelle left Stratford to dedicate herself to her real-estate appraisal business full-time. Terri took on the role of Office Manager and Nicole Love was hired as Volunteer Coordinator and Office Assistant. With an environmental education background, she was looking to settle in the Delaware area and luckily, found out about Stratford, its purpose and most importantly, that there was a job opening.
The winter of 2006 brought additional change to Stratford. IFO, under new directorship, took its office out of Stratford and into downtown Columbus. Nicole also decided to leave to raise her young son. Her role as Volunteer Coordinator was soon taken by Jane Walsh.
Today, Stratford serves the community through its open visitation hours, farm products, family and adult programming, special events and of course the children's programs. 3,500 school children from a seven-county area visit Stratford every year as well as over 8,000 visitors.
The Stratford story will continue to grow and change like the seasons. We invite you to create your own place in Stratford's history. This land has been home to many ideas, dreams and lives. It has created food, laughter, lifelong memories, uncountable first experiences and much love. The dream is realized...this truly is a place of love.