Over the July 4th weekend this year, a young friend came to visit the farm. He'd been following my Instagram account for a while, and was looking forward to seeing the animals and participating in a few of the chores... a big departure from his day-to-day life as a suburban kid from Southern California.
As we prepared to walk through the loafing shed and let the sheep out into the pasture for the day, he asked me to tell him what was poop, so he could avoid stepping in it.
"It's ALL poop," was my (unhelpful?) reply.
The boy gazed down at his shoes for a moment, then shrugged and followed me out.
Real talk? It's all poop. And mud and itchy straw and blood that accompanies not just wounds but birth. It's tender plants burnt by the sun, and hay fields ruined by unexpected rain. Or, you know, plants nourished by rain and haystacks perfectly dried by the sun.
Why are we having some real talk here? Recent articles in Grist and Modern Farmer claim that agritourism is romanticizing farming to a degree that becomes harmful to the sustainability of our small farms. Both articles focus heavily on farm weddings and professional photographs of brides and grooms lounging in straw (itchy! sneezy!), and how dirty and smelly a farm can be. The Modern Farmer writer bemoans "the glorification of the quaint farm aesthetic". That's pretty funny coming from a magazine that sells a twelve dollar jam spatula and limited edition muck boots in their online store.
Both writers seem to be implying that a farmer cannot be both grower and hostess, while maintaining the integrity of her farming operation.
The Grist writer says she tries not to idealize in her writing, concerned that a pretty picture of farm life does a disservice to the visitor or reader, hiding the financial, social, and environmental complexities of farming. We think a farmer's story should be an honest one, yes, but we also believe that diversifying income for small farms only makes sense. The old idiom "don't put all your eggs in one basket" comes to mind. Weddings, overnight guests, and farm-to-table dinners are simply another chapter in the farmer's story. That would be the chapter where the farmer gets to keep the farm because he's not depending solely on good market prices for his products.
Back to the weddings for a minute. COME ON. We aren't immune to gently poking fun at photos that show very clean people performing farming chores, but wedding photographs are always quixotic and romantic. WEDDING. It doesn't matter if the event takes place in a barn or on a beach (yuck, all that sand everywhere), the photographs are going to be pretty and golden-hued. That's what a bride wants, and that's what a venue wants to show future guests. It's memory, and promise, and beauty in the rustic, and should a farmer apologze for providing a setting that people want?
Photos of brides kicking up their cowboy-booted heels with just a touch of lens-flare halo kissing the hay field... well, we say that's as legitimate a story as unrelenting blood and mud. And smells. Yes, sometimes the actual experience includes the aroma of livestock wafting over the newlyweds and their guests. That's real.
We've been working on Farm Stay U.S. (now known as the U.S. Farm Stay Association) for four years now. It's been our experience that most farm stay guests are disabused of lingering notions of romantic farm life once they see the hard (smelly, dirty) work that goes into growing produce and livestock. But they still love their time on the farm. Many return year after year, happy to visit and learn and lend a hand. They're happy that their vacation dollars are infused into a rural economy.
They keep their romantic views of the peace and quiet, the stars at night. They gain an understanding of the cycle of life and death and an appreciation for the beauty of the natural world that surrounds us every day. Farm stay owners want to share this with urbanite travelers because we think that what we have is pretty special - even all that compost. Er... poop.
Nearly a mile high in the Southern Cascades, 440 acre Willow-Witt Ranch offers an experience you won’t forget. Whether you’re there for the spectacular views, a family-friendly farm stay full of activities, an event hosted on the ranch, or simply to just get away and relax, you’ll find it all at this off-grid ranch.
Through sustainable agricultural and forest management, energy independence, and wetland restoration, Willow-Witt Ranch has created quite the traveler’s dream of a rural getaway. This family-friendly ranch is a great place to bring friends and the kids along, but also offers a peaceful secluded location for couples and adults who just want to get away from it all.
Before Suzanne Willow and Lanita Witt took over stewardship and named their Willow-Witt Ranch, dairy cows and beef cattle grazed this ranch valley for more than 100 years. Restoration included fencing livestock out of critical wetland habitat, prioritizing forest planting and re-growth, and practicing sustainable farm management. In 2009 the ranch was recognized with the Watershed Friendly Steward Award. For a more in-depth history of the ranch, you can visit its website here (Ranch History)
The ranch offers an array of goods, including farm-fresh eggs, goat milk, a variety of meats and organic compost.
