Escaping Urban Life
As a boy, I’d spend a few weeks every summer at my uncle’s farm. I slept in a loft above the kitchen, and in the mornings, a volunteer from the assemblage of feral cats would walk across my face to rouse me. The days were filled with chores designed to build my character and/or leave me damaged in some fashion. While cleaning the barn, I stabbed my foot with a manure-smeared pitchfork. Toppling from a bale of hay, I kneed myself in the face, causing my nostrils to spout like a sprung fire hydrant and my cousin to die of laughter. In the afternoons, we’d chase naked Amish men out of the pond and go fishing. We’d fry up perch; the felines would pounce at the gutted entrails; and in the morning the cats would be walking on my face again. As payment for my labor, my uncle gave me an envelope stuffed with $10 in dimes, which he found hilarious.
I have fond memories, which is why a farm stay seemed an appealing form of escape. Sheltered under the awkwardly stitched umbrella of agritourism, or, more horrifically, “agritainment,” farm stays are designed for city dwellers that long for dirt under their fingernails. As this unhygienic trope has been pined for by anyone who’s spent a day in a cube, agritourism has blossomed into a growth industry. Guided by my tetanus-infected inner child, I traveled to Breakwind Farm, makers of organic baked beans.
Off Route 127 in Hopkinton, N.H.—down river from a covered bridge built in 1853 and down the street from a Dunkin’ Donuts displaying a photo of the county-record pumpkin (1,598 lbs.)—Breakwind seems your standard New England farmhouse from the front. The only clue to the inhabitants’ real agrarian ambitions is a small unmanned farm stand with a cookie tin acting both as a cash register and a tribute to the honor system.
The sky was drizzling when I arrived, which put a damper on the afternoon’s work, and when I entered the house I found the Breakwind team—one woman, two men, three ponytails—huddled around a game of Settlers of Catan. As I watched them barter imaginary sheep and wheat, we introduced ourselves. Rick MacMillan, 57, is a solar designer and installer, reps a seed company and had the idea for the baked bean business. Patti MacMillan, 52, works for a cable company, cooks the beans and invented the recipes (including Soothing Summer Breeze, prepared with kelp for less gas). David James, 30, was living with the MacMillans as a part of a work exchange. A South Carolinian coming off four years spent in Italy, James studied classics in Wales, organic farming in Sweden, and was able to work the cultivation theories of the Roman general Agricola into normal conversation.
As the weather cleared, we toured the backyard, the office/playground for the MacMillans, the work exchangers and whomever’d like to camp or RV by the Contoocook River for $25-$40 a night. There are trails for walking, a rope swing for swimming, a Frisbee golf course, a hot tub, a fire pit and a picnic table for diners chewed under the watchful eye of the neighbor’s cows. And there are crops: pumpkins, strawberries, broccoli and hot peppers, and the wet aisles of tomatoes, potatoes and squash we strolled through while picking our supper.
This is a family passionate about clean living and healthful food. “We live in a world of drive-thrus and instant gratification,” Rick says, eyeing his towering sunflowers. “It’s good to know where food comes from.” This is also a group found of wordplay. “Hi, honey,” Rick says as we march into the house with the evening’s menu. “We didn’t bring home the bacon, but we brought the beets.” We fill our bellies with homemade vegetable soup, roasted squash, beets and fingerlings, with hefty, aromatic spoonfuls of Fiery Texas Tornado baked beans on the side. James has baked fresh bread. “You thought he was just loafing around,” Rick says. “I’m working for crumbs here,” says James.
After dinner, the home is quieter than a scarecrow. Built in 1790, the house belonged to Rick’s parents, and the hardwood and horsehair plaster seal in the evening silence. 7:30 pm in the woods has that detached, otherworldly stillness you rarely catch in the city, and it’s that sensation, that restructuring of reality, that Patti, a native of Jamaica Plain, wants their guests to experience. In return, part of a worker’s responsibility is to bring one’s own passions to Breakwind. Rather than making a full escape from your normal life, you’re repackaging it, as a houseguest might bring a gift upon arrival. “People who have farms, they live vicariously through the travelers,” says Patti. “We get to learn from cultures from all over the world that most people wouldn’t be able to afford to go to.”
In the morning, after organic waffles, Rick speechifies on corporate conspiracies regarding solar power, and James and I thrust our hands into the soil, harvesting a row of potatoes known as Russian bananas. “Sometimes you feel like a Russian peasant,” he says, hunched over the dirt. “I like to think that.”
Before lunch, I go for stroll by the river, swinging a stick into the tall grass like a 10-year-old. A hawk coasts over a cornfield, and I remember the last bird I studied with any interest back in the city was a pigeon with a horrific skin growth. There’s still work to be done, but here my sense of deadlines has been restructured. Frost covers need to be laid out, but only before the sun goes down. Until then, I’m free to kayak.
In the afternoon I pack up with a sheen of sweat on my back and my fingernails appropriately laden with earth. In thanks for my labor, I’m given a pint of Jumping Jalapeño beans and a T-shirt marketing Breakwind’s varieties as “fartootempting,” which I find hilarious. Driving back to the office, the brevity of my escape grows clearer with each mile ticked closer to the city. But, if I’ve done my job correctly, I’ve left a memory of my normal life behind.
1584 Maple St., Hopkinton, N.H. | 603-496-5016 | breakwindfarm.com