Farm, Family, and Hospitality

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Front Page / Sep. 7, 2017 9:05am EDT

By Jay Gillespie


Fog vaporizes in morning sun at the Liberty Hill Farm in Rochester as fall colors begin to appear in the surrounding hills. (Herald / Jerry LeBlond) Fog vaporizes in morning sun at the Liberty Hill Farm in Rochester as fall colors begin to appear in the surrounding hills. (Herald / Jerry LeBlond) My wife and I traveled up to Vermont from Boston for our second stay at the Liberty Hill Farm, a working dairy farm that is also an inn. The farm is owned by Bob and Beth Kennett and has been operating in Rochester for more than a century.

Liberty Hill celebrates “farm, family, and hospitality” with a minimal number of employees contributing a maximum amount of work, although everything that takes place at the Liberty Hill Farm seems to be slow moving and relaxed.

According to a bumper sticker, “What happens in Vermont Stays in Vermont. But nothing really happens here.” That is, except for the flat tire that we suffered on the ride up. I had little concern. I figured we were going to the right place. If a farm couldn’t fix this problem, nothing could, so we slowly continued up Route 100 with a temporary spare on the back wheel of the van.

First, a Dinner

Arriving later than usual due to the tire situation, we were there just in time to check in, take in some of the farm, and prepare for dinner at 6 p.m. This night found a variety of people around the table. Besides the two of us there were Anita and Greg from Ohio; Dan, Diane, and their daughter Jane from New York City; Jeanie, Michael, and their son Ian from Newton, Mass.; and Jayne along with her children Max and Francesca also from New York City.

Dinner conversation ranged from piano lessons to violin lessons, to bluegrass music, to the historical inevitability of the loss of neighborhoods in cultural centers like New York and Boston.

Sitting together at dinner is really the heart of the experience at the Liberty Hill Farm.

“Look at how the conversation took off,” Beth commented as we helped clear the table following dinner. “Conversation just erupted. That is the fun thing about here. Dinner is where it all happens.”

She told me about an experience the week before when she had guests from Belgium, Denmark, Bali, and Bermuda all at the same table sharing conversation. “All of this on a little farm in Vermont. It is great!”

After dinner, we all helped to tidy up the table and made our way out to the front porch. There was some excitement around the fact that “Puppet” had given birth to a calf on this night, and we were all eager to stop by the birthing barn for a visit. The young kids began to play Frisbee in the front yard with roughly 20 mooing calves looking on from their private enclave. Dan began to play Frisbee with the kids. “It ended up being a positive,” he laughed. “I was trying to work on the porch but it was a spotty internet connection, so I ended up playing Frisbee. It all worked out well!”

Dan’s wife Diane explained to me that she had discovered the farm on the internet, that it didn’t break the bank, how her husband Dan had grown up on a farm in North Carolina, and that she wanted her to daughter, Jane, to be able to experience a real farm.

Michael and Jeanie have been coming up to the farm for about 10 years, said Beth. “They come up about two to three times a year. They sometimes actually help me out as experienced hosts on the farm.”

Jayne had already been at the farm for one week of a two-week stay with young Max and Francesca, who were actually contributing at Liberty Hill as valuable young helpers.

“I have always had a romantic notion of the New England farm,” Jayne explained. With family roots from rural Pennsylvania, Jayne wanted Max and Francesca to be able to experience a farm in the truest sense.

Cookies for the Cows

Breakfast was as conversational as dinner. Bob Kennett explained the beeping of the milk truck that shows up at 3:30 in the morning, and then the cookie truck that comes by at 6. The cows are provided a diet of cookie crumbs from a local Vermont bakery mixed with corn meal along with leftover barley from a Vermont beer maker.

He explained how the lineage of the farm’s Holstein cows can be traced as far back as 1888 in Maryland, when a man who decided to get out of the logging industry began a dairy farm called “Dunloggin” using Holsteins imported from the Netherlands. Bob also explained that the dairy industry is currently attempting to breed cows to become smaller rather than larger, and how cows that once topped out producing 12,000 gallons of milk per year are now producing 26,000 gallons annually.

During the morning, Beth called her reliable mechanic Mike, who tends to tire maintenance for Liberty Hill and directed us into town for repair. While the work was being done, we had lunch in the center of Rochester on the sunny porch of a bookstore-cafĂ© as Vermonters milled about waiting to experience the eclipse, but true to the bumper sticker, nothing really happened— which might be the very best thing about Vermont.

There is a special magic in the air when you visit the Liberty Hill Farm. You quickly realize that you don’t really need cell phones, internet reception, and (to some degree) even tires. You come to understand sitting at Beth Kennett’s dinner table that farm, family, and community are far more important.

Jay Gillespie can be found at readjaygillespie. blogspot.com. He blogs under “The World According to Gillespie.”

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