Willow-Witt is a community supported agricultural ranch with sustainably-raised and organically fed livestock. If you spend the night at one of the multiple farm stay options, make sure to request a grocery list of farm-grown meats and vegetables and your fridge will be stocked for your arrival. Willow-Witt is hugely involved with the Ashland Growers’ Farmers Market. You can also browse through their online farm store and get a look at what they have to offer (Online Farm Store).
From birding and hiking miles of wooded trails with pack goats to farm stays, tours, and the occasional weekend event hosted on the farm, Willow-Witt is full of family-friendly and community-oriented activities.
Kids and adults are more than welcome to help out with chores, which they often end up enjoying. Who would have thought that doing chores could be so much fun! Playing with the farm animals and gardening are two other farm favorite activities for guests on the ranch.
Willow-Witt offers a variety of ways to stay on the farm: a furnished farmhouse studio with loft, the Meadow House, deluxe platform tents, and, if you want to pitch a tent, there are private campsites nestled within the trees.
The Farmhouse Studio sleeps up to six, features a wood stove and full kitchen and overlooks beautiful meadows.
The Meadow House, a beautiful three bedroom two bath is available for farm stay or just the day for events.
Glamping, or glamorous camping, is another vacation option on the ranch. Platform tents and campsites come with the use of a fully equipped kitchen, hot showers, towels, bathrooms, and a complimentary tour of the farm.
Your next adventure starts here. Plan your trip and (Book Now). If you’d like more information, check out their (Farm Stay profile here).
(Photo Credit: Willow-Witt Ranch)
Westgate River Ranch is located on 1700 acres in Central Florida, just an hour from Orlando. Not your typical cattle-wrangling operation, Westgate provides plenty of family opportunities to enjoy the outdoors with everything from a petting corral and rodeo to swamp buggy rides and trap and skeet shooting.
We fired off some questions to the ranch to find out exactly what they have to offer.
Believe it or not, Florida actually served as the original birthplace of the American cowboy. Long before cowboys became the symbol of the American West in the late 19th century, Seminole Indians, Spanish colonists and American settlers called “Crackers” herded cattle in Florida. Westgate River Ranch is located on some of the same land that those first cowboys roamed years ago.
In the early 1700s, American settlers began migrating to Florida out of the Carolinas and Georgia. These early settlers quickly took advantage of the wild cattle roaming the state. They often were called “cow catchers” because they would capture the wild cattle and build herds from them that they would drive to the seaports of Florida and sell to the Spanish that were sailing in from Cuba and Puerto Rico. The cattle would be taken back to Cuba and Puerto Rico to stock the ranches of the Spanish islands and be used as a food source.
These first American cowboys eventually became known as “cracker cowboys” and the Spanish cattle and horses that they made their living with were called “cracker horses” and “cracker cattle.”
The area that became known as River Ranch once served as a stopping point along the trail for the cracker cowboys during their cattle drives across the state. They would meet each other here at certain times of the year and bring together the small herds of wild cattle that they had caught into one large herd. By doing that they could help each other get those cattle to market.
River Ranch was originally built in the 1960s by Gulf American Corp. (GAC), then one of the largest land developers in the state, as the centerpiece of a huge proposed development in the area called “River Ranch Acres.” In 2001, Westgate Resorts purchased River Ranch and Westgate River Ranch reopened its doors the following year.
Westgate River Ranch, which has evolved into the largest dude ranch East of the Mississippi, lies on 1,700 beautiful acres and is surrounded on all sides by approximately 400,000 acres of state and federally protected wetlands. We are located about an hour south of Orlando – easily accessible by car and RV.
We cater to couples, families and groups. We are extremely child friendly with endless activities.
We have an abundance of activities on offer at the ranch – horse back riding, air boat rides, swamp buggy rides, archery range, basketball, boat rentals, dinner hayride, fishing, full service marina, mechanical bull, nine hole golf course, petting farm, pony rides, trap & skeet range, video arcade, horseshoes, tennis, outdoor pool.
A huge favorite among the kids in particular is our adventure park which features a bungee jumper, mini-golf, rock climbing wall and zip-line We also have a ropes course which can cater for group/corporate team building events.
The live Rodeo takes place every Saturday night and is open to guests and the public alike. (Additional fee for ticket applies). It draws rodeo athletes from all over to compete in trick riding, calf roping, barrel racing and, of course, bull riding.
Plus the fun doesn’t stop once the rodeo ends! If you feel bull riding isn’t that tough, take a spin on our new Mechanical Bull. Or get your feet moving to the lively Dance Party just outside the River Ranch Saloon where you’ll hear music and games from a lively DJ to end a perfect day.
