The air was still cool when we passed under the arch to Grimsdottier’s Experimental Farms. We were only twenty minutes outside of the city, but we were already surrounded by the endless patchwork of fields, tractors and red barns of farm country. The upstate was known more for vineyards and apple picking, but other crops filled the majority of the landscape
Grimsdottier’s, however, was special. It was the only farm I’d ever seen that had gotten tourism right. Other farmers focused on crops and yields. As far as I knew, Grimsdottier’s did that, too, but they never made much of a profit. It was more of an advertisement for their tourism business.
“Dad,” Emily asked from the back seat of the car, “why is it called an experimental farm? Do they grow weird stuff?”
I smiled and kept my mouth shut. Grimsdottier’s had been around since I was a kid, and my parents had taken me out to the farm when I was about Emily’s age. I remembered the experience for the first time, and I didn’t want to ruin it. In the passenger seat beside me, my wife grinned.
“Maybe,” she said. “You’ll have to wait and see. But you should keep your hair in a ponytail and your hands to yourself. Some of the plants don’t like to be touched.”
In the rearview mirror, I saw Emily’s eyes widen. “Will they . . . eat my hands?”
She looked up at the mirror, met my eyes. I gave her a serious stare. Beside me, my wife did everything she could to keep a straight face. Her lips kept twitching upward for a fraction of a second before she managed to force them back down again.
Past the welcome arch, the road stretched a ways. Technically, Grimsdottier’s owned all the land around us — a tremendous amount, by any standard — though only the central heart of the farm was open for visitors. The rest, as Emily had guessed, was for experimentation, training, and large-scale testing.
The handful of inventions that had come out of Grimsdottier’s in the last two decades, changed the landscape of food. Hybrid and multicolored fruits lined the grocery stores. The Everlast™ brand of vegetable products sat in everyone’s refrigerator. That weird veggie burger — meat grown from the ground — that medical science is calling the modern preventative measure for heart disease. That and all the rest came from experiments at Grimsdottier’s.
We pulled into a small parking lot, where five other cars sat in a neat row. After we unloaded, I popped the trunk so that my wife could find the sunscreen while Emily and I had a look around. I noticed her head sweeping from left to right across the parking lot, her gaze heavy with suspicion as she tried to spot things out of place.
“Dad,” she said, pointing. “Why are those sunflowers all turned in the same direction?”
“Most sunflowers face the sun,” I told her. “That’s why they’re turned like that.”
“Oh. What about that?”
I followed her gaze to a black sheep standing alone in a fenced field. “What about it? It’s a sheep.”
“Why is it black?”
I shrugged. “Some sheep are black.”
“Ah-ha!” my wife exclaimed. She pulled out the sunscreen, applied it liberally, and joined us in the parking lot. Kneeling, she rubbed it onto Emily’s face, arms, and legs despite her protests, before she tucked the bottle into her purse.
“Everyone ready?” I asked.
My wife nodded. Emily blew a raspberry and stuck her tongue out.
The Grimsdottier’s check-in booth was little more than a wooden podium beside the barn. A silver service bell sat atop it, and a man in a plaid shirt and jeans materialized about ten seconds after I pressed it.
“Welcome to Grimsdottier’s Farm,” he said. “Is this your first time with us?”
“Her first time.” I nodded toward my daughter, then leaned in and lowered my voice. “Do you guys still have that old greenhouse with the gigantic Venus flytraps?”
The man gave a friendly smile as he took my cash and handed out tickets to the farm. “Shut down a few years ago, unfortunately. It’s still on the property, but the experiment ended. However, the old marsh just opened. The tour leaves in an hour.”
My wife and I hustled Emily past the podium and the attendant. As we reached the edge of the barn, I looked back to see him sniff at the air.
“Sir?” he called out. “Is that sunscreen I smell?”
“Yes,” my wife said.
The attendant frowned. “Might I recommend on skipping the marsh tour, then? And watch your step in the fields, as well. There are a few plants out there that enjoy the smell of the lotion a bit too much for their own good. It would be a shame to put them to rest.”