Farm Talk

December 19, 2012

Finding Christmas in agritourism

by Danielle Beard
CNHI

Parsons, Kansas — Said the little lamb to the shepherd boy, do you hear what I hear? Those in northeast Oklahoma are probably beginning to hear what’s abuzz with a local sheep farm. Shepherd’s Cross farm near Claremore is an agritourism hot spot for the state of Oklahoma, offering an interactive live nativity during December.

This working sheep farm is owned and operated by Peter and Diane Dickinson. Shepherd’s Cross is an accredited agritourism facility, member of the Oklahoma Food Co-op, a Made in Oklahoma Company and is Animal Welfare Approved. Diane Dickinson, a doctor of veterinarian medicine, says they have been at the farm for 20 years, but this marks the 21st year for the live nativity.

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

Shepherd’s Cross is a nonprofit live nativity but not affiliated with a church. To put on the live nativity around 200 people from the community take turns volunteering their time to help, all of which are in costume throughout the experience.

Dickinson says 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 Inn keeper’s wife or from the perspective of the barn animals from the manger.”

Along with the manger scene and dramatic story telling, visitors can participate in the “Journey with the Shepherds” hayride, Bible garden tours and spinning and weaving demonstrations with wool from sheep raised at Shepherd’s Cross.

At Shepherd’s Cross Live Nativity there is also a “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 added. “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 shared she had received an email from one of her fair trade artists that because of the money from the sale the artist was able to pay her workers.

“That’s a good feeling,” Dickinson continued. “Being able to help someone, so she can pay her work-ers, 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 continued.

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

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

According to Dickinson, 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 added. “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 concluded.

Shepherd’s Cross live nativity will be open for it’s last weekend before Christmas Dec. 20-22. £