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'We're moving': Critter Barn to expand programming at new location

They hope to move the animals by late fall and start programming at the new site.

ZEELAND CHARTER TOWNSHIP, Mich. — After nearly 30 years and thousands of field trips, Ottawa County's longstanding educational farm is leaving its cozy, three-acre plot in Zeeland Township. 

The Critter Barn, started by Mary Rottschafer in 1990, is moving to a 36-acre farm to expand its programming. The new site is just a few miles north of the current location.  

Constant growth over the years has made it difficult to accommodate visitors, Rottschafer said. 

"We're kind of constrained here to both serve the public, serve our animals and provide a safe or even [wheelchair-accessible] location," she said. 

The Critter Barn was gifted the land by Zeeland Farm Services. The project will cost $6 million to complete.

Donors have raised around $2.5 million, which is around $800,000 short of what it will cost to move to the new property and install infrastructure, Rottschafer said.  

Staff will break ground at the new property, located at 2950 80th Avenue in Zeeland Township, on May 14 at 6 p.m. The longtime educator hopes to move the animals and open the new site by late fall.  

"It's quite a bit of work, so we're hoping later in July that we'll start putting up our barns," Rottschafer said. "We're celebrating how far we are, and we're also saying to the general public, 'Here's your opportunity to help us finish this last 30 percent.'"

The Critter Barn is coordinating with the Baker College and Michigan State University to expand programming and serve older students, Rottschafer said. 

"It's our goal to create a bit of a nostalgic farm, as well as show some modern strategies for organic farming for production farming -- the whole gambit of agriculture," she said.  

The Critter Barn is in the right place, with the right backing, to expand its influence on agriculture education in the area, said Becky Huttenga, economic development coordinator for Ottawa County. 

"[Agriculture] literacy is a big deal," Huttenga said. "People are becoming more and more concerned about where their food comes from, so it's a great opportunity right now."

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