The first piece of the farm our family has named Christian Way Farm was purchased in the early 1920’s by Guy Corley with money he earned from his World War I bonus. Over the years he bought adjacent farms that became available. In total he purchased over 350 acres, which border Linville and Coal Creek Roads, in north Christian county. Guy raised row crops (corn, tobacco and wheat) and was known by people of this area for his hard work as he covered the farm with wooden fences to enclose sheep, cattle, pigs and various kinds of fowl. His son Edwin Corley grew up learning farming as a way of life. He left home to serve in the military and pursue an education. When Edwin came home he raised his family of six children, including Milton, on a farm close to his father’s.
While Milton and his siblings grew up, they came over to their grandfather’s farm to help in the fields. Milton’s love for the farm did not go unnoticed. When he was very young, his grandfather deeded a portion of the farm to him. Guy died in 1973, but Edwin continued to row crop the fields in addition to his other jobs.
Milton and his siblings all left home for school and chose careers away from the family farm. Milton continued in farming earning a degree at Western Kentucky University and managing Jackson’s Orchard in Bowling Green for many years. The desire to go home and farm did not go away. But it had taken on a new approach. His years of experience at Jackson’s Orchard opened his eyes to the desire of people to “get away from it all” by enjoying an afternoon on the farm. Milton and his wife, Janie, began to dream about building a home on the family farm and developing such a place for people to have that experience in Hopkinsville.
Milton came home and talked with his father. The farm had not been cropped in close to ten years. And none of the siblings were interested in farming. Nothing pleased Edwin more than to know his son was coming home to be the third generation to farm this land. Thus, he deeded the rest of the farm over to Milton. Portions of the farm had grown up from disuse. All the fencing built by Guy Corley had long ago decayed, but the barns were still standing and there was still some equipment available for use.
Family on the TractorJanuary 1998 marked the opening of Christian Way Farm. Milton quit his job at the orchard and traveled from Bowling Green to begin the clean-up process on the farm. He planted his first crop of corn in spring of 1998 and in the fall began planting 250 peach trees. Over the next two years, he cleaned up the home-place and built a house for our family. In August of 1999, our family moved from Bowling Green to the new home on the farm.
In spring of 2000, we used a modified tobacco setter to plant our first pumpkin crop–over 4 acres. We spent that summer preparing the farm for farm tours–cleaning out a burley barn and the area around it for tours, building a hayride wagon and picnic tables, cutting a corn maze, and setting up the equipment from the time period of Guy Corley. We decorated the farm with antique equipment, restored for use the corn sheller and corn cracker of Milton’s grandfather and “borrowed” animals to let the school children feed.
That fall, the pumpkin crop was immensely successful. And equally successful were the tours. In less than six weeks we saw two thousand children and adults who took hayrides, picked pumpkins, shelled and cracked corn, fed animals and learned how we raised the pumpkins. We taught the children about the ways farmers have to be innovative in their farming practices. We showed them the tobacco setter that we modified so that we could plant those 4 acres with pumpkin seeds in just a few hours, instead of days of planting the seeds by hand. We talked about the importance of using chemicals in moderation so that the bee population will be available to pollinate the pumpkins. Our success was confirmed the next fall when we learned that children (and adults) remembered and asked about the things we taught them the previous year.
Taking the Farm to the “Next Level”
The first two years of success with a pumpkin patch and harvest tours helped us to realize that the need for a “farm experience” is a certainty in this area. Even though there are still highly agricultural portions of the community, census reports indicate that Hopkinsville-Christian County has now been classified as a developing urban area. Thus there are increasingly more children and adults who do not even have the opportunity to visit farms and many are not being taught about agriculture. Many people have admitted to us that their parents or grandparents were farmers, but they have little contact with farming now. When visitors are on our farm in the fall, we were often asked about opportunities to come to the farm during other times of the year. It’s one thing to talk about planting a pumpkin and how it grows, but it’s another thing for a child or adult to actually see or help in the process. They are interested, but they are searching for a place nearby to go to experience it.