We neglected to ask about the food but, after-the-fact, found out that the Smokehouse Grill restaurant serves excellent smoked BBQ. The onsite General Store serves breakfast, salads, deli sandwiches, pizza, beverages as well as offers sundries and groceries. Future plans (sometime this year) include a renovation of the Saloon (located next to the Rodeo) to convert it to a steakhouse, bar and live music venue.
So, while this might not be the typical farm or ranch stay, there's plenty to enjoy from sunrise to sundown. In fact you can book your reservation right here right now, then head out to the ranch, jump on a horse and ride into a bit of Florida history, if only for the afternoon.
(Photo credits: Westgate River Ranch)
Gently rolling Kentucky bluegrass and antebellum charm abound for guests who visit The Farm, LLC in Danville, Kentucky, an 1825 working farm home with a modern addition.
Roy and Angela Martin are the owners and hosts at The Farm, LLC, and Angela tells us that Roy has "always been a farmer, like his father and grandfather before him." Roy is a cattle rancher, raising mostly Angus cows. Over the years, they've added chickens (and an egg business), goats, and a couple of Jersey dairy cows which provide milk for farm-made butter, cheese, and yogurt.
Other animals include ducks, rabbits, guineas, pigs, kittens, Great Pyrenees dogs, and a peacock family!
Angela and Roy love to give their guests a true farming experience with a daily barn tour, milking goats, collecting chicken eggs, or - depending on the time of year - taking part in an instructional class such as cooking, canning, and making butter or cheese.
But guests don't have to stick to farming... the property has a pond and two walking trails, as well as sitting porches for relaxing, and a tire swing and playhouse for kids. In the evening, there's a bonfire and stargazing (and fresh goats milk ice cream!) Offsite adventures - if you can tear yourself away - include the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and Keeneland.
The Farm, LLC offers 7 large in-house rooms for guests, with spacious formal and informal dining and entertainment areas, and multiple fully equipped kitches. For private lodging, there is "Belle's Cottage" (that's Belle in the photo above, next to her namesake cottage), which sleeps 4 and has a kitchenette and bathroom.
To learn more about what The Farm, LLC has to offer, check out their listing here on Farm Stay U.S. - fun, relaxation, and a good old fashioned farm experience in the heart of Kentucky's Bluegrass region await!
(Photos courtesy The Farm, LLC)
NEW MEMBER SPOTLIGHT!
Farm Stay U.S. was happy to welcome Waihuena Farm in Haleiwa, Hawaii to the site in 2013.
Just across the street from Pipeline, neighboring the Pupukea Paumalu nature reserve, Waihuena Farm runs a small CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program featuring their organically managed crops. The farm is also host to a weekly yoga class and monthly permaculture workshops and events, including guest chef dinners.
Waihuena Farm has a lodge, which can sleep up to 12 people, a beach house, which sleeps up to 6, and also welcomes campers. Guests of all ages are invited to stay.
To learn more and plan your farm stay in Hawaii, visit the Waihuena Farm listing here on Farm Stay U.S. Aloha!
(Photos courtesy Waihuena Farm)
Mariposa Creamery is a small micro-dairy offering a farm stay in the middle of the historic Zane Grey Estate in Altadena, California. Who would have thought you could take a real farm vacation in the Los Angeles suburbs?
Besides being able to stay overnight on the farm, guests can opt in for cheese-making classes and a chance to taste a variety of the cultured milk products produced by the resident Nubian goats. Goats are milked twice a day and guests are allowed to try their hand. It's harder than it looks, but the goats are patient teachers.
Great for couples or young families with at most two small kids (due to the size of the Airtream trailer that resides in the middle of the garden), Mariposa Creamery has been selected by Airbnb as one of the Top 40 on its Wishlist. Could it be they were chosen because their promotional photo shows baby goats in front of the Airstream? Or could it be just the most interesting, fun, natural, foodie stay in LA - and for only $169 per night?!
We sat down with Gloria Putnam, goat herder/cheesemaker/farmer to find out more about her farm oasis and what it's like to be an urban farmer.
We are in a suburban neighborhood. About 15 minutes from downtown LA. And only 5 minutes from the hiking trails of the Angeles National Forest.
The Estate is on the National Register of Historic Places, both because the western author Zane Grey lived (and died) here, and also because it was built by architect Myron Hunt, who is most famous for building the Rose Bowl in Pasadena but also for building many other commercial and residential structures in the area and was an early pioneer in poured-in-place concrete construction.
The property has no history of farming before our project. But it's an ideal location for a suburban farm because the lot size is large compared to most properties, and Altadena has zoning laws that allow livestock. Altadena is kind of an urban farming hot spot in Los Angeles.
