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.

Archive for tag: Virginia


Please join us in welcoming Belle Meade Farm in Sperryville, Virginia to the Farm Stay U.S. website.


This restored Victorian farmhouse is located on 138 acres of fields, woods, and streams in a beautiful valley surrounded by mountains. A teaching farm with organic gardening, chickens, horses, pigs, and cows, Belle Meade Farm is a great place to renew and refresh.

belle 2 belle cottage

The farm has four in-house rooms, as well as a stand-alone cottage, all with private baths. Rates include a hearty breakfast. Guests of all ages are welcome, as are weddings and special events.

To learn more and plan a visit, check out the Belle Meade Farm listing here on Farm Stay U.S.!

(Photos courtesy Belle Meade Farm)

Please join us in welcoming one of our newest members to Farm Stay U.S., Mavis Manor!

Mavis Manor 1

Specializing in "Farm to Fork localness", Mavis Manor is a sustanable farm stay retreat situated on 33 acres in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains of West Virginia.

The farm raises a flock of 75+ happy chickens, a fluffy English Angora Rabbit named Chewy, and a locally famous pig called Sylvia Smackers.

Mavis Manor 2

With three guest rooms in the 1897 Queen Anne Victorian house, Mavis Manor can accommodate up to 9 guests, including children under 12. They provide breakfast and have snacks available, and guests are welcome to help with chores, learn about permaculture, or relax and play yard games.

To see what more they have to offer, visit Mavis Manor's listing on Farm Stay U.S.!

The Ponderosa Lodge Farm

The Ponderosa Lodge Farm is scenically situated in the mountains above West Virginia's New River Gorge, a great spot for hiking, rock climbing, and river rafting. In July, I drove the winding road up to the farm to meet with owner Ken Toney and take a tour of the farm. When I arrive, Ken generously takes a break from his work in the lodge's kitchen to show me around. A whole bin of apples sits on the counter along with two fresh-from-the-oven pies and the dough for a loaf of olive bread. The apples are too sour and tough for eating out of hand, says Ken, but just fine for cooking. Ken tells me, "I've always loved cooking ... that might be the downside of farming; I can't just spend all day in the kitchen." Ken grows most of the food his family eats, and he tells me they will be trying out the '100-foot diet challenge' next year, to see if they can raise, grow, hunt, or gather nearly everything they eat. Ken also offers bread baking, pickling, and canning classes for interested guests.

The Lodge

The three-story Ponderosa Lodge sleeps up to 32 guests in 10 bedrooms, each with a private bath. Ken and his wife Jorene have set up the lodge as a private destination for family reunions, weddings, and church or business retreats. Ken points out that the New River Gorge is a fairly central point for folks who live east of the Mississippi, so it works well as a meeting point for even far-flung families.

The lodge was originally built in 1969 as a zoo; it later became a roadside motor lodge and restaurant. Wall mounts of bear, deer, and cougar that once lived at the zoo still decorate the walls of the Great Room, which is just inside of the lodge's front entrance. The Great Room also features a big stone fireplace, lots of comfortable seating, and a huge wagon wheel chandelier.

Ken and Jorene bought the property in 2005, and they quickly jumped into renovating the lodge and clearing land where they could raise vegetables and animals. They've had to clear lots of pine trees, which they've put to good use, either milling the lumber to use for building or using the wood for heating the lodge come winter. Opening up the forest has also allowed Ken to install solar hot water and electric panels, and he plans to install more.  Most of the renovations required for the lodge were fortunately cosmetic. Ken and Jorene replaced the lodge's flooring, for instance, using recycled hardwood flooring from a local roller skating rink. They also renovated the kitchen completely, updating appliances and making it open and bright. Guests who would like to cook during their stay may rent the kitchen as a separate rental from the lodge. Ken also offers catered lunches or dinners, featuring a seasonal menu of food that's raised right on the farm or bought locally.

