KENT, Ohio — Rootstown Reindeer Farm started with a dream. Literally.
One night, about five years ago, Kellie Gregg fell asleep and had a dream she remembers vividly to this day. She was on a farm. She and her husband, Mike, got into a blue truck, waved goodbye to their son and drove to Wisconsin to pick up two reindeer calves.
At the time, the Greggs didn’t have a farm or a blue truck. They were living in North Ridgeville, Ohio, finally back in their home state after living in Houston and Chicago for work over the years. Kellie wasn’t even sure if it was possible to have reindeer in the lower 48 states. But for some reason, the dream stuck with her.
When she told Mike about the dream, “I thought she had fallen asleep to too many Hallmark movies,” Mike said. A farm wasn’t in his retirement plans. Then again, he said, he didn’t really have a specific plan, and the idea started to grow on him, too.
In late 2019, they bought the farm, in Kent, Ohio. They got to work, adding a pole barn, turning a car port into a picnic shelter, and more. And then, in June 2021, they drove to Wisconsin, in a blue truck, to pick up two reindeer from a farm called Reindeer Games.
“If you believe in kind of that divine intervention thing … this farm is for you,” Kellie said. “It was a huge leap of faith, but when you know something’s right, you know it’s right.”
On a cloudy December Thursday, Kellie Gregg walked outside in a red hat, red coat, and red, black and white scarf. Christmas music played from speakers by a pole barn, with a patio decked out in Christmas trees and other decorations. She doesn’t always wear Christmas colors, she said, but that’s her outfit for “reindeer fun facts Thursday,” one of the virtual events she started at the farm this year.
They were hoping to open the farm for tours this Christmas season, but because of some delays with construction and other work that needs to be done, they had to postpone.
In the meantime, Kellie has started doing virtual events, which she plans to continue even after the farm opens in person — reindeer fun facts on Thursdays, cookie baking on Fridays and story time on Wednesdays.
Once the farm does open, the farm tours will include hot chocolate and Christmas cookies, spots for taking pictures, a Christmas-themed shop with items from mostly local vendors and, of course, visiting the reindeer. The tours will be small, typically just one family or small group at a time, so that families can take their time and enjoy the farm.
“I think people just really want a moment of peace and happiness and simplicity, just to sink in and enjoy some of the simpler things. That’s what this is all about,” Kellie said.
After what Kellie calls “the Hallmark fever dream,” she started researching reindeer. She found that not only did other people have reindeer in the lower 48 states, there were also two organizations for reindeer farmers — the Reindeer Owners and Breeders Association and Reindeer Farmers Association. The Greggs are now part of both.
The reindeer, Oscar and Ollie, are a first for the Greggs. They’ve had pets before, like dogs, cats, birds and rabbits. But reindeer are the first livestock they’ve owned.
“I was a little afraid that we were in over our heads … but we got plenty of support,” Mike said.
It’s a lot to learn. Reindeer are considered exotic animals, and they come with specific regulations and care requirements. For example, they can’t be in contact with white tail deer because of disease risks, so fences have to be secure and tall enough to keep wild deer out. Finding a veterinarian that could work with reindeer was also a challenge.
The Greggs have relied on the two reindeer farm associations, the farm they got the reindeer from and other farmers to guide them. It’s been a challenge, Kellie said, but she loves it.
“I feel like I’m finally home,” she said.
The farm, and the story of how it came to be, exemplifies Kellie’s favorite thing about Christmas.
“It’s the idea that anything can happen. That the most wonderful things can appear,” Kellie said. “I mean, this is my life now. What was once an abstract idea is a reality … I think that’s the most magical thing of all, and I think that magic exists more than ever now, at Christmas time.”
Since the farm isn’t able to open for tours yet, the Greggs are selling ornaments this Christmas to help support the farm. They had customers pick up orders at the picnic shelter they made with a carport, where Christmas decorations and a table the Greggs have affectionately named “Gladys” sit.
They’re also planning a virtual event for Christmas Eve. For some of their events, Kellie and Mike dress as “Memaw and Pawpaw Claus.” On Christmas Eve, Kellie will do a live reading of “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” as Memaw Claus, at 7 p.m.
Down the road, they’re hoping to add more reindeer to the farm and take Ollie and Oscar to other events, like Christmas parades and parties, once they get the proper U.S. Department of Agriculture licensing to do that. They’ve trained the reindeer to walk on leads, and are teaching them to do a few tricks, like bowing.
While the farm is named after the reindeer, it’s not just about Christmas. The Greggs plan to have it open for tours six months out of the year, starting in fall of 2022, with more of a Halloween theme — Kellie likes to give Halloween equal time to Christmas.
Other plans for the farm include an herb and flower garden, a duck house and a bunny house. They plan to sell duck eggs and cut flowers, in addition to the Christmas ornaments.
At the bunny house, they will introduce families to the rabbits they’ve adopted as rescues. They also want to offer classes to teach people who are interested in pet rabbits more about the type of care and commitment that rabbits require. They are planning to add hoophouses eventually, to extend their growing season for flowers and herbs.
“We just want people to have a leisurely time here … nothing hectic, you know, come in, grab a hot chocolate, sit at Gladys over there while the fire’s going,” Mike said.
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