About eight months ago, my friend Bean handed off a book to me called The Dirty Life. "You'll love this. But be careful, you'll never eat the same again!" The book is written by a journalist from New York who visits a farm and interviews a farmer for an article she's doing. You follow her story as she gives up her rent-controlled apartment in the city, quits her job to marry the farmer she interviewed and eventually starts an organic working farm in a small community in a rural area. It's amazing. I thought about her story for weeks, stocked our fridge with expensive vegetables, gutted out and replanted our garden, and tried to talk Matt into buying me some chickens. I wrote down the title for my boss at work and urged her, as a lover of gardening and good eats, to read it immediately. She finished it by the end of the week.
A month later, she excitedly greeted me from behind the counter as I walked into work. "I stayed at a farm!" She had just returned from traveling to Georgia for a trade show the week before and made a pit stop just outside of Atlanta to stay at The Inn at Serenbe.
Serenbe is a small community tucked away just outside of Atlanta. It focuses on land preservation, agriculture, and overall, community. In Serenbe, there's a certified organic working farm, an inn, a small neighborhood with a few clusters of locally owned and operated shops and restaurants. Oh, and it's adorable.
When we headed out to the south, I had told Matt about it and he mentioned that Atlanta is just a couple hours away from where we'd be. He surprised me with reservations at the inn for the weekend of my birthday, making the perfect mid-trip getaway for us.
They offer a few lodging options but we opted for a room in the Main House, a restored 1905 farmhouse. It was closest to the farm (animals) and housed six guest rooms, a community kitchenette, a library, a wrap around porch and the inn's main restaurant, The Farm House. Mint gardens bordered the house, sweetening the humid air and with the windows open, you could hear the frogs singing from the lake in the back. I felt like I stepped inside something enchanted.
Our room was bright and inviting, sunshine glowing through the white curtains, lighting up the white walls. A four-post bed was layered with several thin, feather comforters and stacked with pillows, inviting us to curl up and take a nap. The bathroom was covered in subway tile and had original pewter hardware and deep sinks with stacks of white towels in wire baskets next to them. It looked like something out of a remodeling catalogue. Fresh made, soft oatmeal cookies sat waiting for us by the bed under a glass case.We just melted.
The morning we arrived, we drove down the little, dirt road just in time to hop on a truck and join in on feeding the animals. Bouncing around in our seats on the dirt roads, we carefully listened to Austin's instructions. "Keep your hands flat. Don't feed the pigs. Try not to step on any chickens." We followed Austin around the farm, carrying buckets of feed. Matt stood cautiously to the side while I acquainted myself with every animal I could reach, feeding bunnies, goats, horses, chickens and sheep.
Just as we were walking back from the stables, thunder cracked over our heads. We ran back to the grass lot our car was parked in and closed the doors just in time as the rain poured. Southern storms have rain like they put in the movies. Heavy sheets of fat drops that come down quickly, like they're in a hurry. We sat in our car and watched the storm roll over us, the thunder shaking the car.
Everyone we bumped into on the farm had recommended we head over to The Hil for lunch. It's just down the hill from the farm and apparently a favorite in the Serenbe community. All of their produce and most of their ingredients come fresh from the farm, so you can imagine the menu. The Hil was another old, restored building. I watched the storm out of wide, ceiling-high windows, smearing farm-fresh butter smashed with herbs onto hunks of rustic bread.
In the center of the dining room there was a long wooden table, cluttered with cake stands. I spotted a few extra-frosted carrot cakes, a rectangle lemon cake and in the center, an enormous chocolate cake. Of course, I couldn't pass that up and (not so) casually mentioned it was my birthday as soon as I found our server.
Please note that my plate is a dinner-sized plate. I'm not admitting to finishing or not finishing that slice...
After our incredible lunch, the rain had let up so we walked around the beautiful streets of Serenbe. Houses were sprinkled in between the shops and sometimes it was hard to tell which was which.
We stopped into one of the stores, Twig, and I noticed a pretty large display of the ever-coveted Volcano candle sold primarily in Anthropologie. The store owner must have noticed my facial expression as she said "Oh, the couple who started that candle line live in the Serenbe community." Oh, of course they do.
We headed back to the Main House for an early dinner at the Farm House, their popular restaurant raved about throughout Georgia. Attached to the Main House, it has the same farmhouse structure and aged hardwood floors. Long linen curtains framed the windows, simple white-washed tables adorned with a single fresh flower from the garden (I caught someone picking them as they set up for lunch). An old brick fireplace, filled with dripping candles and mismatched logs.
I could rave and rave and rave about the food there, but I'll never do it justice. You just need to go there. Go there, eat the hot, cheddar, buttermilk biscuits, order the fried green tomatoes, drink the fresh peach sangria (with peaches from the orchard), and savor every bite of their famous fried chicken. I don't know if I ever want to eat chicken again, because it will never taste as good as theirs. Flavor that made it past the skin and all the way through every bite. I actually grabbed our server's hand when she asked if we liked our meal.
I suddenly appreciated the idea of our room being four doors down from the restaurant. We collapsed on our bed, the sheer curtains pulled around the bed fluttered from the ceiling fan. I opened a few gifts and cards from my wonderful, intentional family and then kicked off my cowboy boots with serious intentions of falling asleep. "Want to go on a walk?" Matt's voice was quiet, sleepy, but I could hear the eagerness. We poured cups of tea (there was a fresh pot next to warm cookies we came back to) and walked outside barefoot into the night. If it's possible, the farm was more alive and more breath-taking. I gasped as I took in the frogs singing, the night bugs pulsing in unison and the fireflies flickering above the lake. I kept wondering out loud if we were on a movie set. We walked around the farm, no dialogue needed, until we found ourselves back on the steps of the Main House porch. We spent the next thirty minutes, stretched out on our bed looking up farm properties in the south, laughing and day dreaming about owning property in the country.
After the most incredible night of sleep (I woke up hugging three king size pillows), I tied back my hair and tip toed back outside, hoping to catch another magical moment. It was already hot, the air so wet you couldn't breathe deeply. I spotted dark storm clouds off in the distance and sneaked back into our room. "Matt! Let's eat breakfast and watch the storm!" (I'm allowed to break our morning rules when we're staying in magical, enchanted inns.)
We walked back down the hallway to the Farm House and ate the most generous complimentary breakfast ever. We picked a table by the window and watched the storm over heaps of bright yellow egg casserole, house made sausage and fresh squeezed juice. I single-handedly ate the basket of hot fresh biscuits, smothering them in strawberry lavender jam. With a few hours left before check out (the perks of getting up early, people), we chose a few books from the library and set up camp on the wrap-around porch.
The first twenty minutes out there, we sat motionless, books on our laps, heads forward as we watched the rain. It was hard to pull ourselves away to pack up our room and leave.
We picked up a couple jars of preserves as we checked out, and circled the farm one more time. It was hard to drive away from the place, but we couldn't stop daydreaming and brainstorming about what it would look like to trade in the sounds of the city and live in the country. For Matt, it would be returning to the environment he grew up in, for me, it would be the most delightful culture shock. I wonder if it would be too isolating for an extrovert from the city, or if I could even bear to coexist with the spiders and snakes.
My mind goes back to The Dirty Life and I think that maybe I'm like her, designed and meant for the country, yet finding myself in the city. (But then I count up how many times a week I go to Target and laugh.)