The Early Birds Get the Birds

Ben Leffew, Preserve Manager & Laura Baird, Assistant Preserve Manager

In 2009 Shaker Village got out of the industrial farming business and focused more on wildlife habitat and passive recreation via the trail system. We began converting fields once used and abused by overgrazing and mismanagement to native grasses and wildflowers with technical and financial support through private land programs with Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) and the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS). This was the unofficial beginning of what we now call The Preserve at Shaker Village and we are constantly working to improve the habitat for the wild things that call this area home.

Preserve Manager Ben Leffew in The Preserve at Shaker Village.

Harmful or Helpful?

You might be thinking; how do we know if what we’ve done to the landscape is hurting or helping wildlife?  

We use population surveys for birds, small mammals and insects – essentially anything we can count in a scientific manner or anything that has an established protocol. The bulk of our wildlife monitoring centers around birds. They act as indicators of habitat quality because if they don’t like what you’ve done with the place, they’ll fly somewhere else to find a suitable habitat. Unfortunately, suitable habitats are becoming harder to find as habitat loss is the main driver for most declines in wildlife populations, birds being no exception. According to avian biologists, grassland birds are in steep decline due to grasslands also being prime farmland and building construction sites.

Bird Banding Station

One of the coolest things we get to do as part of managing The Preserve is working with our partners at KDFWR at a Bird Banding Station established on the south side of the property. The station was built in 2009 to evaluate how our land management activities affect songbirds.

Before any habitat work took place, this area was a typical “old field” habitat – abandoned pastureland with mostly nonnative cool season grasses (Kentucky bluegrass and tall fescue), plus some volunteer trees and wildflowers that had moved in on their own hedge apple aka osage orange). While many of the surrounding fields were converted to native grasses and wildflowers starting in 2009, the banding station’s field was left alone until 2012 to gather baseline data about how birds use typical old fields. This allowed for a more scientific approach so we could compare bird population dynamics before and after a field conversion. It was also important for future management decisions since we did not have the luxury of gathering baseline data before the conversions began.

Bird Banding Station at Shaker Village.

Bird banding occurs during breeding and migration seasons from May through October following protocols set forth by the Institute for Bird Populations and under the supervision of permitted avian biologists. This limits the number of people at a banding station and makes it off limits to the public. Ten mist nets are opened at sunrise and checked every 40-60 minutes for four hours. Birds are identified, weighed, measured, aged and sexed when possible. During the nesting season, the breeding condition of birds is checked. During migration, the fat deposits on the birds, which are vital sources of energy, are checked as well. Birds are fitted with simple aluminum leg bands which identify them with a unique code. The bands are secure and long lasting but loose, comfortable and lightweight so they don’t impede natural behavior.

A bird being measured at the Bird Banding Station.

13 Years of Findings

So, what have we learned from 13 years of banding birds at Shaker Village? We’ve captured 108 different species of birds, 18 of which are considered Species of Greatest Conservation Need in Kentucky. Migration capture rates have been consistently higher since the area was converted from cool season to warm season grasses, indicating that the landscape has become more attractive to migrating songbirds and provides them better nutrition.

Look closely and you can see the band on the bird’s leg.

Recaptures provide the most interesting data. In 2020, we recaptured an indigo bunting and a field sparrow, both of which were originally banded in 2015 and were at least seven years old at the time of their recapture. Individual Tennessee warblers have been caught repeatedly during the same migration season, indicating that Shaker Village serves as a stop-over site for migrating birds to stay for a while and fatten up before continuing their journey south.

We hope to continue our research efforts with KDFWR as long as possible. Learning more about how songbirds use The Preserve allows us to make data driven decisions supporting habitat improvement. 

Spring Harvest at The Trustees’ Table

Executive Chef Dylan Morris

As we roll into growing season here at Shaker Village, I’m looking forward to the early crops coming into The Trustees’ Table from our onsite garden. Our amazing Farm Team works for hours on end to make sure we have the best harvest, and nothing excites me more as a chef than knowing our produce is grown close to the restaurant. In our case, the Shaker Village garden is literally located steps away from the restaurant. The garden is certified organic and the plants are grown directly in the ground. I believe there’s a deeper flavor in all vegetables when they’re grown in soil verses water as some producers have moved to hydroponic growing techniques.

Chef Dylan works closely with the Farm Team to plan out seasonal menus utilizing the Shaker Garden for the restaurant’s produce needs.

