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Monday, September 22, 2014

Sunrock Farm Founder Passes Away but Legacy Lives On

“What’s the name of this farm?”  asks the white  haired farmer in bib overalls to the barn full of school children.  Sunrock Farm, they reply in unison to which the farmer playfully says, “I can’t heeeear you.”  “Sunrock Farm,” the children now joyfully shout and their fun day on the farm begins!

Over the years, thousands of children have been simultaneously entertained, educated and enlightened by Farmer Frank and his staff of farmers at Sunrock Farm.

Farmer Frank, 71, past away recently leaving behind a legacy of education and passion. Sunrock Farm representatives reflect on the founder of the farm that is in Northern Kentucky's backyard.

Frank Traina

Frank Traina (aka “Farmer Frank”) established Sunrock Farm in 1982 to provide an enriching outdoor experience for people in the Greater Cincinnati area.  Although it is a working farm with livestock and crops, its primary function is education.  As Farmer Frank used to say “we raise consciousness."  

To that end, Sunrock’s mission is to provide children and other visitors with a rich and varied experience emphasizing the senses with the realization that we are deeply connected to the natural world.

This is accomplished through several hands-on activities such as milking goats, grooming horses, gathering eggs, feeding kids and lambs, etc.  In this way, children learn about the earth, its inhabitants, the farm to food connection and our place in and responsibility to the environment.  

Sunrock Farm programs serve people ranging from pre-schoolers to senior citizens; college students to those with special needs.

So what motivated a highly educated New York City native to create and run an educational farm in Northern Kentucky? Born in Brooklyn in 1943, Traina joined a Franciscan seminary at the age of 18, left six years later with a masters degree in Sociology, then earned his PhD at Cornell.  His first post-doctorate position was with the University of Florida, then later he accepted a teaching position at Northern Kentucky University. It was during his time at NKU, in 1978, that he bought the 33 acres of Northern Kentucky clay and rock that eventually evolved into present day Sunrock Farm.

The original farm plot, house and barn were built in 1848 by German settlers Ignatio and Mary Ruschman.  Several decades and many owners later, by the time Traina bought it, it had become a wasteland of overgrown fields strewn with junk and broken glass.

He reminisced how his first walk through the property was accomplished by walking, crawling, and cutting down overgrowth with a machete.

Eventually, however, with a lot of hard work and help from his wife Debbie, many friends, and other like-minded people, Traina eventually restored the farm to its former glory and then some.

After several more land acquisitions over the years, it now boasts 113 acres, several barns and out-buildings, gardens, herds of goats and sheep, pigs, horses, donkeys, chickens, turkeys, ducks, alpacas and even an emu.

Sunrock Farm plays host to approximately 25,000 people per year.

The most amazing part of the story, however, is that Traina didn’t do all of this for himself and his wife, or for the money. He often joked that the farm was not a non-profit organization; rather it was a NO profit organization. 

Instead, he did it for love of the natural world and a burning desire to teach others and provide them with a connection to it. This was his life’s vocation and 800,000 visitors later it’s clear to see that he succeeded in fulfilling it. 

Frank died peacefully at the farm on Tuesday, September 16. 

Tax-deductible donations can be made to the Farmer Frank Traina Memorial care of the Friends of Sunrock Farm, 103 Gibson Lane Wilder, KY  41076.  Donations to this fund can also be made via credit card by calling 859-781-5502 or by deposit at any Bank of Kentucky location. 

Story courtesy Sunrock Farms representative, Carol Pitzer

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