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: family vacation

Westgate River RanchWestgate 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.

Can you tell me a little about the history of Westgate River Ranch?

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.

Westgate River Ranch lodging

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.


What is the area like and how do people get to you?

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.

Westgate River Ranch bedroom

What is the lodging like – can you describe a few of the options?

  • Standard and Deluxe Lodge rooms featuring queen beds and in room kitchenette.
  • One and Two Bedroom Cottages, sleeping up to 6 guests. These cottages were completely renovated in 2013 and feature full kitchens.
  • The Saddle Club – these feature studios, one bedroom deluxe cabins, one bedroom grand cabins and two bedroom cabins – these units were all completely renovated in 2013, and feature new dark wood furniture and luxurious lighting and linens.
  • Glamping – ‘Glamorous Camping’ – set in a beautiful wooded area, each tent is set on a platform and is fully furnished, in addition they come with heating/air conditioning, features 2 rocking chairs on the deck, plus each tent has its own grill and picnic table and comes with a key to a private bathroom and shower. The Glamping site also includes a personal concierge service.Westgate River Ranch Glamping Tents
  • Tent Camping - Escape to nature and relaxation at the Westgate River Ranch campsites, which are nestled in a beautiful wide-open area. We conveniently carry firewood, charcoal, and most other camping supplies in the General Store if you happen to need extra comforts you may have forgotten. Westgate River Ranch Glamping Tents Interior
  • RV Site - Each RV Site offers power and water hookups.
  • As of August 2013, we now have shared bathroom facilities with showers within a short walking distance of the campsites. Enjoy camping at an award-winning resort that offers endless activities both day and night!

Who does the resort cater to and how friendly is it towards kids?

We cater to couples, families and groups. We are extremely child friendly with endless activities.

What is a typical visit like, i.e. what do people do while staying with you?

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.

Westgate River Ranch Rodeo

I see you have a rodeo. Who’s in it and is it participatory for guests?

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)

Why Vacation on a Farm?

We asked our farmer, Kim Goodling of Grand View Farm Vermont, whether we could 'borrow' her blog post. We feel she clearly sums up what many of us have observed for the reasons our guests seek the farm stay experience. 

The events of the past two days has caused me to ponder why people choose to stay on a farm for their family vacation and why our family opens our home, lives, and farm up to complete strangers. As I think back over all the guests we have had since this spring, there seems to be two motives behind their spending time with us:

 

Grand View Farm - logo1. The first set of families want to support small family farms, and they are here to lend a helping hand where needed. They recognize the hard work involved in farming and they want to experience it, first hand.These parents have thoughtfully chosen to bring their children to our farm, so that they can experience life "outside of their comfort zone."

Their children have worked in our garden and greenhouse, and have tended to our many animals. These families have taken in with gusto, the fresh air, dark starlit nights, beautiful sunsets, fire flies, naps on the porch, weaving and felting lessons, the babbling brook, amazing mountain views, our wooded trails, and the adventure of traveling on dirt roads.

 

2. The second set of families seem to be on a food adventure! These families live, for the most part in large, bustling cities where the bulk of their groceries are purchased from the market around the corner. They express a "disconnect" with the source of the foods they eat, and they want very much to make that connection. Grand View Farm - eggs

Some of their children have never seen vegetables growing, or have given thought to how food is raised and produced. They do not know that an asparagus grows up out of the ground, and that peas grow from a vine in a pod. They do not know that hens lay one egg a day, and that it takes 40 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of maple syrup. They have never seen piglets racing around, chasing one another, or heard the tiny peeps of small chicks.

These parents have chosen to stay on a farm where food is raised, and to visit neighboring farms who do the same. They see Vermont as setting the standard for high quality foods. Grand View Farm - garden produceTwo sets of our guests, have enjoyed visiting some our friends' larger market gardens. They call ahead to place an order with the farm, and then drive over to pick up their food. An added bonus for driving out to the farm, is to get a personal tour of the farm and to meet some of Vermont's finest, most knowledgeable farmers.

They revel in the idea of being able to eat vegetables that have just been picked, and they are amazed at how fresh everything tastes. We share with them the secrets of where to find the best goat's milk cheese, the best organically grown meats, and the locally brewed beers. Then, we provide a grill for them to cook their dinner while taking in the mountain views.