A couple of things stand out in the early stages of the season, the biggest probably being the salad greens. With this harvest of greens that has started flowing into the restaurant you’ll be seeing more and more seasonal salads like the spring Blueberry Salad we have on the menu now. This salad is composed of mixed greens, fresh blueberries, local goat cheese, roasted walnuts and our house-made white wine vinaigrette. When I was writing this menu item I really wanted to bring a fresh, and bright salad to the table for spring. With the brightness of the blueberries and vinaigrette, I believe we did just that, not to mention the many health benefits of blueberries.

The Blueberry Salad is available for both lunch and dinner at The Trustees’ Table.

As we continue to receive produce from the garden this year you’ll see more dishes focused on the use of our vegetables, taking seed-to-table dining to a new level. I hope you’ll pull up a chair at The Trustees’ Table soon.

Make a reservation to dine for breakfast, lunch or dinner here.

Taking to the Trails

Laura Baird, Assistant Preserve Manager

We’re on a constant mission to improve our trail system to make it safer for our trail users, our wildlife, and the land itself. Help us achieve our goals by following some basic trail etiquette on your next trek through our 36-mile trail system.

Trails are hardened with gravel in many parts of the Preserve to provide a safer tread for guests and reduce soil erosion.


  • Call ahead. To protect our trails and our trail users, there will be days when all or part of the trail system is closed. Even when the trails are open, there may be times when parts of the trail are inaccessible due to high water.
  • When you arrive for your hike, pick up a trail map from the Welcome Center. Read trail descriptions carefully and make a plan on which trail(s) you’ll be visiting.
  • Did you bring a dog? We love dogs! But we can only allow them on River Road Trail, Palisades Trail, inside the Historic Village grounds and along paved roads. For the safety of our horseback riders and our wildlife, dogs are not allowed anywhere else on the property. Even when you are in a dog-safe area, dogs must stay on leash at all times.
  • Many of our trails require creek crossings, so prepare to get wet! Avoid low-lying trails during periods of wet weather and carefully watch your children when the creeks are high or surging.
  • Enter the trail system from any of our three trailheads, and check the sign here before you start your journey. There may be announcements posted at trailhead kiosks.
  • Snap a photo of the map, as you may lose your trail map during your visit. Drop a pin! This is useful anytime you park your car- open up Google Maps or Apple Maps on your smart phone and long-press (click and hold for a moment) on your location on the map. Your coordinates will be saved. If you have trouble navigating back to your car, your phone can now help steer you back the right direction.
  • Wear sturdy shoes and bring water, even on a short hike.
Flowers feed wildlife and produce seed for next year’s wildflower display- never pick wildflowers.


  • Pay attention to your surroundings. This is important for your immediate safety, will lower your chances of getting lost, and will help you retrace your steps in the unlikely event that you do get lost.
  • Stay on marked trails. Many areas of the Preserve are inhabited by sensitive plants and animals and every footstep could be damaging.
  • Practice Leave No Trace principles – pick up your trash and take nothing but photographs. This means no picking flowers, collecting bones, moving rocks, etc.
  • Don’t disturb wildlife. This is their home – you’re only visiting! Keep your distance and keep the noise low to ensure a great wildlife-watching experience.
  • Hikers yield to horses, meaning you should step to the side and allow horseback riders to pass when you meet on the trail.
  • Cyclists yield to both hikers and horseback riders. If you happen to be on two wheels during your visit, come to a complete stop and step aside to let other trail users pass.
  • Hikers, horseback riders and cyclists should all be in single-file, not side-by-side, especially when on a narrow, forested trail. This limits damage, makes it easier to stay on trail and allow other users to safely pass if necessary.
  • Don’t sneak up on other trail users- say hello! This is especially important if you find yourself behind a horse on the trail, as horses can startle unexpectedly. Announce yourself calmly and never approach a horse without its rider’s permission.
Stay on trail! Cope’s gray tree frogs are only a couple inches long and could be resting in the grass nearby.


  • Check yourself. Ticks are active year-round in our area.
  • Let us know what you’ve seen on your visit to the Preserve. Tag #shakervillageky in your social media posts.

We’d love for you to join us on our upcoming Walking in Wildflowers trek along the Kentucky River Palisades to view spring ephemeral wildflowers in bloom. And, you can help us keep the Preserve looking pristine by volunteering for Stewardship Saturdays. See you on the trails!

