VIAGGI – FAMILY TRAVEL
That first crisp fall day brings with it hope. There’s something about breaking through the heat and the jewel-toned rainbow of leaves freeing themselves from the prison of branches. It’s a new school year with its fresh faces eager to learn. It’s the empty cornucopia, little by little, getting filled with bounty. It’s shorter days and cozy nights. And October is fall’s sweet spot, a time when it’s still possible to reinvent yourself and spend an entire day outdoors without either melting or freezing. That is the precise moment when the farms beckon you. For us that means heading to Alstede Farms in Chester, N.J.
New Jersey, the Garden State, is the perfect place to be at this most wonderful time of year. (You can learn more about different Jersey farms in my book, Fun with the Kids New Jersey). Visitors and natives alike have a plethora of places to go to take in the wonders of Mother Nature. While we have enjoyed a number of New Jersey farms over the years, we keep going back to Alstede because there is so much to do that every visit seems like the first one.
Here, kids can get up close and personal with farm animals. My son had a full-fledged conversation with a turkey, and peeked at a hen either laying on eggs or simply digging a hole for her weary body to find rest on our most recent visit. We saw kissing donkeys, playful goats, and working horses. My son and his cousins went on pony rides and seemed to float in air in the bounce house. They got giddy and waved at Nonna from the mini hay ride for the little ones.
Of course, the whole family hopped in the back hay-ridden bed of the big boy tractor pull, which offered the chance to glimpse at geese frolicking in a fountain and rows and rows of corn stalks. You can see tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and weepy sunflowers, all of which you can pick and bring home. (You pay by the weight of your haul.) In the fall, you’ll also see sleeping peach trees and whatever is left of the raspberries. It wouldn’t be a fall fest without music, photo props all over the grounds, and the ability for every kid to pick his own pumpkin to bring home. It’s the great pumpkin, Charlie Brown!
For my son, the pumpkin is like the Christmas tree. He oohs and aahs every time the Jack-o-Lantern lights up in the dark of night. While he has ignited his devotion to the season and his love of milkshakes and apple cider doughnuts at the Alstede Farms store, I don’t see that as the magical part of our annual visits. What is most remarkable about our trips to the farms is his discovery of nature and devotion to life. This exchange tipped me off.
Me: “What was your favorite part of today?”
Baby Boy: “Seeing the pumpkin beans [he means seeds], and the caterpillar.”
All that fun stuff and this was his response? What? Then, I thought about it. Amid the pumpkins, including that broken one revealing its seeds, we found a caterpillar covered in dust and camouflaging with the ground. As it burrowed into the ground, my nephew was about to step on it. My son cried real tears and furiously yelled at his cousin. Luckily, my niece had stepped in and kept her brother from killing the caterpillar. My son said, “Don’t kill him, don’t kill him. He lives here.” I keep telling him not to kill insects outside because we need them and the outdoors is their home. This was a small victory for mom, but a victory nonetheless.
A few days earlier, his class went on a field trip to Green Meadows Farm in Hazlet, N.J. There, his teachers tell me he was unafraid to pet chickens and try his hand at milking a cow. Certainly, the farms alone are not responsible for his reverence for animals and nature. My sister, the zookeeper, had something to do with it. His nonno, the landscaper, had something to do with it. His zio, the professional foodie, had something to do with it. All the Italians in our family, who cook from scratch and maintain their perfect little gardens, had something to do with it. We, his mom and papa, who have made preserving his life and helping him understand the responsibility of his place in the world, have something to do with it.
It is with that spirit that we will continue to head to farms and gardens and pick vegetables that we bring home and cook with our own two hand. We will always love animals and appreciate what they deliver – milk, food, love, and the life cycle. And we will try to do our part to save this planet that gives us so much. We shall try, at least, to reap what we sow.