Twenty years ago, our family uprooted from suburban Philadelphia and moved to Adams County, Ohio. It wasn’t a hasty decision. For several years we read and studied about small farms and country living, explored Ohio during vacation trips, and prepared ourselves for a major lifestyle change. Among our favorite books during those years was the classic “Pleasant Valley” by Louis Bromfield, but it wasn’t until 2014 that we finally visited the subject of this book: Bromfield’s lovely Malabar Farm near Mansfield, Ohio.
Now a state park, Malabar Farm was once an abandoned farm with exhausted soil, not unlike GoodSeed Farm when we first purchased it in 1997. Bromfield made his fortune as a successful fiction writer in the 1920s and ’30s, but he never forgot his rural Ohio roots. By 1940, Bromfield was a famous socialite, winner of a Pulitzer prize and a screenwriter for MGM films. With World War II on the horizon, he moved his family to Mansfield, Ohio, his birthplace, and purchased the four tracts of land that became Malabar Farm.
Bromfield’s farm put the Mansfield area into the national spotlight. A celebrated screenwriter, playwright, bestselling author and columnist for the popular new “Time” magazine, Bromfield was a lavish entertainer, and his guests included famous stars like Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. He expanded the existing farmhouse into a 32-room mansion, styled after classic Western Reserve homes, and installed artwork from his travels around the world.
The book “Pleasant Valley” describes the early years at Malabar in great detail. Bromfield was fascinated by the idea of restoring exhausted soil, and experimented extensively. He was instrumental in popularizing “no-till” farming, contour plowing and the use of forage crops like Ladino clover, along with cow manure, to revitalize farm fields. His celebrity gave him a wide audience for his theories about soil management and farming. You might say he was the ultimate “gentleman farmer.”
Malabar Farm is only a few miles east of I-71 between Columbus and Cleveland, near the village of Lucas. Visitors can tour the rambling farmhouse (where Bogart and Bacall married), a huge post-and-beam barn, and an exhibit devoted to environmentalism, conservation and recycling. There are campgrounds, hiking trails, a cabin where “The Shawshank Redemption” was filmed, fishing ponds, a farm market and a gourmet restaurant specializing in locally grown food.
The farm and surrounding woodlands are especially beautiful, and three one-mile trails offer easy hikes through Pleasant Valley. There’s a bridle trail and a working demonstration farm. We were attracted to the stone terraced garden adjacent to the big house, which was a riot of color.
One word of warning: the nearby village of Lucas is a notorious speed trap, so a trip through its streets could easily cost you a $100 “toll.” We suggest avoiding Lucas, and instead using exit 165 from I-71 and following scenic Route 97. It’s a beautiful drive.
Steve Boehme is a landscape designer/installer specializing in landscape “makeovers.” He can be reached at 937-587-7021 or firstname.lastname@example.org