Ken and Jorene were looking only to buy a cabin for themselves when they found the listing for Ponderosa Lodge. Even though it was much bigger than what they had envisioned, they fell in love with the property and decided to buy it. As Ken tells me, "I'm really not a city person... I've always wanted to farm," so it suited him to leave his job at the Naval Research Lab to move full-time to West Virginia. Jorene still works as an attorney, spending week days working in Falls Church, a suburb of DC. Since Ken and Jorene's son Liam was born in 2008, he has become an integral part of the welcome crew at the lodge. Liam loves to help with the animals, and Ken has modified some of the animal feeders so that Liam can help out more. Says Ken, "Liam learned what animals say before we started teaching him that. He doesn't say 'baah' for goat, he says 'waaah,' since that's what our goats really sound like." Guest kids (as well as adults) love touring the farm and feeding the animals, too.

The Farm

Ken and Jorene have been farming at Ponderosa Lodge for three years now, and Ken tells me that it just keeps getting better. The shallow topsoil and steep topography are challenging for growing vegetables, which is one of the major reasons they decided to get animals. Raising poultry and livestock provides not only meat but also manure, allowing Ken to improve the soil fertility and grow lush vegetables on even his marginal land.

Ken shows me his chard, with its ruby red stem and vibrant green leaves, and he says, "This is my favorite vegetable of the year. It's just a powerhouse of nutrients. I can put it on a pizza, chop it up and put it in an omelet, and Liam eats it ... he loves it." The vegetables Ken grows are heirloom varieties, and he enjoys picking out unusual seeds when he plans his garden in the winter. Ken also experiments with companion planting and intercropping -- he plants a Three Sisters Garden of corn, beans, and squash, a traditional planting combination used by American Indians. Jorene has also planted beautiful perennial gardens around the lodge.

The Animals

Says Ken, "We have 16 acres here, which seems like a lot, but I'm already starting to feel the crunch." There are nine acres with permanent fence, where six goats, a steer, and seven pigs live. Ken also keeps around six ducks, a handful of rabbits, 16 turkeys, and 80 layer and broiler chickens inside of portable electric fencing that he can easily move around as the poultry need new grass to graze. Ken says he follows the model of farming practiced by Joel Salatin at his Polyface Farm, which is pasture based, "beyond organic," and diverse.

Ken talks cheerfully to the animals as we walk around feeding everyone. When one of the goats nudges Ken's hand eagerly to get to the grain he's holding, he calls out, "Hello, Gus! You're gettin' strong! Hey! That was my finger, you!" Ken tells me that the goats are wonderful with Liam. He says, "I can give this bucket to Liam, and they'll just follow him, or they'll be right in front leading the way. We might actually have trouble butchering them. We're in here with them every day, and that tames them up some." Like the Salatins at Polyface Farm, Ken also butchers his own meats.

Every year, he buys animals in the spring and butchers them in the fall. He keep only the hens and breeder rabbits through the winter, since keeping the others wouldn't make economic sense. Ken is also planning to build a smokehouse this fall. Ken chooses varieties of animals that are adapted to being on pasture. His broiler chickens are Freedom Rangers, an old French breed. Ken tells me, "Chickens are so much healthier on pasture. And the Freedom Rangers are more suited for foraging than the most commonly raised broilers, Cornish Cross. Freedom Rangers are ready to be butchered after 11 weeks, as opposed to 8 weeks for the standard Cornish Cross. I've just been so pleased with them. The common breeds have been manipulated so much for the big industrial farms that they're not good at surviving; they are not very healthy."

In addition to feeding their family and guests with the food they raise on the farm, Ken and Jorene also have a small CSA program that feeds 15-20 people, mostly Jorene's co-workers and their friends. The CSA basket includes eggs, vegetables, turkeys, and pork, plus strawberries and juneberries in season.

If you go:

The Ponderosa Lodge is open year round, and is available for group retreats, weddings, and special events. Rates for the whole lodge (sleeps 32) are $795, Jan 1-April 30. From May 1 to Dec 31, rates are $845 for up to 22 guests, and $895 for 23-32 guests. All 10 rooms have private baths. The kitchen is available as an additional rental; catered meals and cooking classes are also available.



Ken Toney and Jorene Soto

Phone: (304) 438-7113

Toll Free: (877) 246-9972


P.O. Box 186, Lookout, WV 25868

*Ken and Jorene also write a neat blog for anyone interested in gardening, cooking, or raising animals: Ken's food pics will make your mouth water.

**Piglet photo courtesy Ken Toney

This post was originally published at Michelle's Farm Stay Project blog, at For more photos of the farm, see Michelle's Ponderosa Lodge album on Picasa.

