Most everything is new at today’s Old McMicky’s Farm.
The original petting zoo that survived while surrounding acreage was grabbed for development, only to succumb to an E. coli scare and a decline in visitors, has been resurrected – by a homebuilder.
Old McMicky’s new owner, however, has not filled the lakefront acreage with houses, but with goats and rabbits for petting, chickens for holding, ponies for riding.
“It’s old-fashioned, traditional fun in a beautiful natural setting,” said Ralph Zuckerman of Palm Harbor. Owner of Avalon Building Corp., Tarpon Springs, Zuckerman bought the land in 2006 from the couple who had operated McMicky’s for 15 years.
Once again, McMicky’s visitors can hold chickens, discover newly laid eggs, watch a cow-milking demonstration, pet rabbits and pigs, and pose for photos with baby goats. Every child gets a pony ride and can travel a barnyard maze that culminates with a slide ride from the second story. There’s also a hayride powered by a 1949 Ford tractor.
Tours led by trained guides and lasting at least two hours offer hands-on experiences and educational information about the animals.
One recent morning, 120 children, ages 5 and 6, from South Tampa’s Roosevelt Elementary School, their teachers and 60 parents arrived for the day’s first tour of the farm rebuilt “in the old Florida traditional style.”
“We’re very excited this has reopened,” said Roosevelt kindergarten teacher, Pam Militello. “I think it’s great, because it’s hands-on, they’re getting to actually experience touching the animals,” she said midway through the tour.
“You can talk for weeks in the classroom, but if they get to do it, that makes it real and authentic,” especially for children living in the city who don’t routinely experience farm animals, she said.
Kathy Porupski is among eight former McMicky’s employees who have returned to jobs lost in 2006. “It’s all coming back to us,” joked the Odessa resident who is manager of the farm that reopened May 4. “We’ve got people who worked here for six to 10 years back with us,” she said.
For the past seven years, the property went unused. “I’m a homebuilder; I bought it to build homes,” Zuckerman said of the land overlooking 40-acre Lake Crescent. “Then I realized this is just a special place.”
The farm is on former Camp Keystone acreage. Founded in 1946, it was a popular summer camp. “For six decades, people have been coming out here, having fun and creating a lot of great memories,” Zuckerman said. “I decided I wanted to re-create the tradition for the Tampa Bay area.”
“A real important part of the farm,” Zuckerman said, is his 1,000 Kids program,
which opens the farm to children with health problems or other disabilities. “Bring them out for great day on the farm, on us, no charge,” he said. “They and their families can take a break from whatever they’re going through and create some fun times and great memories.”
Mission accomplished, said visitor Ben Freda. “This is super,” said the Valrico resident touring the farm with his 6-year-old grandson, Anthony. “The kids, they’ll be talking about this all weekend.”