Whomever thought I could find country living only a half hour away from my home in Viera on the Space Coast of Florida? Yes, Viera certainly has that small-town feel with all the amenities of big city life, such as great shopping and restaurants not to mention its close proximity to Orlando and Disney, but it also has an unknown jewel, easy access to natural old-world Florida. Imagine that!
One of those jewels is Romelia Farms Wildlife Preserve, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, on North Merritt Island. The 36-acre petting zoo, farm, and wedding venue (yes, wedding venue) was recently purchased by Jeremy and Lina Graves.
Romelia Farms Wildlife Preserve is actually the culmination of a lifelong dream of Lina’s. She has always wanted to host events at her own personal venue. Both Jeremy and Lina have worked in the corporate world for 20 years. As an HR executive, Lina was accustomed to planning charity events to help people in need, especially during the holidays, and she also did a lot of public speaking engagements at conferences around the country.
Jeremy is extremely supportive of Lina’s dream. Post pandemic, they revisited the idea and thought it would take a year or so to find just the right property. A few days after that conversation, however, the property of Lina’s dreams had just been listed.
The property, right off of North Courtenay Parkway and north of A1A, has a lot of scenic views, lush green grass, a fishing pond, and a barn. The couple knew that it had great promise and potential. The unexpected surprise, however, was that it was also home to more than 150 animals, both domestic and exotic. The owner was planning to auction them off upon the sale of the property, but Lina, an animal lover, could not let that happen.
Before Jeremy and Lina made the final decision to purchase the property, their oldest son, Joshua, 24, decided to volunteer without knowing that his parents were thinking about buying the property. The couple soon found out that their son loved working with animals and had found his true calling. That helped the Graves make their final decision. Joshua is now the full-time caregiver living on the premises, providing 24/7 care to the animals. The Graves’ 18- and 19-year-old daughters and 12-year-old son also help out on the farm.
How did a couple who thrive in the corporate world suddenly become farmers?
With a little (actually a lot of) help from their fantastic team who stayed on under their leadership to care for the animals.
So, what type of animals will you find at the Romelia Farms Wildlife Preserve petting zoo? You will find the typical turkeys, chickens, cows, goats, sheep, horses, mini horses, and make sure to add in some peacocks and macaws. They also have exotic animals, such as the farm’s popular sloth, an anteater, a kangaroo, an albino wallaby, camels, lemurs, porcupines, a Patagonian cavy, and more.
While we have an amazing zoo in Viera, Romelia Farms Wildlife Preserve provides families with a unique and up-close experience of farm life. A suggested donation to visit the petting zoo is $14 per child and $19 per adult.
If you like horseback riding, then you can schedule a 45-minute trail ride for groups up to 5 people.
But wait. There’s more! Romelia Farms Wildlife Preserve is also a fish farm, providing a safe and educational place where kids can learn to fish. The wildlife preserve also hosts farm summer camps. “The kids had a blast learning about animals [this past summer], learning about fishing and farming, things they would not be exposed to in a normal summer camp,” said Lina Graves.
On school holidays, the farm is open for kids whose parents must go to work.
You can also schedule group visits. For example, a group of moms comes to do yoga with their preschoolers before enjoying the petting zoo experience. A homeschool group also regular visits and has lunch in the barn.
Before I forget, let me tell you about the wedding venue side of the farm, “The Watermill at Romelia Farms.” It’s a perfect place for a wedding with a country or farm theme. There is parking onsite and a barn that can seat up to 200 people. “This venue is for people who really love an outdoors country and farm experience,” said Lina Graves. “Couples can have a free roaming experience with the animals during the wedding if they want.”
I guess that’s totally up to the comfort level of the bride and groom!
Before I end this blog, let’s not forget about the farm volunteers who do regular maintenance. You can apply to be a volunteer weekly or at the volunteer days where teamwork gets the bigger projects done. The next such day is November 19.
My visit to Romelia Farms Wildlife Preserve was certainly a great experience for my family and me. I did not know that Florida even had peacocks! We had so much fun that the kids are already begging to go back.
With #GivingTuesday just around the corner, I also know that the Graves family would certainly appreciate help from the community to preserve this farm for generations to come, either by donating supplies, money, or your time.
Romelia Farms Wildlife Preserve is located at 165 Gator Dr. Merritt Island, FL 32953. Call 321.848.2486 or go to http://www.romeliafarms.org.
If you enjoyed our blog post on Romelia Farms you may enjoy the story behind Tangled Rose Boutique which has now grown to a second location in Historic Cocoa Village. Please insert your email below to receive updates on future blog posts.
This blog was ghost written by Wendy Scheuring