Feature: Brightwood Vineyard and Farm

Sitting on the wraparound deck of the Brightwood Farm cottage makes you feel like you're up in the trees. The Robinson River winds through in the valley below, and the loudest sound you hear is the cicadas' buzz. Inside of the cottage, large windows still let you enjoy the view and the vibrant green of the summer canopy. The cottage is a very cleverly planned 600 square feet, with every nook and cranny serving some purpose. Susan and Dean Vidal designed their guest cottage around an A-frame that the farm's previous owners built in 1974. One of the Vidals' ideas for the farm, from the time they moved there 10 years ago, was to share the beautiful farm they had found.

Because of their relationship with the previous owners, the Vidals didn't want to tear down the A-frame, so they added on a kitchen and eating nook, a bedroom, two sleeping lofts, and the wraparound deck. Dean and Susan's daughter, who is now a full-time green carpenter in Colorado, worked on the cottage addition and restoration with her boyfriend. They reclaimed American chestnut and maple from a barn to build the hardwood floors, and added green features like double-glazed windows, energy-efficient walls, and a clean-burning Jotul wood stove.

When I visit Brightwood Farm, a London couple is staying at the cottage. They tell me, "This is paradise for us. Right now our flat in London is so noisy, there's always construction and drilling going on. Nobody can afford to move right now, so everyone is doing construction work." They say their son, Oscar, at 17, "is usually on Facebook at home, but he loves it here." When Susan and I walk up to the cottage, Oscar is running back from feeding the goats. He looks really happy. Susan tells me, "It's not just the kids who love feeding the animals. The adults love it too. And collecting eggs!" Susan invites guests to help as much or as little as they like.

For breakfast, Susan gives guests a choice of a cook-your-own meal where she provides the ingredients, or a prepared continental breakfast. The ingredients, Susan says, are "really local things" -- Brightwood Farm's own eggs and fresh berries in season, sausage and breakfast meats from the Vidals' neighbors, muffin or pancake mix, and farm-made jam.

The Farm

As Susan Vidal tells it, she and her husband Dean used to be "regular suburban people." But after their children left home and they became inspired by a trip to French wine country, the Vidals agreed they didn't want to stay around the congested DC Beltway forever (they used to live in Arlington, VA). The Vidals decided to buy a farm where they could grow wine grapes. A search around Virginia's best wine-growing counties led Dean and Susan to Brightwood Farm in scenic Central Virginia, just east of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The farm sits on 100 hilly acres, with 35 acres of pasture where the previous owners raised beef cattle. Susan tells me: "Before, I worked as a cartographer. It was a great job. But farming is a much better fit for me than working in a cubicle. I always had trouble with that." Dean, an engineer, still commutes to his job.

The Vidals also enjoy the help of a few interns who come to them through ATTRA (National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service) and WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms). The interns live on the farm -- either in a three-year-old insulated, four-season yurt with a woodstove, or on a tent platform.

Although the Vidals originally set out to make Brightwood Farm into a winery, they quickly realized that they wanted to do much more than just grow wine grapes. From the beginning, the Vidals have grown their farm through diversification -- their primary enterprises are now laying hens and berries. They also raise goats, sheep, vegetables, ducks, and donkeys. When I ask Susan how they learned to farm, she says, "We just kind of launched ourselves into it. We started everything small, and learned by doing."

In the Vidals' first few years of farming, they grew an acre of pumpkins following Virginia Cooperative Extension's recommendations for pumpkin cultivation. Brightwood Farm was not organic then, and Extension's guidelines involved regular spraying of synthetic fungicides and pesticides. As Susan explains, "The sprays kept the pumpkin leaves nice and green, but the fungicides dripped down into the soil and killed the soil microorganisms. Our yields decreased each year as soil fertility declined. You can kind of prop up the production if you keep adding more fertilizers, but we didn't want to do that." The Vidals transitioned Brightwood Farm to a certified organic farm in 2007.

