Taking the Kids: And staying on a farm
What's with the nonstop chatter? No, it's not teens gabbing and texting their way through your family vacation. We're talking chickens -- 250 white-and-black striped hens to be exact -- whose eggmobile is parked just behind one of the guesthouses at the Inn at Valley Farms (www.innatvalleyfarms.com) in Walpole, N.H., where we spent the weekend recently.
For the uninitiated, the eggmobile, a mobile henhouse, is based on the one designed and built by Virginia farmer Joel Salatin and described in Michael Pollan's book "The Omnivore's Dilemma." The chickens lay their eggs inside, but spend much of their time outside on the grass. The eggmobile is on wheels so it can be moved to fresh grass every day, following the trail of grazing cows.
If you or your kids -- don't know that eggs come from a chicken or that beef comes from a cow, you need to visit a farm like this where farmers -- in this case Jackie Casserta, her brother Chris and his wife Caitlin, generously give their time to teach you about sustainable agriculture on this 105-acre farm in a beautiful area of southwest New Hampshire.
Are there really green eggs? Yes, right on this farm. There are 150 different varieties of chickens and their egg color depends on their breed. One isn't necessarily more nutritious than another.
"It's not just kids who are so disconnected about where their food comes from," says Jackie Casserta, who oversees the inn while her brother and sister-in-law run the farm, helping us pick veggies for dinner from the farm's big garden. "The idea is that here you can feel, see, touch and consume it -- all in one place. If you can get one person who feeds their family better from this experience, it will make the world a better place."
Besides, it's fun.
Enesi Domi, 13, certainly thought so. The Bronx teen was visiting us under the auspices of the Fresh Air Fund (www.freshair.org), the wonderful program through which inner-city kids have been visiting families up and down the East Coast for more than a century.
He'd never visited a farmer's market -- such as the huge weekly gathering we stopped by in Brattleboro, Vt., on the drive to Walpole -- much less a farm before we brought him to spend the weekend at Valley Farms.
No video games and only spotty Wi-Fi here, but he was all smiles gathering eggs amid the clucking hens, letting piglets use his leg for a scratching post, petting the cashmere goats and picking lettuce and garlic from the garden for dinner. He also helped us cook one of the farm's free-range chickens. We stir-fried chard and made a salad from lettuce, edible flowers and tomatoes. Enesi had never tasted a flower before, much less seen garlic that hadn't come in a jar.
Dessert was ice cream from the local Walpole Creamery -- the milk coming from a farm just down the road -- and chocolate from Burdick's Cafe, which uses the Inn at Valley Farm's eggs -- perhaps some of the ones Enesi gathered would end up in their delectable pastries. We made s'mores at the fire pit just outside our farmhouse, appropriately named Sunnyside.