The Biggest Little Farm in Berkeley
By Shelly Rivoli

Since its opening in 1955, “The Little Farm” at Tilden Park has provided generations of Bay Area families the opportunity to visit livestock, large and small, on a working farm.

The Little Farm was originally sponsored by the Berkeley Kiwanis Club and constructed by students in vocational carpentry classes at Berkeley High School. It was established at what was once the site of a CCC camp created in 1935, and the old round barn you will see in use today (near the rabbit hutch) was originally a water tank used by the residential bunk houses.

FARM  UPGRADES

The farm has undergone various improvements and modifications, including the more recent addition of the “pig palace.” The farm has been home to myriad cattle, sheep, pigs, goats, rabbits, chickens, geese, and even turkeys.
One of its most celebrated residents was a donkey named Mary Ann who became the dear friend of world-famous theorist Eric Jantsch, when he came to UC Berkeley. Jantsch reportedly fed her chocolates and took her for walks to the nearby Jewel Lake; he eventually immortalized the beloved burro in his self-published book For Love of MaryAnn.

But before you load your pockets with bon-bons, be advised that nowadays visitors are asked to bring only lettuce and celery to feed to the animals—and they are quite happy to see it. Don’t be surprised if a small army of goats come flocking to your own kids when they present their greens (and do keep your camera handy).

PLANNING YOUR VISIT

The Little Farm is open daily and is free to the public. Your best chance of seeing the animals is between 8:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., with most of the lambs and piglets appearing in spring and early summer. For more information, call (510) 525-2233 or visit www.ebparks.org .

GETTING THERE

Located in the part of Tilden Park called the “Tilden Nature Area,” the Little Farm is served by AC Transit bus #67 (from the Berkeley BART station) which stops at end of the parking lot closest to the farm. The most simple route by car requires a steep climb up Marin Street from Berkeley’s circle to Grizzly Peak Road. Turn left on Grizzly Peak, then right on Canon Drive (visible on map), and left at Central Park Drive. Parking begins at the Indian Camp picnicking area. A map of this area is available at: http://www.ebparks.org/parks/tna.htm #Map

WHILE YOU’RE THERE

Consider visiting these other great sites in Tilden Park, each just a short walk or drive from the Little Farm (follow the park signs):

The Environmental Education Center (also labeled as “Visitor Center”) – This building is located right beside the Little Farm and provides more than just the restrooms you may seek during this excursion. Inside, you will find “The Story of the Wildcat Creek Watershed,” which begins with mist pouring over a rocky wall and includes several interesting exhibits. Don’t miss your chance to stick your head into the wood rat nest! The EEC is open Tuesdays through Sundays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.
Merry-Go-Round – This antique beauty features hand-carved wooden carousel animals that parade to the tunes of a calliope. Open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends throughout the year, weather permitting. Open daily from June 20 through Labor Day. $1 per ride. More information at (510) 524-6773.

The Little Train – This scaled-down steam train chugs its way through redwoods along a scenic ridge. Open weekends (weather permitting) 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Also open weekdays June 20 through Labor Day, from noon to 5 p.m. $1.50 per ride, or purchase a 5-ride family ticket for $6. Children under 2 are free. More information at (510) 548-6100.

The Botanic Garden – This garden boasts the world’s most complete collection of California native plants. Open daily, year-round, from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Entrance is free to the public. For more information call (510) 841-8732 or visit http://www.nativeplants.org/ .

Lake Anza – This small lake is encircled by a nice (albeit rugged in places) walking trail and provides quiet nooks for baiting hooks and fishing at leisure. During the summer season, you can pay a small fee to enjoy its sandy beach and swimming area, complete with life guards, changing rooms, and a refreshment stand. 

Picnicking Sites – This section of Tilden Park features many picnicking areas, some with play equipment, like Indian Camp that shares the Little Farm’s parking lot, and others with large grassy lawns that beg for a game of Frisbee.
Hiking Trails – Several trails may be accessed from this area, from simple loops to day-long hikes. For a map with local trails, visit http://www.ebparks.org/resources/pdf/trails/tna_lower.pdf

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NOTEWORTHY WEBSITES:
Tilden Park and local East Bay Parks – www.ebparks.org
Botanic Garden – www.nativeplants.org
Hiking trails – www.ebparks.org/resources/pdf/trails/tna_lower.pdf

Shelly Rivoli is a freelance writer based in the East Bay. Her first novel, I was a Vacuum Cleaner Salesman, was published in 2003. She is currently at work on a book about traveling with infants and small children. Her zealous research of the topic has led to family adventures from Bangkok to the Big Apple. 

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