A Vermont farm stay: I was beyond excited for it, especially because I thought the kids would have the time of their lives. We visited Liberty Hill Farm in Rochester, central Vermont. A dairy farm that's part of the Cabot Cheese Cooperative, it's owned and run by Bob and Beth Kennett and their sons Dave and Tom; they're all wonderfully friendly, warm and welcoming. Farm stays (aka "haycations") are trendy now, but Bob and Beth were there early on: They've hosted visitors for some 25 years.
Guests stay in one of seven rooms in the main house, built in 1820. "Mommy, were you born then?" Sabrina asked, which is when I decided it might be time to invest in wrinkle cream.
Parts of the barn date back to the 1780s.
The rooms are simple and comfortable, with pretty quilts on the beds and braided rugs on the floor. The kids were so amazed by the great outdoors they didn't even notice our room didn't have a TV. Our room's stereo sound at bedtime: the moo-ing of cows.
What I particularly loved about our stay was the lack of any set program; guests were free to roam about. (Well, I'm pretty sure the Kennetts wouldn't have wanted Max operating farm machinery, but other than that the kids did as they pleased.)
Sabrina immediately headed up to the barn's hayloft, where there were a bunch of yummy kittens.
The kids enjoyed watching a farmhand feed the calfs, who get a dairy mix by bottle for their first two weeks. This munchkin was six days old.
As for the feeding of the humans, it was quite the treat: meals are all home-cooked, and Beth is an amazing cook. (And, yes, the dining room really does look like it's straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting.) For one breakfast we had the most amazing blueberry pancakes, oatmeal, vanilla yogurt, cinnamon rolls, coffee cake and watermelon chunks with grapes; there were sausages for the taking, too. Dinner one night was squash risotto, salad with maple dressing, a delicious seasoned chicken dish, string beans, mashed potatoes (I had thirds), and a berry cobbler. Guests sat family-style around the table and had good conversation with Beth and her friend Lois who helps out, as we tried to not lapse into a food coma.
The farm has more than 250 Holstein cows, including 100 milking ones; some are too young to be milked, some are sold to be bred. Three were pregnant and while we were out one afternoon, this cow had her baby girl.
Max lent a hand wheeling the feeding wagon around. And around and around and around.
Max took his stay very seriously; here he is telling a staffer to not move this two-month-old from its cage to the barn.
Sabrina gathered these eggs. The search is, as Beth calls it, "a treasure hunt" since the chickens lay their eggs wherever the mood strikes.
Why did the chicken cross the road? To escape Max, who was chasing after it with the feeding cart.
Max spent most of his time either in the barn or peering into it. Both he and Sabrina thought it was a laugh riot when the cows pooped. And yes, Eau de Cow is quite the potent scent.
Max didn't want to try milking the cows; he was content to watch Sabrina, who got to be a pro. Her have cow: Strawberry, an old-timer. She'd feed the milk to the kittens. Fact: Each cow produces about nine gallons of milk per day (they're milked once in the morning, once at night). Fact: Max could easily consume about nine gallons of chocolate milk per day if we let him.
Sabrina would love for us to build her a hayloft, except we don't own any hay. Or a barn.
I asked nicely if they'd pose for a picture (just call me The Cow Whisperer).
The pig who lives in an old trailer; I only ever saw his snout.
Early one morning, I talk a walk surrounded by nothing but corn stalks. I haven't felt that relaxed in a long time.
Rochester's population is under 1200. It's one of a handful of towns in Vermont struck particularly hard by Hurricane Irene. At one point, Beth told me, just five miles south of the farm more water streamed through the river than the amount that pours down Niagra Falls. Water washed away bridges and roads and for a week, Rochester was isolated from the world. Families lost their homes; a lot of farmland and machinery was destroyed. The average visitor would never know it to look at the farm now, which is so picturesque, although there is still much recovery going on.
We tore ourselves away from Liberty Hill one afternoon and headed to quaint Woodstock for lunch, then over to the Vermont Institute of Natural Science in Quechee, which specializes in environmental education and wildlife conservation. We saw bald eagles, falcons, owls, hawks and vultures who'd been injured and rehabbed.
A beautiful snowy owl
As fascinating as VINS was, we couldn't wait to get back to Liberty Hill Farm. We were there for only two days, but it felt far longer. It was an unforgettable experience to see the workings of a farm (and it takes a lot of work). The kids learned a lot and had a great time, and Dave and I felt the same.
When I fall asleep at night, I still miss the moos; Dave's snoring just isn't the same.