Community Supported Agriculture at Shaker Village

Kitty Durham, Garden Supervisor

Spring has officially sprung! Sunday, March 20th marked the Vernal Equinox, the first day of astronomical Spring in the Northern Hemisphere. There is an equal amount of daytime and nighttime hours now, and we will continue to gain a bit more daylight every day until the Summer Solstice. We may still see some cold temperatures, as our official last frost date is still a few weeks away, but the farm is waking up from its winter hibernation and preparing to launch another year of Community Supported Agriculture shares

While not as adorable as the baby lambs that are being born daily at our farm, we have a plethora of baby plants to care for as well! We begin planting our seedlings in the greenhouse in February to ensure we have sturdy healthy plants ready to go into the ground by April. This year we have around 9,000 seedlings started in our greenhouse. These include our cool season spring starts such as brassicas, and some slow growing summer favorites like peppers and tomatoes. We also have flowers for our upcoming Chamber Music Festival, and hanging baskets filled with edibles which we will soon be offering to our guests. Even the plants that were directly sown into the garden are starting to sprout as we head into another productive season. 

Garden Supervisor Kitty Durham looks after nearly 9,000 seedlings in the greenhouse.

Last year we began offering Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) pickups. A CSA model allows consumers to purchase a “share” of the upcoming year’s crops. A lump sum payment at the beginning of the season will entitle a customer to a weekly portion of the garden harvest. With small farms on the brink of extinction in the shadow of huge industrial scale farms, and consumers becoming more aware of how unhealthy some agricultural practices can be the CSA model offers a return to wholeness, health and economic viability. 

A History of Sharing

CSAs first began to sprout up across the globe as early as the 1960s. In Alabama regenerative agriculture pioneer Dr. Booker T. Whatley popularized the concept of “Clientele Membership Clubs” for small farmers which entailed customers paying up front for a season of food as a way of guaranteeing business. Not only did Dr. Whatley advocate for environmentally sound agriculture and economic equality but he was also pivotal in championing African American Farmers following the civil rights movement. 

CSAs offer benefits to the consumer and the farmer in a multitude of ways:

  • They encourage consumers to eat seasonally.
  • Eating locally grown produce reduces carbon emissions resulting from importing foods from other regions.
  • Customers gain agency in choosing their food and how it is produced. 
  • Consumers get the option to support farmers who use methods they embrace for both the environment and the health of the harvest they bring home.
  • They foster a relationship with the grower and transparency into the processes used on the farm allowing consumers to see exactly how and where their food is grown. 
  • Investing in a local farm supports the local economy keeping revenue within your hometown.
  • By removing brokers involved in distribution the farmer is able to be fairly compensated. The payment schedule provides a portion of the farm’s operating budget pre-harvest when funds are needed most for seeds and equipment. 
A variety of vegetables freshly picked from the Shaker garden ready to be placed in a CSA share box.

In 2001, George Pilley of the Soil Association did a feasibility study that concluded that CSAs have many benefits for both farmers and consumers. He said, “Consumers have access to fresh food from an accountable source with an opportunity to reconnect with the land and influence the landscape they live in. CSAs deliver environmental benefits of few food miles, less packaging and ecologically sensitive farming, and see the return of local distinctiveness and regional food production with higher employment, more local processing, local consumption and circulation of money in the community enhancing local economies.”

Summer & Fall CSAs at The Village

Here at the Shaker Village Farm we will be offering a summer and fall CSA. Each season runs for ten weeks at a cost of $300 per share. That breaks down to just $30 per week! Shares will be sized to support approximately two people with produce for the week.

A CSA basket from 2021 filled with the bounty of the seasonal harvest.

Each week our shareholders will receive a box with a variety of produce filled with whatever is ripening in the garden. Shareholders will also receive a weekly newsletter with information on farm happenings, tips on storage and recipes. Shares will be picked up on Fridays at the Shaker Village Welcome Center.  You can sign up to become a shareholder now. We hope you will partner with us to share in our bounty!

Building Rock Fences

The role of African American Stonemasons in the Bluegrass.

Pony Meyer, PhD, Program Specialist
Em J Parsley, MFA, Village Interpreter

Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill was once home to 40 miles of dry-stack rock fences. Today, we maintain 25 miles of these beautiful historic rock fences. Most of them were built during a 15-year period between the 1840s and 1850s.

More than 200-year-old stone fences and tobacco barn at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, undated. Photo credit: Dr. Karl Raitz.

Like most of the historic rock fences in the Bluegrass region built before the 1860s, these were engineered by expert masons of Irish descent. But they were not the only ones involved in building these rock fences. African Americans played a crucial role as well.

Some people call these fences “slave fences,” but this is a bit of a misconception. There is some truth to the name—enslaved people were part of the workforce assisting Irish stonemasons. However, after emancipation, free African American masons also played an important role in constructing these iconic features of Bluegrass landscapes.

