"ADAM! Don't bother THAT pig!" For perhaps the third time in five stops, the squat child paid no attention to the guide's instructions was being lectured again about which farm animals he was supposed to be petting. Neither Adam nor his parents seemed to pay attention, and before this tour of Green Meadows Children's Farm was over, "ADAM!" would ring out again.
He also got away with picking up one of the bunnies while the guide was busy with the other 20 or so children.
But that's to be expected at a petting zoo. Some of the younger children started to bawl when the geese honked too loudly or when the piglets kept running away before they could be stroked. Other kids touched just one or two of the penned animals, then called it quits for the rest of the two-hour tour.
And I saw one toddler, whose father was more interested in catching the crowd scenes on his video camera, fall down four times as he tripped over roots of the big trees that create a welcome shade.
The big shadows around here, of course, are cast by The Mouse, The Killer Whale and now the Great White. Orlando's World o' Worlds is just about 10 miles to the north, which emphasizes that Green Meadows is a pleasant anachronism.
Children from the big city, used to animal life only as it is portrayed on television or at the major theme parks, are introduced to real farm critters. The guides, who chaperone these hands-on meetings, give a brief spiel as the children and their parents arrive at the various animal pens.
Then the kids get to lay hands on goats, sheep, geese, piglets, puppies, a burro, a draft horse, a cow and, if they are fast enough, fast-waddling and low-flying ducks.
There's a brief pony ride and a mock hayride _ the wagon is pulled sometimes by horses, sometimes by a tractor.
All of this for $8 _ and through the end of October, everybody gets to pick out a freepumpkin. Adding a brilliant orange swath to the grassy area next to some picnic tables, hundreds of pumpkins have been shipped down from the Green Meadows unit in Waterford, Wis. The Keyes Family owns eight of these petting farms, introducing barnyard life to young urbanites even in Queens, N.Y. and Los Angeles.
Not that the Kissimmee branch is all haystacks and corn rows. Actually, it has no crops. But after the fast-food, fast-souvenir, fast-motel strip of U.S. 192 you drive, followed by the new apartment house and trailer park developments on Poinciana Boulevard leading to the farm, this place seems as big as all outdoors.
The grounds are spacious; there is a short stroll between the various animal pens. These areas are relatively large and clean; the guide even sweeps up the dung before allowing children into the pens. And she warns the kids not to walk behind Sweet Lips, the cow everyone can try milking: "Sea World isn't the only place with a splash area," she says.
That sort of gentle humor is typical here. Each brief lecture on the various animals is light-hearted. But there are careful warnings about how to approach or pick up the different species, how to hold the fluttery chicks and ducklings offered to each child.
There are also warnings when not to get too close to the pens, a warning the recalcitrant Adam ignored as he tried to poke the sow vigorously protecting her piglets.
AT A GLANCE
To get to Green Meadows Children's Farm, take Interstate 4 east to exit 25A (U.S. 192), and head south for three miles. At the Poinciana Boulevard traffic light, turn right and drive about five miles. Signs on the right side of the road point the way to the farm, which is on the right. The farm is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $8 for everyone over 2 with discounts for groups of 20 or more. Visitors are welcome to bring food; there are picnic tables and soda machines but no restaurant. Most of the paths on the tour are sand or pine needles; wheelchair-users likely will find it difficult going. Call (407) 846-0770.