We also learned that the traditional methods of farming tobacco, corn and wheat are not highly profitable for the tendable acreage of this farm. Thus we decided it was time for us to take our farm to the “next level.” In the spring of 2003, we opened our spring operation to the public with a new theme: “Sowing Seeds for Tomorrow’s Harvest.” That year we grew our “first” hamburgers and French fries. We portioned off eight 40′ X 40′ plots in the corner of the pumpkin patch. In those plots we planted, with the help of our visitors, all the basic ingredients for burgers and fries. We dug potatoes, peeled them and cut them into those slender strips for French fries. We rolled heads of wheat in the palms of our hands to extract the seeds and blow away the chaff, to examine the main ingredient in the bun. And then our audience tried to guess why our pickle jar included an apple along with the cucumber, dill and garlic. (It’s used to produce the vinegar needed for pickling.) We planted and later picked corn as we talked about the feed needed to raise the animals for meat.
Our visitors helped plant or harvest (depending on the time of their visit). They all got to ride the wagon to the barn to feed the animals, usually including a bottle for the baby calf. Before leaving they planted seeds in a peat pot to take home and grow their own pumpkin or sunflower in their backyards.
Spring and summer of 2004 we “grew” pizza , 2005 and 2006, we are growing “tacos.” Each year, while examining the plants and animals that produced our food items, we tried to teach about the history of that food. The first hamburgers were from the Middle Ages – raw pieces of meat carried underneath the saddle to be eaten in the flattened state when the traveler arrived at his destination. Pizza, we learned, started as flat pieces of dough, often with just olive oil and some spices. The Aztec Indians in Mexico were the first to make tacos, but they used mostly vegetables in the early tacos. The Spanish introduced the animals to provide meat to the Aztecs living in Mexico, so the taco actually is a blend of those two cultures.
Fall 2004 also marked the first of our fall events: Harvest Praise. On October 16, we hosted over 700 people who came to ride to the pumpkin patch, pick pumpkins, and feed the animals. While here they had the opportunity to eat grilled chicken or pork chops, or cook their own hotdog over the fire with the local Boy Scouts. In addition to the smoke from the fire, the air was also filled with the sounds coming from various local Christian music and drama groups. It was definitely a fun family day on the farm.
On October 15, 2005, the second annual Harvest Praise was another fun day with several hundred people visiting on a beautiful fall day. This year the music was by The Wilsons, CityKids, and Bruce and Robin Kennedy. A special prayer tribute was written by Betsi Smith and read on this day to honor our military families.
A Year of Changes
In the fall of 2005, the Kentucky Department of Agriculture approved funding for Christian Way Farm from the Agricultural Development funds. With those funds, in 2006, a restroom facility was fashioned from an old corn crib moved to a new location. The burley tobacco barn was renovated to accommodate the new “country” store and the primary entry point for guests to the farm. Fencing was updated to expand the offerings of animals to pet and feed.
The year 2006 was life-changing for our family. In addition to the improvements to the farm, the Lord opened an incredible opportunity for us to visit farmers in Bredasdorp, South Africa, and worship with other farmers from around the world at a conference called “World Farmers for Christ.” It was an affirmation to us to come home and keep sharing the Good News of Jesus while we welcomed guests to our farm. Two days after our return home, Milt’s father Edwin Corley, passed away with congestive heart failure. We are so thankful for the legacy he left and the incredible opportunity we have due to his generous gift of this farm to Milton.
That same year, we lost our entire pumpkin crop due to a disease called fusarium rot. The pumpkins looked beautiful on the top, but the bottom side would be a nasty cancerous mess which quickly would cause the pumpkin to rot away. That year we bought hundreds of pumpkins from other growers to ensure our guests had a pumpkin. In spite of the difficulties, this was a year of tremendous growth. God blessed our efforts to continue to honor Him by growing our business in spite of so many difficulties.
Challenges of the Pumpkin Crop
After the fall of 2006, we faced many challenges related to the disease in our pumpkin fields. In the fall of 2007, we experienced a major drought and had to irrigate the pumpkins with water pumped out of our neighbor’s pond. We didn’t realize that in the process we were contaminating our field with the disease from our front field. Apparently the water filling that pond had washed thru the front field and carried contaminated soil into the pond. As we irrigated with that water, we basically put the disease in our back field. We fought the issues of that disease until our neighbor allowed us to grow pumpkins on her ground from 2010-2012. When we came back into our fields in 2013, the disease is still slightly present, but we continue to use farming practices to help us eliminate the spread of the disease to our pumpkin crops.
Continued Changes to the Farm
In 2008, we moved the corn crib from another part of the farm and transitioned spring story time under the shed of that building.