The most popular activity is the morning goat milking. Guests can watch or get a private goat milking lesson. Many students plan their visit around a food crafting class offered on the Estate by the Institute of Domestic Technology. Others arrange for private cheese making instruction.
Off farm, guests enjoy visiting the nearby Huntington Gardens and hiking in the mountains. We have a collection of ruminant-related DVDs in the Airstream that are also very popular!
Our Bambi is the smallest trailer made by Airstream--only 16ft. Think Tiny House size. The main bed is a little bit more narrow than a full, so fine for a couple that doesn't mind a night of snuggling. The dinette also folds down into a smaller bed. We've had up to families of 4 work it out, but that's a little bit tight. Families of 3 and couples are the most common guests.
We've been farming here for about 7 years. Our dairy goats are the main focus, but we also keep chickens and quail, and have a reasonably sized vegetable garden and herb garden. We were motivated initially by just wanting good food. But now I think we are mainly motivated by our love of our animals, and an appreciation for the magic of what they do: make milk out of grass!
I love milk. And goats seemed an obvious choice since our space is relatively small compared to most farms. Our goats are Nubians, so they make especially rich milk, which is great for drinking but also high-yielding for cheese.
The most fun part of small-scale farming for me is learning something new, since I didn't grow up on a farm. I love learning about the goats, how to best keep them happy and healthy, and how to make the best use of their generous offerings. I'm a scientist by training, so cheese making is a natural hobby for me.
Our farm's focus is education. We don't sell our milk or cheese although farmstay guests get to enjoy both while they are here. We teach cheese making classes and operate a dairy internship program for locals. There aren't many farms or ranches near Los Angeles, so it's a great place to invite people to come and see what what small scale farming is like. Everyone who visits is surprised by how friendly the goats are. The most common comment I get is "They are just like dogs!" Except dogs don't give you their milk!
So ended our conversation with Mariposa Creamery, obviously great lovers of goats, hanky-panky aside. Did we forget to say that their Mariposa Creamery Facebook page is full of the daily antics of their four-legged friends, including sneaking in through windows into the kitchen and getting stuck in all manner of things?! A visit to this farm is sure to bring some peace into the middle of an LA stay, but also a few tales to tell!
Please give a warm Farm Stay U.S. hello to Harmony Fields in Bow, Washington!
Growing herbs and specialty produce, and raising lamb and ducks, Harmony Fields is an organic farm located in the Skagit Valley of Washington. Guests can help feed sheep, ducks, and donkeys, and explore the herb and vegetable beds. In the summer, there is a workshop focused on health and creativity.
Located near the town of Edison, the farm has views of Mount Baker and there are other farms nearby that guests can visit for fresh berries, cheese, and other treats.
Harmony Fields welcomes guests of all ages in their seasonally available guest cottage. The cottage has a full kitchen, bath, and loft bedroom.
To learn more and plan a visit, check out the Harmony Fields listing here on Farm Stay U.S.!
(Photos courtesy Harmony Fields)
We'd like to invite you to come like our page on Facebook, if you haven't already. We love to chat and hear your stories, and we often share great photos and info from our farm and ranch members there.
Are you as addicted to Pinterest as we are? It's a little dangerous, actually, because we can get to looking at the various pins and following them back to their sources, and an hour (or more, shhhhh) goes by in a blink!
Recently, Pinterest rolled out maps for place-pins. It's a really cool feature that lets us pin our farm, ranch, and vineyard stays and have them show up on on a map.
We're still working on getting all the pins linked to their spots on the map, but we're having lots of fun with it! (Looking at the screen-shot above, we clearly need to get that middle area populated!)
Anyway, we love to find new folks to follow, so either post links to your Pinterest profiles here in the comments, or give us a follow over there and we'll find you that way... happy pinning!
We have another new member to spotlight today - Taos Goji Eco Lodge and Farm in San Cristobal, New Mexico. Please join us in welcoming them!
Nestled in the Sangre De Criston Mountains, just 11 miles from Taos, the Taos Goji Eco Lodge and Farm raises organic goji berries, chickens, and goats. Guests will enjoy taking in the surrounding creeks and ponds, aspens, flower gardens, and orchards, and bird watchers will be happy to discover that this is also a bird sanctuary!
Taos Goji Eco Lodge welcomes guests of all ages. They have three cabins, as well as a 3 bedroom adobe Artists Residence with adjoining log cabin, and an Artist Retreat Casita. Meals are self-prepared, and there are lots of activities. The farm welcomes weddings and other special events.
To learn more and plan a visit, check out the Taos Goji Eco Lodge and Farm listing here on Farm Stay U.S.!
(Photos courtesy Taos Goji Eco Lodge and Farm)
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