When Bonnie Schubert told one of her farm vacation guests about a cow that had not been bred and, therefore, was not in milk production, the guest replied “No problem; my milk comes from bottles, not cows.”
Yet another guest at her Hummerhaven Farmstead in Millerstown, Pa., when offered the opportunity to pull some carrots from the garden for her family’s meal, responded, “No thanks, I don’t use carrots that grow in the dirt. My store sells clean ones in plastic bags.”
Have Americans lost their roots? Have they really become so disconnected with where their food comes from?
The 18 members of Pennsylvania Farm Vacations would offer a resounding “Yes!”
Many farm vacation hosts have been welcoming hard-core urbanites, suburban dwellers and exurbanites to their farms for almost five decades, and one thing has become clear over the past few years – fewer and fewer people know the origins of their food.
“We just try to add some common sense to guests’ worldly wisdom,” Bonnie says. “We try to have fun and kindly explain what life on a farm is all about. So when a grandmother from upstate New Jersey wonders if her grandkids can collect eggs from the rooster, my response is. “Well, you can try. And then I explain that roosters don’t lay eggs, hens do.”
At most farm vacations, visiting “farmers” typically are encouraged to try their hand with chores. At Weatherbury Farm in Avella, Washington County, those tasks include pumping water by hand at the pump, feeding farm animals and collecting eggs for the next day’s breakfast. At Rocky Acre Farm Bed and Breakfast in Mount Joy, Lancaster County, wannabe farmers can help milk the cows – the farm has more than 650! – and feed the calves.
Chores always include a time for questions.
Frequently guests will say “I have learned more in the last hour than I have learned in a long time,” says Sally Hassinger, owner of Mountain Dale Farm in McClure, Snyder County.
“The realization of how good fresh, whole, real milk tastes has been a continuous feedback,” says Kathleen Fields of Flint Hill Farm and Education Center in Coopersburg, Lehigh County. “Comments like, ‘I never knew that is what milk tastes like! It is really good!’ are some of the responses. Families who come and work along with us for a morning or afternoon are pleased that they and their children are relaxed, tired and ready for a nap after lunch or early lights-out after dinner.”
Farm vacation hosts are particularly happy to educate children. Weatherbury Farm encourages learning about farming by providing families with a packet of information about farming and a chance to earn a certificate for completed chores and tasks. More than 1,300 children have graduated from the farm’s program.
Carrie Megginson of Buckland Farm in Clearville, Bedford County, said one recent guest — Melissa Breitbart of Cedar Rapids, Iowa – wrote to say her daughter “has re-enacted how a chicken lays an egg to just about everyone she gets a chance to tell.”
Education about food production also comes in more subtle ways. Guests at all the farm vacations are treated to breakfasts made from home-grown ingredients. At Sun and Cricket Bed and Breakfast near Pittsburgh, owner Tara Bradley-Steck serves up dishes made with serviceberries, apples, blueberries, rhubarb, potatoes, onions, zucchini and herbs – all grown on the farm.
“I stroll through our garden or orchard, pick what I need, and then whip it into a dish that I serve an hour or so later. Not only is everything fresh, but it also reflects the season,” Tara says.
Bunny Yinger dips into her grandmother’s recipes to make mouth-watering jams, sauces and dressings from fruit and vegetables grown on their Berry Patch Farm in Lebanon County.
Clearly, guests never go away hungry – or stressed – after spending time at one of the state’s farm vacation destinations.
For more information or to make arrangements to visit one of the member farms, contact Marcy Tudor, PFVA manager, at 888-856-6622 or visit www.pafarmstay.com.
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