Amish Country
A Brooklyn boy puts himself in farm's way

From the April 22, 2002 Issue of New York

Our Brooklyn 5-year-old said, "I haven't seen a live chicken in a long time." One of our many, many nagging parental guilts is the disconnect between the stuff in our refrigerator and the soil it came from. So we headed to Pennsylvania Dutch country: The area just west of Lancaster, past the cutesy hex-sign-water-slide-outlet-mall clutter, is an outdoor museum of America's agricultural past. Many of the struggling family farms have been bought by a charitable trust so their thousands of acres won't get plowed under for condo subdivisions.

After a quiet night's sleep in a century-old Georgian farmhouse -- "It's so dark out here!" he marveled -- Jack, wisely cautious in his city life, became a free-range child, bounding across the stubbly cornfields and soft spring grass. When he was invited to chase two dozen chickens into the henhouse, I thought he'd trip over his grin. Then he went stomping through the mud in his yellow rain boots to the goat pens. A one-day-old baby, all knees, wobbled after its mother. "Want to hold him, Jack?" asked Dotty Hess, co-owner of the Country Gardens Farm Bed & Breakfast. Silly question. The wonder on Jack's face as the kid rested serenely in his arms was downright beatific. The bonus: Dotty named the goat Jack.

Next she drew us a map to the nearby Lapp Valley Farm, where John Lapp, a Mennonite teen with ethereal blue eyes, engaged us in a friendly comparative-religions chat as he milked. Later, after sampling the Lapps' extraordinary vanilla ice cream, we rode a steam engine through Amish farmland. And that night, back in Mount Joy, we danced to Irish pirate tunes at Bube's Brewery. At least for one weekend, Jack was reminded that nature does exist.

Country Gardens Farm Bed & Breakfast (rooms $75 to $95 per couple, $10 extra per child; 717-426-3316); Strasburg Rail Road (Route 741; adults $9 to $13, kids free to $9.50; 717-687-8421); Lapp Valley Farm (717-354-7988); Bube's Brewery (717-653-2056).