Horse Drawn Farms feels like a bit of an island sometimes. Awash in a sea of development on our particular street, we try to hold on and do some honest to goodness farming, but it can be tough. Both Peter and I, while relishing what we have on our acreage, crave the quiet of the true country. With the street’s improvement in 2009, the backdrop of car traffic is now omnipresent. The noise overwhelms the calls of our resident songbirds, the rustle of wet leaves in the temperamental April atmosphere, even the spring peepers calling from the back field puddles at 2 am. The nearness of drivers zipping past the farm’s frontage poses a significant danger as well; should any stock escape up the driveway, it isn’t likely that a lamb, goat or horse would have a chance.
However, our improved road does bring something that is less likely to occur on a country lane: a sidewalk. And with that sidewalk comes kids: young and old, on foot, bicycle, skateboard and scooter. Barely a day passes when we don’t have a kid climbing on the frontage fence, reaching up to pat our horse Jimmy, or to peer over the top railing at the sheep and goats in the paddock beyond. To these city kids, such animals are at first a novelty, creatures read about in books and seen on TV, with no more foundation in reality than The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. But once on the fence and the onlookers get an approving wave and smile from me, the questions begin: How many lambs are there? Do you ride the horses? Do chickens really lay eggs? It is truly a delight to watch the answers light a spark in the faces of the young people. A nearby Mom or Dad seeing the interest often chimes in with questions of their own. When we have something extra neat–such as this week our goat Elizabeth giving birth to her babies– I extend an invitation to kids and parents alike to come down and have a look. The number of children to which I have held out a lamb, bunny, chick or baby goat for petting is now in the dozens. Elizabeth has been milked by several small experimenters, and Jimmy’s coat has been brushed to a glossy satin. The look of excitement when a young face peers into our chicken coop nestboxes and gently lifts out a newly-laid egg is something to behold. It’s almost universal: in the hearts of our visitors, a transformation occurs, a slowing down, a timelessness, a connection with the animals which feels ancient and natural. And although it produces no income, I firmly believe this transformation is our little farm’s most valuable product.
Will any of those kids on the fence become farmers themselves? No one knows – but we’ll keep the railings kid-friendly, just in case.