True to their diversification strategy, the Vidals currently grow five kinds of raspberry and four varieties of blackberry. The Vidals grow diverse plant varieties to improve their chances of getting good yields despite attacks from insect and disease -- certain varieties might be more resistant to one pest, while another variety is resistant to a different pest. The Vidals also look for plant varieties that thrive without chemical inputs. In addition to the berries, the Vidals raise a diverse collection of vegetables. They grow some vegetables at Brightwood Farm, where they have a shade house that holds salad greens much of the year, and a hoop house for growing warm weather crops. They grow the bulk of their vegetables (which mostly go to restaurants) on 10 acres of a neighboring property.

Brightwood Farm is also a small winery, just as the Vidals originally planned, but the wines they make are different than what you might expect. Susan tell me, "We're still working on the grape part. It's a challenge doing grapes organically. In the meantime we started making blackberry, elderberry, and elder flower wine ... We do dry wines, so they're not the run-of-the-mill fruit wines, either." After Susan offers me samples of their wines, I can vouch that Brightwood Farm's fruit wines are not only unusual, they're also really delicious.

Dean Vidal makes all of the wine for the farm in 15-gallon batches in the state-certified commercial kitchen in the basement of their house. In the kitchen, the Vidals and their workers also make jam and process dried herbs for tea.

With their livestock, the Vidals choose specific breeds for their vitality and versatility -- heritage chickens for eggs and meat, easy-keeping Spanish meat goats, and they've recently started raising dual-purpose Tunis sheep. They look for animals that do well on average pasture, without needing much supplementary grain.

Brightwood Farm's 120 laying hens live in a movable house that allows Susan to easily shift the hens to fresh pasture as soon as they've clipped short the grass in their current spot. Susan says, "We generally go for the older, dual-purpose breeds, because after they stop laying they become stew hens." The Brightwood chickens' breeds have wonderful old names like Speckled Sussex and Buff Orpington, some of which are rare breeds that farmers like Susan are trying to bring back from endangered status. Susan also enjoys raising her own chicks. She tells me, "We have to buy in purebreds some years because we have no way of selecting the best layers. But this year, I'm looking for broody hens that want to sit -- I'm looking for volunteers!"

The Vidals' Spanish meat goats also have a remarkable lineage. Spanish meat goats, now rare, are descendants of the goats brought to America by early settlers, mainly the conquistadors and missionaries of the Southwest. These Spanish goats were abandoned or escaped their farms, and lived in the wild for many generations before being re-domesticated. As a result, they are easy keepers, and great moms - they have very little trouble kidding and nursing. Spanish goats' mixed heritage also means the goats come in different colors. As Susan says, "It's fun when they're born 'cause you never know what color they're going to be." The goats have a furry, friendly guardian dog, named Athena, to protect them from predators like coyotes. Each group of animals on the farm enjoys the protection their own guardian dog. Susan says fondly, "We couldn't do it without the dogs!"

The Vidals originally brought donkeys to the farm to protect the livestock from predators. "But," says Susan, "They were hard on the little goats." The Vidals now rely on the three donkeys for fertility. "Since we're organic," says Susan, "We rely on non-commercial fertilizers. And, the donkeys like the guests and the guests like the donkeys."

The Vidals sell their produce, wine, meat, and eggs at two very different farmers' markets, Charlottesville (where there are around 100 vendors and Brightwood Farm sells wine, jam, and meat), and the more local Madison farmers' markets (where there are only 8-10 vendors, and the customers mostly ask for vegetables.) The Vidals also sell to restaurants through a Virginia-based company called The Fresh Link, whose tagline is "Family Farms to City Plates." Twice a week, the Vidals post information about what produce they're offering to The Fresh Link, where the information is made available to restaurant chefs, who order the exact kind and number of heirloom tomatoes and free-range eggs they need.

If you go:

The Brightwood cottage sleeps up to four on one queen bed and two twin loft beds. Rates are $110/night weekdays and $155/night on weekends, double occupancy. Additional guests are $20/person, per night. The farm is two hours from Washington DC and 45 minutes from Shenandoah National Park. Farm activities (for guests who are interested) include feeding goats, sheep, and donkeys and collecting eggs. Guests are also welcome to swim in the Robinson River and walk on trails that wind through the farm's "back 40."

Dean and Susan Vidal

(540) 948-6845

1202 Lillard's Ford Rd.
Brightwood, VA 22715

This post was written by Michelle Nowak, and originally published at her blog, The Farm Stay Project (, on July 28.