My granddaughters, who live out-of-state, stayed with me for a month this summer. I was always trying to discover a few new places and things that would interest them, plus add some fun to their bi-annual visit here. We did a lot in the city and at the shore, and I thought we exhausted all the local sites and events until I discovered… Lucky Penny Farm On Wawa Hill.
Whenever I’d want my family to “get a little country,” we’d head to Lancaster or South Jersey or the farm country of Delaware or Maryland. Locally, a quick trip to Linvilla Orchards, Arasapha Farm or a few other “agri-tainment” venues would do the trick. So I was delighted to know there’s another little escape to greenery sitting right here in the midst of Delco!
Lucky Penny Farm is located in Chester Heights, literally five or ten minutes, tops, outside of Media. It is home to a small herd of alpacas, plus a host of friendly chickens, turkeys and ducks, seven peacocks, two New Zealand Kunekune pigs named “Squirrel” and “Snoopy,” one pot belly pig named “Scrapple,” rabbits, five dogs, four emus named “Breakfast,” “Lunch,” “Dinner” and “Kevin,” Guinea hens and even two large tortoises, who happen to be brothers, named “Sponge Bob” and “Patrick.” The owner hopes to soon acquire some goats and maybe a mini cow, if she can rescue ones who would be good fits for the farm.
When I went looking for the place, it was a little difficult to find because there’s no visible signage and Hurricane Hollow in the Wawa section of Chester Heights is pretty overgrown on the roadside. Visits, by both individuals and groups, are by appointment. Families, scout troops, senior citizens, school groups, preschools, community organizations, and basically everyone, can go and enjoy learning about the animals and some local history.
Mary Stanley, formerly of Wallingford, purchased the beautiful historic estate at an auction seven years ago. On the day of the auction, Mary was at the bank putting money into escrow for the sale, while her twin girls Catie and Betsy, who are now 13, played near a coin exchange machine. They skipped over to Mary, showing her a penny they found there, which later turned out to be a rare 1936 Flying Eagle penny. They brought the penny with them to the auction and after acquiring the property, they appropriately named it, “Lucky Penny Farm.”
The 16 acre farm has a lot of historic significance, with former names of “Happy Farm” and “Felicity Farm” (when owned by the Robbins family after the Woods sold). It is the childhood home of Dick Wood, who joined Wawa in 1970 as general counsel and later took the helm in 1981, replacing Grahame Wood, his second cousin and founder of Wawa convenience-store chain. The former resident of Lucky Penny and chairman of the Wawa Board visits the farm once or twice a year and shares “some interesting tidbits about the farm’s history,” Mary said. In fact, many in the extended Wood family still make their home in the immediate area.
Knowing its history, Mary said, “The home speaks to the wealth of the family who built it. She likes to keep the same personal touch, but with a different twist.”
Mary is no stranger to farm life. She grew up in Chester County on a “gentleman’s farm.” She seemed perfectly at ease as she showed us around, as if she has been doing this all her life because she pretty much has been.
All of her animals are “rescues,” she explained, even all but one of her dogs. I was surprised to learn that Mary is allergic to many animals, so she only accepts furry residents who are hypoallergenic. This also helps visitors prone to allergies, she pointed out. I was amazed at how many animals fit that hypoallergenic bill!
As soon as we reached the gated yard, where the majority of the animals are kept, the very friendly emus were first to strut over to the fence. When they see Mary, the hand that feeds and pets them, they all run with excitement. Mary said she is trying to get her Emus to lay eggs. She told me one emu egg will feed a family of four and a male emu will sit on the egg laid by the female for 58 days, not eating or doing anything except keeping the egg warm and guarding it. As we strolled the farm with Mary, we learned many interesting animal facts like this, as we observed each farm resident up-close, within hand’s reach. She enjoys the emus, she said, because they are low-maintenance, use a communal toilet and are easy to care for.
She always has new “delights” at the farm. Recently her bunnies multiplied and a few purple chickens were born a few weeks ago. She and the girls never name the turkeys, chickens, and rabbits since most of them end up as food on the table. Some of the rabbits she is raising are Flemish Giants and they grow as huge as 22-25 pounds each. She gives away the eggs from her chickens to family, friends and neighbors.
Many of the animals on the farm have a distinct purpose. The roaming cats, which are always immunized against rabies, and emus keep the rodent and bug population down, the ducks eat mosquito larvae and the Guinea hens deter the Japanese Beetles, stinkbugs and ticks from overpopulating. Mary researches every animal before taking them in as residents.
