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ENJOYING A BREAK, DOWN ON THE FARM

He ambled over from the porch of the large red brick farmhouse wagging his tail and wiggling his whole body the way Labrador retrievers do when they are saying hello.

His name was Bear and he and Bart, our Labrador retriever, became instant friends during our stay at Green Acres Farm just a mile outside the village of Mount Joy in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country.

Wayne and Yvonne Miller have been hosting overnight visitors since 1961. The welcome mat is out to all including children and pets. Their 171-year-old home boasts seven guest bedrooms, all with private baths. Our room came with a bonus - on a second floor porch outside the room a mother cat had taken up residence with her newborn kittens behind a table.

"We haven't had any problems with visiting pets here but I usually think of people traveling with a dog then last week we had someone with a rabbit," explained Yvonne Miller with a laugh. "He was in a cage and was quiet so it turned out fine."

The next morning an early morning walk with Bart and Bear took me down the road and past fertile green fields. A mist was rising over the hills. For a few moments no cars or motor vehicles were visible and we could have been back in the 19th century.

I watched the time because breakfast is served promptly at 8 a.m. It was a breakfast fit for farmers who had spent several hours working the fields. Orange juice, scrambled eggs made from eggs gathered from the chickens in the barn, ham balls (ham and spices made by a local butcher), pancakes and shoofly cake with homemade applesauce for dessert.

After breakfast guests, including several children, ambled out to the barnyard to feed the goats and donkey and gather eggs. Wayne Miller hooked up the tractor to the hay wagon and Bear jumped in to his usual front seat. Bart required some coaxing and a boost to get in and everyone else clambered aboard for a trip down the road and over one of the county's 29 covered bridges.

Yvonne Miller offers her own printed back road tour of Amish country but will gladly personalize a tour depending on your interests whether they are antiques, quilts, farm stands or more hearty eating.

"Be sure to visit Lititz - five miles from here - it's home to Wilbur's Chocolate Factory," she said with a wink. "I must confess that I think the chocolate is creamier and better than the more famous chocolate in our area." (She was referring to Hershey, a 35-minute drive north and home to the world's largest chocolate factory.)

A stay at a working farm offers an ideal introduction to the Lancaster County countryside in southeastern Pennsylvania. Farm B&Bs are perfect for families and offer children reared in a city or suburb an insight into another way of life.

The county is home to the oldest and second-largest Old Order Amish population in North America. They are known for their simple, hard-working 19th century lifestyles. Electricity, cars, tractors, telephones and other modern conveniences are not part of Old Order Amish lives, but ample food and plenty of sweets are part of their diets. Known for their farming expertise, the Amish also cultivate a crop of diverse business enterprises including furniture making that is changing the face of their community.

Approximately 25,000 Amish call Lancaster County home. The region received international attention when the movie "Witness" starring Harrison Ford was filmed here. Watch for horse-drawn carriages, the prime transportation for Old Order Amish.

Time to explore

It was time for exploring the back roads. Following Yvonne Miller's advice we headed to Lititz, home to Wilbur's. This well-preserved village was founded in 1756. As a chocolate connoisseur I eagerly approached the chocolate factory. Inside, workers were hand-dipping chocolates and the store was crowded with chocolate lovers. Following Yvonne's recommendation I headed for the light almond clusters. She rated them "fantastic" and I had to agree. The chocolate-covered pretzels were a good choice also.

Two blocks from Wilbur's I spotted a huge pretzel outside the Sturgis Pretzel House where America's first pretzel was made in 1861. Kids get to make their own pretzels here and the tour ends in a shop filled with pretzels of every size and flavor.

The city of Lancaster was established in 1730 and was named after Lancashire, England. It is the country's oldest inland city and boasts one of the largest historic districts. Central Market is the country's oldest continuously operating farmers market.

As befitting its location, this market is filled with locally grown produce, luscious baked goods and locally made crafts. Market days are Tuesday, Friday and Saturday.

Around the corner is the city's newest museum - the Lancaster Quilt & Textile Museum. Housed in an elegant 1912 former bank building, it is recognized as the world's best collection of traditional Amish quilts. Bold colors including reds and purples and intricate designs mark the collection of more than 80 quilts. The walk-in vaults house part of the collection that dates from the 1890s to the 1940s. These quilts gained international recognition as models for the U.S. Postal Service stamp series.

During my visit, several Amish women were touring the museum with obvious pride in the quilts that are regarded as the signature creation of Amish women.

"People don't expect such rich colors but the colors are part of our heritage," explained Elizabeth Yoder of nearby Paradise.

Three museums in downtown Lancaster are free and offer a look inside the life and history of the area. The Lancaster Cultural History Museum on Penn Square invites visitors to learn more about some of the area's most fascinating characters. You will learn why Amish dolls have no faces. Children are invited to pick up their own tour guide and learn more about the area through the objects and history.

The Lancaster Museum of Art is located in the historic 1845 Greek revival style Clement B. Grubb Mansion. The museum presents exhibitions of contemporary art by local, regional, national and international artists.

The restored home and garden of early American modernist painter Charles Demuth (1883-1935) is open as a museum in one of the oldest homes in the city. It houses a permanent collection of Demuth art and memorabilia. It is adjacent to the 1770 Demuth Tobacco Shop - the oldest operating tobacco shop in the country.

The county is also known for its whimsical town names: Bird-in-Hand, Blue Ball, Paradise and Intercourse are just a few of the more interesting names. Intercourse celebrated its 250th anniversary last year.

If you go

Green Acres Farm Bed & Breakfast, (717) 653-4028 or visit www.thegreenacresfarm.com. Overnight rates are $95 (for up to four people) and include breakfast.

Demuth Museum, 120 E. King St., Lancaster. Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday. Admission is free. Info: (717) 299-9940, www.demuth.org.

Lancaster Quilt & Textile Museum, 37-41 N. Market St., Lancaster. Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Admission: $6 adults, $4 children. Info: (717) 299-6440, www.quiltandtextilemuseum.com.

Lancaster Cultural History Museum, 13 West King St., Lancaster. Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Admission: $6 adults, $4 children. Info: (717) 299-6440, www.lancasterheritage.com.

Lancaster Museum of Art, 135 N. Lime St., Lancaster. Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Saturday; and noon to 4 p.m. Sundays. Admission is free. Call (717) 394-3497, www.lmapa.org.

Sturgis Pretzel House, 219 E. Main St., Lititz. Tours are $2. The house and shop are open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Saturday. Info: (717) 626-4354, www.sturgispretzel.com.

Wilbur's Candy Museum, 48 N. Broad St., Lititz. Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Saturday. The museum is free and the shop offer free samples of Wilbur's Buds. Info: (717) 626-3459, www.wilburbuds.com.

For more information:

Contact the Pennsylvania Dutch Convention & Visitors Bureau, (800) PADUTCH or visit www.padutchcountry.com. The Web site includes a complete listing of farm bed and breakfasts.

The Pennsylvania Farm Vacation Association also offers a free brochure called "Pennsyvlania's Farm Stays" that lists 24 member farms located throughout the state, plus a map and vacation tips.

To get the guide, send a first-class, stamped business-size envelope to: PA Farm Vacation Association, 1344 Negro Mountain Road, Warfordsburg, Pa. 17267-9667. Call (888) 856-6622 or visit www.pafarmstay.com

Tips

Here are a few of the tips offered by the Pennsylvania Farm Vacation Association:

Take old clothes, rain gear and a few extra pair of shoes;

Don't take a pet without asking;

Make your arrangements early and directly with the farm of your choice;

Be sure to wipe your feet before entering the house.