What’s “Malabar Farm?”
I remember asking on the rather new brown state signage on the side of I-71 in Ohio on the way to one of our weekend soccer tournaments.
So, as any other curious passenger might do, I googled it.
This Ohio State Park is the former homestead of Louis Bromfield, Pulitzer Prize winner, fiction and non-fiction author, screenwriter for MGM, and a man ahead (and behind) of his time in many regards. Malabar Farm received its name in honor of the Indian Coast; most likely a tribute to the story “The Rains Came” that allowed Bromfield to purchase his farm.
His life was a dichotomy from what I have read and understood from our tour guide at the farm. While he enjoyed the finer things in life (such as his “Big House” and frequent parties with Hollywood celebs, including Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall who were married near the double staircase in the Big House) he also appreciated and respected the more simple things in life: cultivating the land, preserving natural resources, and tending to his acreage in mid-Ohio.
Ahead of His Time
Bromfield was a man “ahead of his time” in some regards in that he recognized the importance, and the de-evolution of the “family farm” well before many other Americans recognized it. Growing up on the farm himself, he had originally studied to become a farmer… not realizing yet that his real fate was writing.
However, his recognition of the need to conserve natural resources (the land, soil, water, and forests) as well as preserve a more “natural” and conservative way of farming such as rotating crops and feeding pastures, allowing animals to graze, and growing produce; creating more sustainable, organic, eco-friendly farming methods and greater farming success.
Bromfield’s fear of the family farm and our environment’s downward spiral has proven to be visionary to a degree. Of course, Roosevelt was the first to point out the conservation was necessary years before; but it was Bromfield who wrote poetically about real life on the farm, and the consequences our actions have more than just on our own immediate surroundings.
While some of his practices on the farm were somewhat “radical” for the time period, they helped influence what has become organic methods of farming. It was interesting though, that he wasn’t the perfect environmentalist. Whether or not he realized his impact at the time, he had a famous Jeep which he took to explore his farm; had the “newest” appliances (such as a dishwasher) and, according to our guide, always had the latest and greatest inventions of the time.
And, Behind His Time
While he was a contemporary of Hemingway, his writing was praised at the time, but has lost fashion with readers. His work was honored in literary circles, and received recognition and awards including the Pulitzer Prize for Early Autumn (1927). Many works were turned into movies as well. One such movie, The Rains Came (1939) won the Academy Award for Special Effects up against a pretty tough competitor at the time: The Wizard of Oz. The screenplay (also written by Bromfield) was based on his novel Rains Came: A Novel of India.
However, his “old” Victorian writing style quickly lost fashion with the reading public in favor of more modern styles such as those of Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Faulkner. Today, it is thought that his books are not on the recommended reading lists of schools and Universities because the Victorian style is better illustrated by authors such as Charles Dickens and Oscar Wilde.
The Farm Today
Upon the author’s death in , the State of Ohio purchased the land and the original buildings that stood on the property, including over 800 acres, cabins, the “sugar shack”, and of course, the Big House. They operate under the same philosophy of Bromfield: to remain eco-friendly, self-sustaining, and with little impact on the environment. The area is now a State Park and offers tours, hiking, and even some camping along with some scheduled events such as the Maple Syrup Festival and Ohio Heritage Days.
(That being said… I am sure by the site of natural gas lines and a decently sized plant in the immediate area that there may have been some financial interests in obtaining the farm as well… but I digress.)
The farm is expansive, but the impact truly does appear minimal. When you explore the land on foot, you will encounter all sorts of natural wooded areas, a cave, creeks, and even a fishing hole and wetlands along with fenced pastures and natural fields.
The hike to the cave and the Sugar Shack took only about a half hour or so and were quite easy to navigate until you got to the wooded foot paths which were a little more steep. This area was carved out by passing glaciers, and offered a stark contrast to the manicured fields of the farmers nearby.
A few guide signs helped us learn more about the farm, its animals, and the property as we passed by. There is a guided farm tour available on wagon, too, for those who don’t want to hike.
(As a side note, the famous ” Shawshank Tree” is located on the property. However we didn’t spot it. The tree was used in the movie which was filmed nearby at the Ohio Reformatory. They offer guided tours as well if that sort of thing interests you.)
We decided to tour the Big House after our exploration of the farm’s property; but not after we checked out the baby goats and the miniature ponies which we were allowed to pet. The animals were quite friendly to say the least. I assume they are very familiar with guests… and with what guests might bring them in way of treats. (The sign says please don’t feed the animals, but I must have witnessed a half dozen people or so in the short time we were there try to hand them some long grasses or other “treats.”) It was actually one of the highlights of the trip when two overly friendly little goats attempted to escape the enclosed area to explore the tastier selection of clover on the other side of the gate. Of course mam goat was not all too thrilled with the little explorers. (Totally cute… and something every mom can relate to when their little ones get out of hand.)
The Big House tour was guided by a Park Naturalist who expertly walked us through the main rooms, pointing out all of the items of interest. What was fascinating was not only that the house remained virtually unchanged from its 1950’s state; but that it also contained a wealth of stories, both written and implied. The estate is home to Bromfield’s collection of over 4,000 books, many of them signed first editions, as well as two Grandma Moses original paintings (Bromfield wrote the intro to her biography), Disney Cells (a Bromfield story was turned in to a cartoon) and tons of interesting artifacts from the author’s life and times.
So many riches; in a well-lived house that shows its age and wear in the woodwork, door handles, floorboards, and more. One thing that struck me was that the house… well cared for and huge especially in its day for sure… also was “home” because of the Bromfield family’s willingness to share the home with their friends and even their famed boxer dogs.
What might be looked at as a flaw by other mansion-owners was viewed as a mark of character by the Bromfields: the paw marks the dogs left in their doorways and floor. This was, afterall, a farm and a home… as much as it was a respite for the Hollywood elite, the author and his family.
Malabar Farm Restaurant
After the tour, we ate at the Farm Restaurant which touts a menu unlike most other Mid-Ohio eateries: it offers locally grown food.
The restaurant, located just down the street on the property, stands next to a natural well, and “watering hole” frequented by animals, American Indians, and travelers on the busy nearby early trade route. The former homestead of the Schrack was finished in 1820 from bricks made on site. It was purchased by Bromfield in 1941 and added to his Malabar property, where he sold fresh produce from his farm to passers-by.
While our experience at the restaurant was not the best food we have ever eaten (or the least expensive!) there was something exciting about eating only items that were fresh made and locally harvested, including the grass-fed local beef.
We left the Malabar Farm with our bellies full, and our minds full, too.
Not too shabby for an afternoon hike.
Malabar Farm is located at:
4050 Bromfield Rd, Lucas, OH 44843
It is located in an areas called “Pleasant Valley” (Which happens to be another one of Bromfield’s book titles.)
The area is near Mansfield, Ohio, Mohican Park, and Mt. Gilead. The State Park offers free admission, however, there is a charge for tours. The Big House tour was roughly $5 per person.