Mary said many of the farm animals she has rescued have a sad history. For instance Chucho, one of the alpacas, was forced to be in parades and “wasn’t treated very well,” she said. He was skittish when Mary first adopted him, but now he is much better with people. As an avid knitter, her interest in alpacas was sparked after looking into specialized yarn. Feeling somewhat apologetic for being a 100% city girl, I asked her what’s the difference between alpacas and llamas. She told alpacas are smaller, plus their fleece is much softer and the position of their ears is different.
Most of her animal rescues come through local channels like Greenmore Farm Animal Rescue in Chester County or the Providence Animal Center in Upper Providence. She feels good, she said, that she’s able to supply them with a “forever home.”
The Stanleys ask for a $5 donation from visitors, which helps defray the cost of feeding and housing all the rescues. All animals are fed once a day with the exception of the pigs who are fed twice daily. She often works out bartering deals with scouts and other community groups who will do a job or two in exchange for their visitation and farm experience. When I asked her how the heck she keeps up with all the vet care for so many animals (they all look very healthy and groomed), she surprised me by telling me that she is a trained medical doctor. Although humans are different than animals, medical training would definitely be a plus in her new line of work.
I also asked how she can protect so many free-roaming animals from natural predators. She said there’s an electric fence that keeps out predators like foxes and raccoons. She said eagles are also now a problem predator. The entire property is guarded by two Komondor sheep dogs that she rescued after they were abandoned in Arkansas. The dogs are especially good at safeguarding her alpacas.
As she told me about the raised vegetable beds she hopes to have installed and growing produce by next summer (“Do you know how many children have never tasted fresh vegetables, right off the vines?” she asks me rhetorically), I told her I was in awe how she operates this whole farm with just the help of her two young daughters. She quickly corrected me, telling me her farmhand, Mollie Diskin does the bulk of the farm work, and is helped periodically by Mollie’s boyfriend Zach Perry.
In addition to a visiting farm, Lucky Penny is a rentable venue for private parties, weddings, showers, corporate events, family picnics and any other occasion for up to about 150 people. Asked for a renter’s fee estimate, Mary said a two hour party costs about $250 and a three hour party is $350. Alcohol is allowed with insurance coverage. She stressed that deals can be worked out to tailor each situation.
Mary especially loves to host children’s birthday parties because the children are always so delighted to run around the spacious farm and enjoy the animals. The only rules are not to go near the pond because there are snapping turtles and not to go near the woods during hunting season. For the kids, Lucky Penny will supply tours, an age-appropriate craft and treats to feed the animals. She also will give the kids little bags to collect unique treasures from around the farm. Her own daughters’ friends never tire of visits to the farm. She smiled as she said, “They are always calling up asking, ‘Can we come over to help you on the farm?’”
This is the third summer that she is renting out the venue. Renters can order their own heated or unheated tent, moonbounce, caterer, band and any other amenities from any vendor of their choice. Lucky Penny will supply tables and chairs and has an attractive “outdoor kitchen.” Details are worked out on a case by case basis. Mary said she is easy to work with because there’s no corporate red tape to deal with so people can just discuss their event directly with her. She pointed out the white wedding bells and décor that hung in the barn from a recent wedding on the grounds.
Mary appeared to love her farm, and especially enjoys sharing it with visitors. In addition to enjoying owning and working on her farm, Mary shared, “I especially appreciate that I can make my own hours and spend all the time I want with my girls here.” In November, the Stanleys will host a “Farm Day,” with free admission to the farm. The event will include vendors, music by the Rockdale School of Music, food trucks and more. People can find out more information about Farm Day or about holding their own event or party at Lucky Penny or setting up a personal visit to the farm, by calling 610-955-3595 or by “liking” the Lucky Penny Alpacas Facebook page.
Even in the mind-boggling heat of last week, our visit to Delco’s newest farm attraction was both educational and something different to do so we thoroughly enjoyed it. My granddaughters petted rabbits, emus and alpacas. I glanced over at one point and one of my granddaughters looked like she was an emu-whisperer, talking gibberish to an emu who seemed to be enraptured by what she was saying.
About five days after our visit to Lucky Penny, this same granddaughter said, “When we go home, I’m going to ask mom if I can rescue rabbits and some other animals that need forever homes.” I laughed to myself, thinking my daughter was going to absolutely kill me for giving them such an unforgettable and fun farm experience.