Two decades ago, Milt and Janie Corley placed their faith in God to bring to life a place where people can learn about and experience agriculture in the great outdoors.
This year, Christian Way Farm and Mini Golf is "Celebrating 20 Years in 2020."
"We clung tight to the words the Lord had given us two years prior on Jan. 1: 'We walk by faith and not by sight,' " the Corleys wrote on their website. "When the days got tough, we clung to those words, and we believed God had a plan bigger than we could see."
Today, Christian Way Farm, 19590 Linville Road, features hayrides, a playground and a petting zoo, a farm-themed miniature golf course, a café and hosts up to 17,000 people in a year.
Christian Way Farm is in rural Christian County at Milt's family homestead where he grew up helping his dad plant corn. The Corleys' home is where his grandfather's house once stood.
In the 1990s, the couple visited an orchard in Bowling Green which inspired their own dreams of the family-friendly farm they have today.
"What I had seen at the orchard was a different type of farming," Milt said. "What I saw in Bowling Green was people coming out to experience the farm -- picking their apples, picking their peaches, picking their pumpkins, walking through a corn maze. I saw a whole new way of (farming). So, when we came back, I still wanted to do the row crop, but I wanted to do the other also."
In 1999, the Corleys moved into their unfinished house and set goals for their new business venture.
"Our goal of the next year was to plant pumpkins, plant a corn maze," she said. "We realized we
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needed some animals, but we didn't have fencing."
They borrowed animals from local residents, including goats and sheep, for a petting zoo. Then, they sent a brochure to Christian County public and private schools inviting classes to tour their farm.
Their first guests at the inaugural pumpkin patch tour were the third-grade class of Norma Folz, a teacher at Saints Peter and Paul Catholic School, on Sept. 19, 2000.
"You know, Ms. Folz came back every year," Janie said. "We told her every year that was the greatest compliment to us that there ever was. Those students came back as eighth-graders. We have a picture of that third-grade class and that eighth-grade class."
With the school tours, the Corleys received requests from guests to expand.
"We started that year with only having the school groups, but the teachers and the parents that came with the kids said 'this is so fun, can we come back with our families," she said. "A couple years into it, we started adding hours on Saturday."
In 2001, they added animals to the tour, starting with goats. Today, they also have cows, dogs, cats, pigs, a donkey, a miniature horse, sheep, chickens and ducks.
The Corleys knew they could not just depend on fall tourism to be successful. So in Spring 2003, they started educational tours, "Sowing Seeds for Tomorrow's Harvest."
"We wanted them to know where their food comes from," Milt said. "That's really what it boils down to -- what farming is ... it now coincides with ag in the classroom and farm-to-table."
"For us, it had a two-fold meaning," Janie said. "One was planting the seeds of understanding agriculture. The other aspect was planting the seeds of the gospel. I am not a teacher by education. I am not a farmer by trade. But I've had to read and rely a lot on the Lord to give me the words and the creativity to take what he does out here and translate it to something the kids can (understand)."
The Corleys agree that 2012 was a turning point for Christian Way Farm with the addition of a farm-themed miniature golf course.
"We followed what we believed was the Lord leading again," Janie said. "That we know is the turning point for us. We had to set hours that we were open. People don't like to call to see if they can come. We learned that. That's what changed."
Five years later, Hopkinsville was the "point of greatest eclipse" for the Aug. 21, 2017, total solar eclipse. The event brought new guests to Christian Way Farm and new ideas.
"The eclipse brought in new people, but it also brought the drive for us to figure out how we would feed people," Janie said. "In '17 we brought in the (Christian Way) Cafe."
The opening date for Christian Way Farm is slated for March 28.
For 2020, the Corleys plan to offer fan-favorite activities in the spring and summer, like the Easter egg hunt in April, military appreciation in May, camping in June and September, and Harvest Praise on the third week in October.
Special events will include a half-birthday party in late June and Splash Days in July and August.
A Day of Celebration in September will commemorate the 20th birthday of Christian Way Farm. Although celebration plans are still in development, Janie said patrons will benefit all year.
"The 20th of every month is a giveback day. We've created a list on our website of what we are going to give away," she said. "During the months that we are open, if you come shop in our gift shop, it's a 20% discount. That all stems from people love a bargain and people love to win things, and it's our way of saying thank you to a community who's given a lot to us in 20 years."
For more information about events, hours and costs, call 270-269-2434, visit https://christianwayfarm.com/ or https://www.facebook.com/ChristianWayFarm/. To be eligible to win prizes each month, sign up for updates on their website.
Looking to the future
In 2020 and beyond, the Corleys hope to increase visitor traffic at Christian Way Farm in the spring and summer, while continuing the popular fall activities.
"We try to have our farm ready for all of the fall activities that weekend following Labor Day. That will be the day we have our corn maze ready; the hayrides will be available. For the rest of that season ... the farm is available even for our walk-in guests to enjoy the corn maze and the pumpkin patch and all the extras we have in the fall," Janie said.
"If people could see our hearts, we want to see you more than just in October."
The Corleys said they are always listening to their guests and looking to the future for ways to expand and improve the farm.
"The way we've done this all along, we've listened to people," Milt said. "That's what we'll do in the next 20."
"We really listen to the Lord, and we've let him shape a lot of this for us," Janie added.
The Corleys welcome guests from the past and new visitors in the future as they celebrate 20 years in 2020.
"It's kind of a homecoming year," Janie said. "If it's been 20 years since you've stepped foot on the farm, come see how it's changed."
Reach Michele Vowell at 270-887-3242 or email@example.com.
2020 FARM EVENTS
March 28 -- Opening Day
April 11 -- Easter egg hunt
April 18 -- Vintage yard sale
April 20 -- 20% off store purchases
May 2 -- Scavenger hunt
May 16 -- Lunchbox Garden
May 20 -- 20% off store purchases
May 29 -- Campout weekend
June 6 -- Lunchbox Garden
June 19 -- Campout weekend
June 20 -- 20% off store purchases
June 27 -- Half-year birthday party
July 11 -- Splash Day
July 20 -- 20% off store purchases
Aug. 1 -- Splash Day
Aug. 20 -- 20% off store purchases
Sept. 4 -- Campout weekend
Sept. 12 -- Pumpkin patch opening day
Sept. 18-19 -- 20th birthday celebration
Sept. 20 -- 20% off store purchases
Oct. 17 -- Harvest Praise
Oct. 20 -- 20% off store purchases