A taste of farm life in Vermont
HARTLAND, Vt. —
is a magical place. Here’s how I know: Our 10-year-old was excited to get up early to do chores. That’s right, I said
She wasn’t the only one. The other kids staying in one of the farm’s five stunning cabins that July weekend were equally as excited, and they were already pros, having checked in a day or two before. They were up and at ’em by 7:30, helping farmer/mother/baker and host extraordinaire Suzy Kaplan collect eggs, milk the sheep, lead the goats to pasture, and catch those few disobedient chickens that kept jumping the fence.
Of course, guests aren’t required to take part in morning and afternoon farm chores, but they’re invited to if they’re interested. And who wouldn’t be interested in working alongside Kaplan? She’s got great stories to tell from her years in the Peace Corps in Nicaragua, teaching English in Japan, working at an animal refuge in Arkansas, zookeeping at Franklin Park Zoo, and teaching elementary school in Malden. The story that started with “I was bit by a tiger” certainly got our kids’ attention. But then again, that would get anyone’s attention.
In fact, Kaplan, 41, and her husband, Todd Heyman, 47, are a great story, period. And one I would not have known about had Heyman not e-mailed last year to say that he and Kaplan were creating something pretty special on the farm they had purchased in Vermont after a long search for just the right property.
I’ll let him tell it:
“Suzy and I are former Bostonians who met on Match.com. We quit our city lives and made our way to Vermont in 2016, started farming (selling at two farmers markets and to local restaurants), and opened up five rental cabins on the farm this year in June. Suzy was teaching in Malden. I had been a lawyer in Boston for over a decade but quit and had been working on farms for a few years. . . .
We give each guest eggs from our chickens, vegetables that we harvest (upon request), baked goods that have been a constant highlight in the reviews, and a brand new cabin that has everything they need to relax and enjoy. The cabins have high quality mattresses, linens, towels, and views to die for, which can be enjoyed on the exceptionally comfortable Adirondack chairs. We also have an epic fire pit up by the house and make a fire a couple times per week for our guests to enjoy and meet each other.”
I knew instantly it was a place my family would like, but it took us a year to finally get up there. Now we wish we’d gone sooner and stayed longer. The truth is, we had a hard time prying ourselves away and adjusting to real life when we left, even after just one night.
This place has that effect on a lot of people, and it’s by design.
Heyman said that after years of traveling the world apart, the couple knew what they wanted to do together: “We wanted to create a place where we would want to vacation.”
There is peace and quiet, good food and good coffee, great views, a modern little house with luxurious touches and a porch for sipping wine on, Wi-Fi if you want it, and a well-stocked kitchen with a table that’s just the right size for a rollicking game of Go Fish. If that’s your idea of an ideal getaway, then you might say Heyman and Kaplan nailed it.
We stayed in the Four Corners Cabin and paid $190 for the night, plus a cleaning fee and taxes. (My husband keeps saying it feels wrong to call these “cabins” — there is certainly no roughing it here, and they are full of the latest technology to keep the farm’s environmental footprint to a minimum and comply with Vermont’s strict energy standards.)
Four Corners has a bedroom with a queen bed and spiral staircase up to a loft with another queen bed. There’s also a pullout couch. It has hardwood floors, so it’s one of the no-pet cabins, but there are a couple with polished concrete floors where dogs are allowed.
A basket of fresh eggs and another full of raspberry scones greeted us upon arrival. We were swooning. Our daughter was scrambling eggs within 10 minutes of plopping down her bag. Then it was off to do cartwheels with her little brother while we soaked in the setting from the comfort of those Adirondack chairs Heyman had touted in his e-mail. He wasn’t exaggerating.
Later we walked around the fields, played a little cornhole, and visited the animals. The sheep didn’t appear particularly fat to us, but they are adorable and clearly the stars of the show. The mamas are named for cheeses, and their babies for the foods associated with those cheeses. So Feta’s baby is Spanikopita and Brie’s babies are Baguette and Apple. Then there is Bleu, whose male babies are at other farms now, and a ram named Manchego.
When it was time for afternoon chores, of course we tagged along, peppering Kaplan with questions about farm life. (OK, and that tiger injury.) She handles the animals, Heyman grows the vegetables, and when it comes to their 1-year-old daughter, parenting duties appear split down the middle: One or the other was usually spotted carrying a smiling Autumn in a baby backpack.
The farm is working toward getting its cheese license, and Kaplan is perfecting her recipes. Both clearly love food — growing it, baking it, selling it, sharing it. Their Instagram and Facebook accounts are full of mouth-watering images of the breads they make and the meals they create with the farm’s bounty. (The Woodstock restaurant Mangalitsa, a short drive away, also features Fat Sheep Farm’s produce.)
But oh, those cabins. They are spotless, spacious, and perfectly placed on the 60-acre farm to provide privacy and access to incredible views. The beds and bedding were so comfortable, I snapped a photo of the tag inside the pillow so we could order some for ourselves at home. We all slept soundly and woke up in time for coffee, a scone, and morning chores. “The eggs are still warm!” the giddy kids exclaimed. We all gave milking the sheep a go; they were clearly used to novices with nervous hands. It was a little weird and a lot wonderful.
When it came time to check out at 11, we did something we’ve never done: overstayed our welcome by 10 minutes because we just didn’t want to leave. A quick scroll through the 96 reviews of Fat Sheep Farm on TripAdvisor (100 percent of them 5-star ratings) reveals that that sentiment is pretty universal.
Sadly, the kids lost their affection for chores as soon as we crossed back into New Hampshire, but we’re determined to restore it. For that and so many other reasons, we will be back.