The story of Kirby Family Farm, a VELA Meet the Moment grantee, starts with saving a train that was to be sold as scrap metal and fuels a desire to help children and their families.
Mr. Kirby found an abandoned locomotive and train in the woods not far from the farm. After some serious negotiations with Mrs. Kirby it was agreed he could attempt to save the old locomotive so long as Mrs. Kirby could build an educational center using it as a centerpiece of the farm.
“I told my husband, ‘You can save the train, but wherever you put it, I get to use it for kids,’” said Kirby Family Farm co-founder Tracy Kirby.
The historic #19 train was built and operated in the late 1800s, and is a remnant of the Industrial Revolution. It sparks intrigue among history buffs and connects generations, Tracy said.
“Ninety-nine-year-olds love trains just as much as nine-year-olds!”
Today, the train is now a part of an extensive collection that Tracy and her husband Daryl have cobbled together to create Kirby Family Farm, which is now Florida’s largest privately owned operational railroad as well as a non-profit organization. Located about 20 miles south of Gainesville, Florida, the Kirby Family Farm’s attractions draw thousands of children each year.
And, true to what Tracy said to her husband, she is helping kids. The Farm also hosts a homeschool co-op, which grew out of Tracy leaving her teaching job years ago, in order to homeschool her own children.
“Homeschool changed our kids’ lives,” explained Tracy. “They got to know themselves better and to explore their interests. Seeing that impact birthed a passion within me to help other students.”
She founded the Kirby Homeschool Co-Op in 2019 to serve local families seeking an alternative learning experience for their children. Kirby Homeschool Co-Op provides tutoring, curriculums, classes, resources, and weekly lesson plans for students. The features of the farm are used to provide a multitude of learning experiences, as students and their families are able to explore the trains, other attractions and apply what they are learning.
“Our Farm has so many options for hands-on learning,” said Tracy. “I feel really blessed to have this opportunity to be able to support so many children’s individual education needs.”
Learn more about Kirby Family Farm at www.kirbyfarm.com.
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