Back to the Land… Almost

IT’S 7 A.M. — AN UNFORGIVABLY LATE START, by farm time — and the sun’s barely eased itself above the rooftop of the Inn at Valley Farms. The property’s two roosters have long since sounded their requisite crows; there are cows to be fed, eggs to be collected, gardens to be weeded, and breakfast to be made. For about six seconds, I mull over all of this from a cushy canopy bed inside my snug red cottage sitting adjacent to the cow barn. And then? I pull the covers over my head…and go back to sleep.

Having that option is, after all, the truest luxury that guests enjoy at a farm stay: Pitch in if you feel so inclined; take a powder if you don’t. Not that there aren’t plenty of other luxuries at the Inn at Valley Farms. That breakfast? It will be a three-course, candlelit affair, whipped up by owner Jackie Caserta out of straight-from-the-hen-house eggs, herbs and vegetables collected minutes beforehand from her garden, and, if you’re lucky, bacon provided by the farm’s pasture-raised pigs. Bedrooms in the farmhouse are beyond gracious, with gleaming antiques and epic views of the soaring New Hampshire mountains.

Yet there’s no mistake about it: This is still a working farm. And for every late-rising schlub like myself, there are plenty of other guests who can’t wait to get their hands dirty.

“We’ve got families with kids who want to be close to the animals and play more than work,” says Caserta, “but we’ve also got bankers who come here once a year by themselves, just to get closer to the land, throw themselves into the work, and learn more about farming and where their food comes from.” In fact, in the past several years, there have been more and more grownups making their way to farm stays — locavores who want to eat food raised yards from the table, and who want to learn more about Caserta’s sustainable farming methods, which she refers to as “beyond organic.” And then there are people like me, who come to do a little of all of the above — and to sleep.

I ARRIVE AT THE INN with my two preschoolers and husband in tow. The little hillside cluster of red and sky-blue buildings topple down to a greenhouse — used for chickens in the winter, I find out later. My family and I are longtime urbanites — Boston’s been my home for more than 20 years — but I was an early fan of the now-ubiquitous farm-to-table movement. You’d have to seriously bribe me to wear overalls, and I don the highest heels possible at all times. But when my kids were born six years ago, I swapped my stilettos for sneakers and started visiting local farms to research their CSA (community-supported agriculture) programs.

Though never a health nut, I’d read plenty over the years about sustainable farming and the damage that hormone injections can do to both animals and the people who eat them. We ponied up twice as much dough as we would have at a conventional supermarket for hormone-free meats and organic veggies, because we decided it was worth it to feed our kids healthy, sustainably raised, cruelty-free foods. And then I went and pushed my personal penchant for farm fare into the professional realm by penning and publishing a cookbook with Cambridge chef and local food pioneer Peter Davis (Fresh & Honest: Food from the Farms of New England and the Kitchen of Henrietta’s Table). It was official: I was hooked.