With authentic farm experiences, educational demonstrations, community events, and tasty food trucks, Retreat Farm is worth exploring.
By Wendy Ferris
Photography by Michelle Frehsee
Heading out of Brattleboro on Route 30, it’s almost impossible to resist stopping at Grafton Village Cheese to sample tasty morsels from some of the best cheesemakers in Vermont and beyond. But right next door there is a hidden treasure that you might have missed.
For more than 150 years, Retreat Farm has been a local landmark and year-round destination for ice fishing and skating, kayaking on the Retreat Meadows, and hiking and skiing on the 9 miles of Retreat Trails.
The barns, Retreat Meadows, and the hills that surround the farm form a natural cradle—keeping the vibrancy and transformation of this incredible place hidden in plain sight.
Just across the parking lot awaits Farmhouse Square, a unique cross between a college quad and a grand European plaza. These historic barns, standing since the mid-1800s, have seen their share of changes during the years and fell into disuse as the Brattleboro Retreat gradually ceased operating what at one time was the leading farm in the Connecticut River valley. Retreat Farm is now home to a new nonprofit organization created in 2016 with a mission to connect people to the land and to one another. Restoring these stately structures and finding viable uses for the nine historic buildings on the farm is a challenge, but Retreat Farm is off to a promising start.
The only clue to the new life in the barns is the large wooden play tractor installed just outside the doors of the Calf Barn. Inside, a treasure awaits; a small educational farm forms the centerpieces of the Children’s Farm and Forest. Through a beautifully renovated barn and expansive outdoor farmstead and forest playground, the Children’s Farm and Forest instills a love of the natural world through farming, outdoor recreation, and hands-on learning.
Visitors can hold baby chicks, snuggle with kid goats, collect eggs, feed the animals and lead them to pasture, pick a snack from the garden, splash in the stream in the Forest Playground, and wander along 9 miles of trails. A large, open playroom also provides a place for children to build with oversize blocks, perform puppet plays, and tap into their creative side. “We are working hard to create a safe and welcoming place where people spend time together, connect with each other and our farm animals, and relax in nature,” says Lu Neuse, program director. “Our animals are some of our most effective educators. They engage people, help them be present, and provide an opportunity to learn something new.” This year, an expanded slate of fun and educational workshops will highlight ways people can preserve their garden’s harvest, create their own beeswax wraps, or learn how to make cheese at home.
The children’s education program is quickly becoming a popular destination for school field trips and as a weekend gathering place for families. Joslyn McIntyre has been coming to the farm with her twins since she moved to the region in 2016. “It’s so priceless to have a place to hang out as a family. Retreat Farm has such a wide array of wholesome activities that we can visit again and again and never run out of things to do. My husband and I enjoy hanging out there, and at the same time, I feel like my kids are learning about things that really matter—like how to be kind to animals and why farming is important, particularly where we live. Retreat Farm is a centerpiece of my kids’ childhood for sure.”
Last summer, Farmhouse Square catapulted Retreat Farm onto the Brattleboro summer scene with a series of Food Truck Roundups. With a dozen trucks, live music, and craft brews, this weekly event attracted more than 1,000 people every Thursday night. The Roundup will kick off on July 4 this year and will pick up where they left off in September, bringing the community together for the simple pleasures of delicious food in an inspired familyfriendly setting.
This summer’s Roundups will feature a diverse lineup of food trucks, including Dosa Kitchen, Jamaican Jewelz, Whetstone Station, Tito’s Taqueria, Anon’s Thai Cuisine, Little Zoe’s, Street & Savory, Cliff’s Smokin’ BBQ, Cai’s Dim Sum, The Porch, Caravan Kitchen, Madame Jo’s Creperie, Crooked Stick Pops, Frisky Cow Gelato, Top Tier Bakery, and Amy’s French macarons.
The Square will also be the backdrop for a rich array of cultural experiences that celebrate Vermont’s agricultural history including Farm to Ballet, the Windham Orchestra, and Puppets in Paradise.
Set on a grassy stage, the full-length Farm to Ballet production performed by Ballet Vermont in Burlington tells the story of a Vermont farm from spring to fall. With dancing lettuce leaves and dancers dressed as pigs, cows, and goats, this whimsical ballet returns to Retreat Farm for the fourth season on July 20.
Later in the season, the Windham Orchestra will take the stage on September 28 for a starlit performance in celebration of the fall equinox as part of a three-part series in collaboration with the Brattleboro Music Center.
“Our working theory is that people are craving an opportunity to unplug and be together, whether that’s taking a hike, visiting their favorite goat, or enjoying a concert on the Square. These experiences and the social connections they create are enriching people’s lives, and building a better community,” said Buzz Schmidt, Retreat Farm’s executive director and driving visionary force. “Above all, we want Retreat Farm to serve the community, and Retreat Farm offers visitors a pretty compelling place to connect with the land, with one another, and with their inner selves.”
With hands-on cheesemaking workshops, weekly goat yoga classes, do-it-yourself beeswax wraps, guided forest bathing, free concerts, and cultural events, it’s unlikely the Retreat Farm will stay hidden for long.
ALL THE DETAILS
Open Wednesday to Sunday,
10am–4pm, plus holiday Mondays
$8 adults, $6 children over 2;
annual memberships available.
45 Farmhouse Square, Brattleboro
802-490-2270 or retreatfarm.org
Food Truck Roundup Jul. 4–Sep. 5 Every Thursday from 5–8pm
Farm to Ballet Jul. 20, 6pm
MUSIC UNDER THE STARS
presented by Brattleboro Music Center
Brass Quartet Jul. 13, 6pm
Keith Murphy and Becky Tracy Aug. 17, 6pm
Windham Orchestra Sep. 28, 6pm
WORKSHOPS & CLASSES
Goat Yoga Weekly classes May to September
Cheesemaking Workshop May 25, 10am
DIY Beeswax Wraps Jun. 9, 2pm
Forest Bathing Jun. 23, 9am
Farm to Jar Workshop Aug. 18, 10am–12pm
Farm to Ballet Performance Camp Jul. 15–19, ages 6 to 11
Young Farmer Day Camp Jul. 29–Aug. 23, ages 5 to 11, weeklong sessions