Grand View Farm - on the grill

Whether here to help with chores, or to enjoy a feasting vacation, both types of families have one thing in common; the parents want to spend time with their children. These parents could have chosen to stay in resorts with all the amenities, pools, televisions, internet access, and numerous kid engaging activities just outside their hotel door.

Instead, they chose to come to our farm, to work together alongside a farming family, to visit with and make friends with farmers who care about how food is grown, and to help their urban raised children make connections that would otherwise be impossible. They have spent 24 hours a day with their children, embracing rural Vermont farm life, and thoughtfully planning each day's adventure, whether exploring the far reaches of Vermont tourist spots, or the dirt road outside our front door.

 

Whether it's Vermont or a farm or ranch stay in some other state, we truly believe that the connection made with our guests, both personal and agricultural, benefits us all in the long run. Our goal here at Farm Stay U.S.: to bridge the urban-rural divide one night, one meal, one family at a time.

Jennifer Murray, of The Inn at East Hill Farm in Troy, NH, recently told us about East Hill Farm's new Farm School. We were intrigued by the idea, so we emailed Jennifer some questions about the farm, inn, and their many agritourism endeavors. Here's the interview.

1. Could you tell us a bit about East Hill Farm?

JM: The Inn at East Hill Farm offers a vacation atmosphere coupled with a unique farm-oriented educational experience. Year round activities for the whole family include indoor and outdoor swimming, hiking, cross country skiing and snowshoeing, cow milking, egg collecting, hay and sleigh rides, horseback riding and a children's recreation program. Three home-cooked family style meals are served daily.

East Hill Farm milking

2. Your farm has so many different programs ... you host farm vacations, senior programs, sleigh rides, dances, and more. How do you do it all? And how does it all fit together?

JM: East Hill Farm does offer many experiences. At the heart of it all we are a family vacation resort with a working farm. For many years we have offered families a relaxing vacation on the farm. Guests are encouraged to interact with the animals and farmers as much as they like. The cows and goats need to be milked each day and eggs need to be collected. We have horseback riding lessons and trail rides as well as wagon rides and sleigh rides.

Over the years we have expanded our offerings in order to remain viable and to stay open all year long. We have developed ways to draw visitors through a variety of programs. Whether someone is coming for an all-inclusive resort vacation, a senior bus tour, a dance weekend, farm school or a business conference, everyone is encouraged to experience part of farm life.

East Hill Farm donkeys

3. You just started a new program called the Farm School Program. Could you tell us about it? What inspired you to start the program?

JM: East Hill Farm School gives middle school students, grades 5-8, with a meaningful, hands-on farm experience. Students will join the East Hill Farm farmers and naturalists for a 3-day program where students will play an integral role in running our farm.

On our 150 acres, we raise heritage breed cows, goats, sheep and pigs along with horses, chickens and other farm animals. Through our school program, students will help us run the farm, from milking the cows to fixing fences to helping manage the fields and surrounding woodlands. By caring for the animals and gaining a stronger appreciation for environmental stewardship, the farm will begin to feel like a home away from home. Schools can customize the program by choosing from a variety of workshops that best align with their curriculum or students' interests.

East Hill Farm piglets

4. What has been the response to the Farm School Program so far?

JM: We have had positive feedback from the schools that have visited us. The students enjoy working on the farm and learning about farm life. The students have participated in projects that have improved the farm, such as helping to create new signs for various barns and helping with seeding the fields.

5. Are there other programs like this at other farms that you know of?

JM: The Farm School in Athol, MA has a similar program. They have been providing farm-based education for children and adults for years. We continue to network with and learn from other farmers and programs and have recently joined the Farm-Based Education Association. www.farmbasededucation.org

East Hill Farm view

6. Which of your programs would you recommend most to other farms looking to diversify?

JM: I think anything farmers can do to expand on educational opportunities is wonderful. There is a trend toward reconnecting with our food supply and eating locally-grown produce and meats. Building connections with local schools and organizations to provide food products and settings for place based education are also important. It is wonderful for students to participate in farm based education right at their local farms!