Sleeping in the Hay: Farm Stays in New England
By Kent St. John
When the early morning sun flowed through the window into my room at the Hull-O Family Farm in upstate New York, I slipped on my newly purchased overalls. Milking waits for no man…especially a city slicker.
On my way to the barn, the sight of the 18th century white painted farmhouse and dairy barn paired with open fields and emerald mountains made climbing atop the parked tractor irresistible.
From my perch, I listened to the sounds of cows, chickens, goats and a sizable ram all mixing in the early morning, and watched as the plants in the large garden dazzled with all the colors of a Diego Rivera mural.
As would happen frequently during my stay at the farm, I got totally sidetracked. By the time I walked into the dairy barn, the milking was almost done. Sensing my disappointment, a farmhand handed me a pail and led me to a hefty heifer — time to grab a cow by the teats.
Just Like John-Boy
Determined to adapt to the discipline of farm life, I reined in my wandering senses and made it to the hen house at exactly 8:45 AM to help gather the eggs for breakfast. Like a wily wolf, I ducked and dodged the cackling hens and gathered the still warm eggs.
By the time I sat down at the long oak table in the main farmhouse and helped myself to homemade sausage, pancakes, eggs and strong coffee, I knew I had earned my breakfast. I felt like John-Boy on the Waltons and loved it.
At the HullO Farm, participating in farm chores is up to the guest; there are many to choose from, as the farm is an actual working dairy farm. Over 5000 pounds of milk is produced on Hull-O daily, yet it is the taking on of guests that keeps the farm going.
Frank Hull, the patriarch and head honcho, recalls when there were 13 working family farms surrounding the Hull’s. They are now the last. The pride the Hull Family takes in its designation as a National Bicentennial Farm, “two centuries of same family ownership,” is understandable in today’s fast-paced and fragmented America. But without guests, the farm might not survive another centennial.
“Sleeping in the hay” is an expression used throughout Europe as a term for staying on farms, an ancient tradition. In England, France, and New Zealand the government actively promotes farm tourism. In the US, there has been no federal and little state support, with the notable exception of Vermont.
Vermont has published maps and a guide to 200 farm-related visits and a Vermont Agritourism Association operates statewide. According to Bob Townsend from the University of Vermont Extension Program, “The average visitor is three generations removed from the farm, they want to see the real thing, to see and talk with the farmer.” Yep. That’s why I was here.
Just Like Tom Sawyer
After helping with the feeding of the animals, Jason, the eldest son, suggested an afternoon fishing expedition. Numerous streams flow through the 350 acres of woods, fields, and hillsides, and I sat beneath a maple tree and dipped my feet in clear cool water while patiently awaiting a strike from a bass. As the scent of clover filled the air, I did as Tom Sawyer might have done: I closed my eyes and drifted into a restful nap.
The rustling of a passing pheasant (the farm is also a preserve) gradually reminded me that I had, once again, been sidetracked. Already late for the afternoon milking, I ambled back and was greeted by friendly pups as I approached the front porch of the main house.
Sherry, Frank’s wife, met me with fresh cookies and real lemonade, and directed me to a hickory rocker. This time, distraction was inevitable.
Before dinner, I went back to my room in the Rose cottage for a nap. All this farm work was making me tired, but I felt healthy and energized. I determined that in my next life, I would return as a farmhand for the future generations of Hulls. The chance to witness the pride and respect for land and family traditions was incredible, and having been included left me with a greater respect for those same values. I only hoped I could remember what it felt like when I got home.
NEW ENGLAND FAMILY FARM B&B’s
P.O. Box 504, 1187 Christain St.
Wilder, VT 05088-0504
Tel: (800) 730-2425
428 White Mountain Highway, Route 16
North Conway, NH
Tel: (800) 445-3866
Darby Brook Farm
Hill Road, Alstead, NH 03602
Tel: (603) 835-6624
Jack and Louise Smith
Box 7 Coventry, VT 05825
Tel: (802) 754-8866
FOR INFORMATION ON VERMONT FAMILY FARMS:
See Fighting for the Farm on GoNOMAD
Kent St John
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