Some of my fondest childhood memories were made on my grandparents’ farm. We used to help my grandfather feed the goats, slop the pigs and tend the garden. Once, a goat butted my dog Patches right smack in the face. A cow chased my mother up a telephone pole. A cat jumped off my lap and had kittens on the front porch. And my favorite pet pig Arnold showed up on my breakfast plate one dark, horrible morning.
All of which is why I want Maisie to know about life on the farm, but it’s not like I have a pig sty in my backyard (much to my neighbor’s relief). Luckily, I’ve found the perfect solution: Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Pocantico Hills http://www.stonebarnscenter.org/. Stone Barns is a four-season farm that has all sorts of cool things to do. First off, it’s a working farm that helps support one of the best restaurants I’ve ever enjoyed, Blue Hill at Stone Barns. YUM. Perhaps more importantly, the farm is a teaching resource training farmers in various techniques and educating kids about the sources of their food. The idea is to help create a sustainable food system to benefit us all. They have a bunch of different programs – farm tours, sheep shearing demos and the like. Maisie and I tried one called “Hands on the Farm,” which they have every Sunday from 1-2 for kids age 2-14. I called ahead and they said it was fine for Maisie to participate even though she’s only 18-months-old. There was another 19-month-old girl, too, so just give them a ring if you’re anxious to get your kid’s feet muddy.
Anyway, for just seven bucks (one parent is free per child), kids get to actually pitch in and help out on the farm. Actually, it’s kind of funny. We pay to work! But it’s definitely worth the money. I think our day at the farm may have been Maisie’s best on the planet so far.
We started out in the greenhouse picking the last bits of mustard greens for the pigs to enjoy. The idea was to fill the buckets with the greens and all the kids and their parents pitched in. Of course, Maisie wanted to take everything out of the bucket. Then, she decided it was fun to fill the bucket with dirt and then she just wanted to lay in the dirt. Okay – so maybe this activity would have been better if she’d been two, but no matter: she had a blast.
Next, we headed to the pig sty stopping along the way to see the sheep. Maisie was screaming with total joy at the top of her lungs. The only other time I’ve seen her that excited is when she saw her daddy on Skype. She was enthralled with the wooly animals so much so that when we moved to the next barn, she started to sob.
That didn’t last long. The chicken pen was equally as fun. Maisie walked right up to the gate and put her hand through the fence and began to yell at the chickens like she had the sheep. On bad weather days, the kids help collect eggs in the barn.
We had a spectacular spring day so we headed down a long road (long for short legs, that is) and went to feed the pigs the greens we’d picked. Holy cow. Each and every kid laughed and screamed with delight at the sight of the sows snorting and huffing and munching on their harvest. And I mean these were big ol’ hungry, happy oinkers standing maybe two feet away from us divided only by an electric fence.
After the tour, we went to see the composting operation and the rest of the complex. The barns are absolutely gorgeous and there’s even a farm market on Sundays. The place was packed with families – even dogs.
I’m telling you… it was a great way to introduce Maisie to the joys of farm life. I plan to go back every year – if not more often. And the cool thing is, this way she’ll never have to worry about eating her favorite pet.
Picking Mustard Greens
Looking at the sheep
Visiting the chickens
Feeding the pics