In 2010, Jennifer and Craig finished high school and left for college. Since they had been at home from 8th-12th grades, they had become a major part of our work-force. Their graduation required us to go outside our family for help on the farm. We have seen wonderful help from high school and college students, young mothers, retired executives and military wives. Each person has been a blessing to us as we have also been able to offer them a season of employment at needed times.
The Mini-Golf Course
In 2011, we believed God had something else planned for the farm and we listened intently to what He was calling us to do. It was that fall that we began to ask people what they thought of adding mini-golf to the farm. After the encouragement of others, we explored our options to build a course on the farm. In June of 2012, we hired Harris Miniature Golf out of Wildwood, New Jersey, to build the farm-themed 18-hole mini golf course. Bringing many years of experience, their crew arrived on a June day with a temperature of over 100 degrees. That summer was such a hot summer with continuous days of over 100 degree temperatures. We kept the guys supplied with lots of cold watermelon from neighboring farms, and the four men from Harris built our course in two weeks. Since construction, we have added a split-rail fence around the course and continue to work on the never-ending job of the landscaping. August of 2012 was our official grand-opening of Christian Way Mini Golf.
The addition of Christian Way Mini Golf was a game changer. It now meant we needed to establish regular hours in the spring and summer. As a result, our walk-in traffic continues to increase. Open 6 days a week starting at 10 am Monday – Saturday, our customers now feel confident that they can come anytime to enjoy the farm and/or play mini golf. No longer were we open only to the public on fall Saturdays; we are open April – November for walk-in guests 6 days a week.
Lots of options now
With continued improvements and changes to the farm, we find we have so much more to offer. We have had the opportunity to provide a place for fund-raising for various groups. For several fall Saturdays, Kim and Bill Williams provided concessions as a way to raise funds for a church in Guatemala in memory of their son Tim, a Falcon football player who went to Heaven in July 2009. We have hosted mini golf tournaments for Junior Auxiliary, Alpha Alternative and Edgewood Baptist Church. We have helped raise money for adoptions and hosted African Children’s Choirs. In partnership with other organizations we have hosted Military Appreciation events offering discounted or free admission to our armed services and their families.
We have had the opportunity to host several company picnics. Cornerstone Computer Consulting, Hopkinsville Electric Service, Walmart Distribution Center, and Martinrea are just a few of those who brought their families for a day on the farm.
Summer of 2016 was the start of Faith Filled Fridays. We purchased sound equipment and opened the farm on Friday evenings with the sound of Christian vocalists who blessed us with their talents for the evening. July 2016 was a record rainfall month and it slowed business on the farm and made our Friday evenings a bit challenging. Milt broke his foot in June of 2016 which required surgery and limited mobility for most of the summer. But awesome friends stepped up to help us thru the summer. We ended the fall season with record numbers of guests!
2017 brings a season of excitement and more changes. For our family–Craig joined the Air Force and was commissioned as a 2d Lt. in the Fall of 2016. In 2017 he will receive his wings as a pilot of remote-piloted aircraft. He is stationed in San Antonio where he is currently in training. Jennifer is a teacher having spent two years in Indianapolis and is now a Family & Consumer Science teacher in Cynthiana, KY. She will marry her college sweetheart in July of 2017. Rachael is working in retail in Bowling Green and makes visits home frequently to spend time on the farm. We share our family story as for many who visit, you have watched our children grow right alongside our business.
For the last few years we have offered limited concessions when you visit the farm. In May 2017 we are excited to add the Christian Way Cafe. We will be adding a kitchen that will allow us to expand our food offerings to provide more for you when you visit the farm. We will provide more details about that as the building is complete and a menu confirmed.
August 21, 2017 will be a day none of us want to miss. As Hopkinsville hosts the world for the Total Solar Eclipse, Christian Way Farm will be available for camping, viewing and just enjoying the farm that weekend. We look forward to being host to new friends from near and far.
As our schedule permits, there will be a limited number of Faith Filled Fridays. But it is certainly something that will continue in the years to come as well.
We are thankful for the thousands of people who have made a visit to the farm. And for the dozens of people who have been our help through the years. We look forward to many more years of planting seeds and making memories with all of you. We hope you will continue to make a visit to Christian Way Farm & Mini Golf a tradition in the life of your family.