At Pleasant Hill, it is certainly possible that enslaved African Americans assisted in building our rock fences. We do consider the Shakers emancipationists, and Pleasant Hill Shakers purchased the freedom of several enslaved African Americans. We know of at least 21 African Americans who lived here equally as spiritual brothers and sisters. The Shakers never enslaved people, and because they did not believe in personal ownership of property, enslavers were prohibited from formally joining the community.

However, the Shakers at Pleasant Hill did use the labor of enslaved people from surrounding enslavers. Rock fence building was hard work and took many hands. It is therefore possible that enslaved African Americans were part of the workforce for building these fences here at Pleasant Hill. 

Elsewhere in the Bluegrass, this was certainly the case, especially on large plantations. In a letter addressed to Woodford County in 1840, for example, a landowner’s son asked “if the [enslaved people] were going to have enough stone hauled in for the new fence so the immigrants could start as soon as the ground settled in the spring.

Farm records and African American oral traditions also indicate that enslaved people were involved in building these fences. During the antebellum period, they gathered and hauled rocks from quarries to construction sites and dug fence-foundation trenches.

As African Americans worked to assist Irish masons in construction, they eventually acquired the skills to become rock fence masons themselves. The skills, knowledge of tools, vocabulary, and techniques were then shared and passed down through the generations. However, it is difficult to know how many enslaved men were working as stonemasons before the Civil War because the census did not list the occupations of enslaved people.

After emancipation in 1863, however, we know that many of these laborers became accomplished stonemasons and started contracting their own work. Some started their own businesses. In fact, after emancipation the number of African American stonemasons started to increase while the number of Irish stonemasons started to decrease.

In 1870, for example, there were seven African American stonemasons compared to zero Irish in Mercer County. That same year in Boyle County, there were twenty-eight African American stonemasons and two Irish. By 1910, most stone fences in the Bluegrass were built by African Americans.

The Guy family provides us with one such example of five generations of stonemasons in the Bluegrass. Henry Guy, while still enslaved, helped build a rock fence between Shelbyville and Clay Village, a fence that his grandson, John H. Guy, would be responsible for relocating and rebuilding in 1941. The Guy family constructed several other prominent rock fences in the Bluegrass region, including those on the Walmac and Elmendorf farms.

Fence built by John Guy in 1956 for G.F. Willmott in Fayette County. You can see his name engravement in the stone in the bottom right-hand corner. Photo credit: Karl Raitz.

The most recent stonemason in this line, John H. Guy III, is experienced in both dry-laid and mortared construction. In a 1989 interview, Mr. Guy provided some unique insights into the talent necessary for rock fence building, particularly for farm field fences and reconstruction of aged fences. He observed that a senior mason could discern after just a couple of hours if the trainee had the potential to do good-quality work at a rate quick enough to make a living. After all, rock fence masons are still paid by the foot or the rod, not by the hour.

Mr. Guy highlighted the necessary skill of identifying the rock that best fits the space among piles of many differently sized rocks. The mason must further be able to envision how two or more rocks will fit together either vertically or horizontally. There is not a lot of time for troubleshooting or shaping if you want to make money.

At the time of his interview, John H. Guy III was considered one the best in the trade in Franklin County.      

Up-close view of rock wall fences at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill. Incredible skill is required to build these structures, as John Guy III revealed in his interview.

Rock fences are an integral part of Kentucky history, particularly in the Bluegrass region where the Shakers of Pleasant Hill lived for more than 100 years. The contributions of the skilled work of African American stonemasons is an important part of this history. 

This blog is largely informed by the research of Dr. Karl Raitz and Carolyn Murray-Wooley. For more information on rock fences in the Bluegrass and the role of African Americans in this trade, please see the references listed below.


  1. “A Visit to the Shakers of Mercer Co. Ky.” Valley Farmer (October 1856).
  2. Carolyn Murray-Wooley and Karl Raitz, Stone Fences of the Bluegrass (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 1992), 94.
  3. “History of Dry Stone Construction,” Dry Stone Conservancy. February 17, 2022.
  4. Karl Raitz, email message to author, Feb 11, 2022.
  5. Karl Raitz, “Rock Fences and Preadaptation,” Geographical Review 85, no 1 (1995): 50-62.
  6. Pleasant Hill Shaker Village Church Record Book B, Covenant of 1844 Section II Institution of the Church, Harrodsburg Historical Society: 70.