Life on the Farm

Pennsylvania Pursuits | Summer 2005

As reported by Tracy Thompson, in the Pennsylvania Pursuits (of Life, Liberty & Happiness in Travel)  Summer 2005:

” There’s something about waking up to the throaty bellow of a pasture full of brown cows that reminds you you’re city folk. There you are, startled out from under the covers, squinting at the window to see what the heck is making all that racket when, before you know it, you’re stretching joyfully toward the sun just like on a coffee commercial and witnessing livestock right there in (almost your own) backyard. Voila! Nature’s alarm clock.

Speaking of nature, we find there’s a whole lot of it on a farm stay vacation. IN the air, on your shoes, under your fingernails. As the saying goes ‘not everything that’s brown is dirt.’ Indeed.

We decide to overlook the preponderance of brown for the greater good of our quest: to spend some time away from the bright lights and a little more in the low-key heartland. My husband and I, urbanites by stock, take to the road with our three- and one-year old girls to two farm stays and prepare, as best we can, to officially Rough It.

Weatherbury Farm in Avella, just 45 minutes south of Pittsburgh, is first on the docket. We roll in around 10 p.m., pretty late by farm standards and farmer Dale Tudor greets us with a flashlight in the pitch-black night.

We’re staying in the Carriage House, one of three two-story suites in the newly renovated guest barn that’s perfect for the four of us. First is a living room with two sleeper sofas, a gas fireplace and plenty of running-around room. Up in the old hayloft area, the bedroom boasts one queen and one single bed — which our three-year old immediately claims as her ‘big-girl farm bed’ — covered in charming, worn-soft lines of red-and-cream ticking and Laura Ashley florals. An ancient trunk hold extra pillows and blankets, while the bathroom has a real claw foot tub and a pull-chain toilet (a big winner with our recently potty-trained preschooler).

By morning, we discover that this B&B has most definitely prepared for our junior farmers. The Weatherbury Farm Kid’s Packet, a folder full of worksheets, stickers and book-report fodder, is loaded and waiting for our eager farm hands to begin the morning chores.

To start things properly, we report for breakfast at the reassuringly normal hour of 8:30 a.m. (a concession to the aforementioned city slickers, no doubt) in Livery Hall, a few steps around the bend from our suite. Inside, are long wooden tables set with mixed Fiestaware (the factory is just down the pike), flea market salt & pepper shakers and jelly jar glasses. A copper steamer hold s the morning’s banana pancakes on a red breakfront, a casserole offers eggs and potatoes, while a caddy of self-serve canisters holds cereal.

The buffet-style service is laid back, and no one minds when our girls buzz back and forth to the Kids Corner, the bright nook loaded with farm-themed puzzles, Brio trains, farm board games and farm videos. I big gas fireplace keeps things cozy while we nosh.

An hour later, Farmer Dale announces that chores start in five minutes, our cue to pack up the trains, get the kids’ boots on and line up at the door. Giddy, we mosey over the hill toward the farmhouse, a two-story blue beauty where the Tudor family lives (including wife Marcy and son Nigel), and each of our girls is dispensed a baby bottle full of special formula. The task? Breakfast delivery service for goats.

The goats (black, white or rust-colored and shaggy) cram their heads through the whitewashed fence like they’ve never eaten before. Hansel and Gretel, baby goats with little horn buds, suckle voraciously, then practice jumping off the hay rolls and nibbling on our shoelaces.

Now it’s time for the sheep. Their bleating is loud and comical, like a sound-effects machine. There’s a blur of curly white wool as they fight to get to the front at the fence. The underdogs (undersheep?) try a vacant stretch of fence in hopes that we’re feeling democratic. Our youngest daughter cups her hands so that we can fill them with feed, then giggles at the dozens of slurping, pink sheep tongues. Meanwhile, Farmer Dale has commissioned my husband Steve, to pitchfork a giant roll of hay loose so that the girls and I can grab handfuls to offer the bigger goats.

We even get to pluck still-warm eggs — tinted the palest blue, pink and green by the famed Aracauna hens — from the chicken coop for tomorrow’s breakfast.

Chores complete, we have the day to ourselves and look forward to relaxation and togetherness. Should we attempt a min relay race with the kids on the grassy hills? Borrow a blanket, grab a ball and settle down in the sun? While away a few hours by the pool? Since it’s a bit chilly for a swim and the animals are off-limits (for our safety) while our hosts are tending to other farm business, we think an impromptu soccer game sounds good to enjoy the farm’s wide-open spaces. It might even tire the girls out for a nap so that Steve and I can enjoy that rarity at this time in our lives — adult conversation.

A few hours later, refreshed, we head into the nearby town of Washington (nearby is defined a little differently out here — the town is easily a half-hour away) for some takeout, and spread out a blanket for a nice picnic dinner as the sun sets. We decide that the slow pace of farm life might just agree with us. In fact, maybe next time, we’ll come back with friends. The Tudors have plans for a Sheepfest at Weatherbury Farm (September 10 and 11) including fiber crafts workshops, folk concerts and demonstrations. Steve and I talk about it as we drift off later that night. Funny how soundly we sleep when we’ve spent a glourisou day doing…almost nothing…..

Unfamiliar with unscheduled time? On a farm vacation, you might find plenty to go around. There are books, card games and, yes, conversation to fill the spot. But when you want to go ‘off-farm’ near Weatherbury Farm, try the homemade chocolates and ice cream sundaes at old-fashioned Sarris Candies in Canonsburg or the Meadowcroft Museum of Rural Life in Avella for a reenactment of early American lifestyles. For a more urban detour, consider Pittsburgh for the amazing Warhol Museum , Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater or the Pennsylvania Brewing Company for a tasty pint.

Boots: Leave the sandals at home … the barnyard is squishy, if you catch my drift.
Camera: When will the next time be that your kids get licked by a sheep?
Cooler: Terrific for vino — or moo juice, depending on your birthday.
Flashlight: It’s just you and the stars out there.
Jeans: Or anything you’re willing to get mucky.