Farmstay U.S. Blog

Created for and by travelers and the farmers, these posts will cover a variety of topics related to farm stays in the U.S.

Q&A with Lili DeBarbieri, author, A Guide to Southern Arizona's Historic Farms and Ranches

southernazhistoricfarmsTravel Writer and librarian Lili DeBarbieri recently published a wonderful book called  A Guide to Southern Arizona's Historic Farms and Ranches, Rustic Southwest Retreats.

We talked with Lili about her book, Southern Arizona, her travel adventures, and farm and ranching trends. Fascinating stuff -- please read on!

FSUS: When was the first time you heard the term 'farm stay?' How about 'guest ranch?'

Lili: I think first became aware of the term 'farm stay' in association with the volunteer opportunities that the organization World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) offers. This was more than ten years ago but I distinctly remember reading an article about volunteer vacations on Hawaiian farms through WWOOF. I do have to give credit to my home state of Pennsylvania for bringing the more leisurely alterative to WWOOF in the form of 'farm stays' again to my attention. Once I saw that staying on a working farm (in Lancaster County) was the same if not cheaper in price than a hotel or motel but offered such wonderful learning opportunities as an added bonus I was sold! A few years ago, I worked and lived on a historic guest ranch near Santa Fe and that was my introduction to that vacation option.

FSUS: What inspired you to write "A Guide to Southern Arizona's Historic Farms and Ranches: Rustic Southwest Retreats", and why did you choose to focus on Southern Arizona?


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Lili: The type of traveling I tend to gravitate towards in my personal life inspired the content of the book -- unique vacations, working holidays, eco-tourism -- all of which intertwine during a stay on a ranch or farm. It seemed though that much more attention had been previously focused on WWOOF volunteer opportunities as a holiday option so I wanted to bring the concept of 'farm stays' and 'guest ranches' more to the forefront. I like to call farm-stays "WOOF-ing light."
I also thought it would be interesting to write about a part of the country that is not normally as highly associated with agriculture and agri-tourism in the same way that the Midwest, the East Coast or California is as well as to encourage the support of Arizona's local businesses and economy. The incredible landscape, character and color of the region provided an easy palate.

 

FSUS: In chapter two of your book, "Courting Relaxation: A brief history of guest ranching," you discuss how Easterners and Europeans became enamored of Southern Arizona and began guest ranching there in the 1880s, even before there were many modern comforts at the ranches. Was Southern Arizona a pioneer in the guest ranch industry, or was a similar movement happening in other parts of the West at the same time?

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Lili: Yes! Great question. This whole region was very much a trailblazer in the guest ranching industry. Through what I was able to piece together from historical archives there is very strong evidence that the very first guest ranches began right here in Southern Arizona as early as the 1860s but guest ranching was slower to really take off because of the climactic conditions well before air-conditioning that made the tourism season here shorter than other Western states such as Wyoming and Montana, where guest ranching had its early beginings as well.

FSUS: How did you choose the ranches and farms that ended up in your book?


Lili: The criteria I aimed for when I first began writing the book were to put together a list of places that had a great deal of not only history and scenic beauty but were also locally owned, environmentally friendly and were contributing in positive ways to their communities. I started with internet searches and looked at members of professional associations in the industry. Then, over time, I just serendipitously stumbled upon many of the ranches and farms throughout the course of my research.

FSUS: Do you have a favorite story or moment from researching your book?


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Lili: A series of them-the Triangle L guest ranch in Oracle holds a sentimental place in my heart since it was the first ranch I visited back when I began writing the book and I am still amazed by its art, architecture, vibe and scenery. Going up there recently for the annual GLOW festival was like "coming home" in a way. The day I spent at the Circle Z Ranch trail riding through the Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve and then afterwards having lunch at the local saloon was a real highlight as well.

FSUS: Veronica Schultz, who co-owns Rancho de la Osa with her husband, says that they run the guest ranch in part "to continue a lifestyle that is dying. Guest ranches are remote, and fewer and fewer exist every year." Are guest ranches in fact decreasing in numbers? If so, why?


Lili: Yes, for example at the turn of the twentieth century, the greater Tucson area alone had over 100 guest ranches and that number has dwindled to about three. The costs of operating a guest ranch and the challenges involved in actually turning a profit, like any business, are considerable. This reality is probably a microcosm of what has happened in many other sectors of society. Modern urban development in the past few decades around the country has overtaken the natural land and wide open spaces needed to own a farm stay or guest ranch and provide the appropriate experiences for guests. What traveler wants to horse-back ride through a subdivision? But there is also a resurgence of interest in unique vacations driving tourists to look beyond generic forms of accommodation and towards a stay in the country.

FSUS: Can you talk a bit about the trends in farming and ranching happening in Southern Arizona?


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Lili: Guest ranches during the 1920s and 1930s were that generation's answer to a "staycation." Traveling overseas was really only an option for the very wealthy. Now, with the high cost of air travel there is that comparable economic incentive to participate in agri-tourism as people everywhere are looking for more affordable options for travel.
At any given moment there are different trends and words circulating in the public's imagination have influenced farming, ranching and the accompanying tourism --sustainability, heritage foods, farm to table, back-to-nature, purposeful living. The desire for simple, timeless travel experiences is certainly an influence.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, the art and films being made brought a lot of travelers and would-be adventurers out West. Now, what drives the interest in staying on a guest ranch or farm is more food, health and wellness related. The slow food movement ignited an interest in cooking with fresh, local, seasonal foods. I can't open a popular women's magazine without seeing an article listing the "best farmers markets around the country" or the "health benefits of fruits and vegetables", the glamorization of rural living!
Overall, there is more of an awareness of and desire to intentionally support local businesses in general and that has spilled over into the idea of "knowing your farmer" and to the financial support of local farms and ranches through direct purchases as well. It is now a selling point for a business to use local ingredients or materials. I notice that farmers and ranchers are really reaching out to involve, promote and educate their communities. Guest ranches in particular have really upped their game over the years and now offer so many varied opportunities to not only enjoy the outdoors but to really take something away in an educational sense from your vacation. In our school districts in Arizona, gardens are used for teaching children about science, math and many other subjects and sourcing from local farms into many school cafeterias is quite commonplace now and it was not say twenty years ago. It is a turn for the better.


To buy Lili's book, visit www.farmstayus.com/shop/guidebooks

 

 

 

1 comment for “Q&A with Lili DeBarbieri, author, A Guide to Southern Arizona's Historic Farms and Ranches”

  1. Gravatar of Lili DeBarbieriLili DeBarbieri
    Posted Thursday, November 08, 2012 at 10:58:52 AM

    Thanks Michelle! It was great chatting with you and hope to visit your farm someday!

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