09/11/2018 07:00AM ● Published by Robert Frey
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Leaning Oak Farm Is Educational And FunBy Lisa Hanchey
Back in 1999, Dale Langley bought a 10-acre plot on Broken Arrow Road in New Iberia and decided to start a farm. On the property was a circa 1890 house, which was so dilapidated that the windows were boarded up. “You could see the sky and you could see the ground from the inside of the house,” Langley recalls. But, the Hector (near Iowa), Louisiana native dreamed of returning to his farming roots and bought a cow. The problem was – the land wasn’t fenced in. So, the cow broke loose and Langley got him back, and then bought a second cow. Next, he planted a vegetable garden and fruit trees. And the dream started becoming a reality. “I was trying to educate myself,” he says.
Adjacent to the old house was an outhouse shaded by an oak tree bent at a 45-degree angle. That tree, known as “Le Chène Que Penche,” led to the name Leaning Oak Farm.
Dale grew up on a farm and was reared as an outdoorsman. He always wanted to return to that life. “Not many people today are keeping farms going,” he observes.
In 2003, Dale, who had two boys, Chris and Jesse, met Rynella native Janie Baker, who also had two boys – Drake and Kyle. After a whirlwind courtship, the couple married and had their child Hayden.
As the family grew, so did the farm. Over the years, the Langleys added pigs, a horse, a miniature horse, a donkey, pygmy goats, full-size goats, sheep, rabbits and two elk, Pete and Lizzie, to their livestock, as well as fowl – several varieties of chickens and ducks, geese, quail, guinea and turkeys. On the garden side, Dale planted produce seasonally using the LSU Agriculture Center’s Planting Guide. His plantings have yielded enough corn, tomatoes, okra and potatoes to keep the family’s freezer full. This fall, he plans to plant lettuce, cabbage and other seasonal greens.
Through plentiful planting and breeding, the family has learned to live the farm-to-table life – butchering animals, collecting eggs, making jellies, shrimping and fishing. There’s also a pond, which Dale plans to cultivate for crawfish. “We are regular country folks,” Dale says with a chuckle.
What they can’t produce at the farm, the Langleys buy from local merchants. “We are big believers in supporting local businesses,” Dale says.
For years, the Langleys enjoyed their simple farm life. That changed in 2014, when a “little old lady” on a walker showed up at Leaning Oak Farm. She’d seen an ad in the local newspaper about the animal menagerie and asked the Langleys if she could come by and see it. After chatting for a couple of hours, the wise woman suggested that the couple start a business where people could interact with the animals. Janie loved the idea, and began planning parties for children. “Janie is really good with kids,” Dale says proudly. “I’m the business side.”
Today, Leaning Oak Farm holds birthday parties and educational events for kids. For two hours, the children (and chaperones) feed the animals with 16 trays of day-old bread Janie buys at a discount from the Evangeline store. She tears up the bread and sorts into buckets, storing them in a large shed outside. “The adults love feeding the animals as much as the kids do,” she shares.
Along the way, the youngsters learn about sustainable living. “We believe in living off the land,” Dale explains. “We are getting back to our roots. We do this for the love of it. And hopefully, to teach other people to do the same thing and eat better.”
The animals know when the treats are coming. As Janie approaches with a sleeve of bread, the goats begin bleating, the sheep baaing, the chickens clucking – a cacophony of anticipation. The tame livestock and fowl literally eat the bread out of your hands and love the occasional scratch and stroke.
After feeding and petting the animals, the children can play in the playground or play a game of volleyball at the net. “We’ve got to keep the kids engaged,” Dale reveals. “It keeps the adults engaged, too.“
Janie takes pride in the livestock and fowl that she breeds herself. With a motherly love, she displays her many chicks, quail and guineas she hatched from eggs. “The kids love holding the chicks,” she says with a grin.
Each year, local schools bring in students for field trips. So far, Leaning Oak Farm has educated kids from Johnston Hopkins Elementary, Epiphany Day School, Coteau Elementary and home schools. Janie has held parties for up to 100 kids and chaperones. The Langleys have also hosted 4-H club members, who have planted and cleaned out the garden. To accommodate groups, the farm provides two large picnic tables and a smaller one. “People can bring whatever they want to eat and drink,” she says.
Growing up in Rynella, Janie learned to quilt from her grandmother. Now, she has mastered the art, and makes beautiful handmade blankets and throws for her family, as well as for charity auctions. The Langleys are very involved in St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and have donated quilts for fundraisers. “One of my quilts went for $3,000 at a live auction for St. Jude’s,” Janie reveals proudly. Janie plans to go on her first tour of the famed children’s cancer hospital later this year. The couple also donates a party package for the World Championship Gumbo Cook-off.
Dale has big long-term plans for Leaning Oak Farm. He’d like to hold summer camps for clubs, schools and churches. Eventually, he hopes to develop the pond to accommodate scouts for canoeing and fishing patches. “One day, I’d like this to be a place where scouts can earn almost all of their points for their patches,” he reveals. “I want to make this a real educational program.”
To meet some of the animals in person, head to the Farm Fest at The Shadows on the Teche on September 27. Janie will bring some of her favorite friends for kids to play with from 4 to 8:30 p.m.
For more information on Leaning Oak Farm, contact Janie at (337) 967-1718, or visit its Facebook page.