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: ranch vacations

CA Bull Elk Ranch in Richfield, Idaho

NEW MEMBER SPOTLIGHT!

Today we are extending a hearty "welcome!" to CA Bull Elk Ranch, in Richfield, Idaho.

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Located on 800 acres of pristine recreational and hunting habitat, CA Bull Elk Ranch is a working elk and upland game bird operation. Visitors can take part in fishing, hiking, bird watching and wildlife viewing, upland game bird hunting, snowshoeing and x-country skiing, photography, or just unplugging from the hectic world. There are also some of the usual farm animals, like chickens and geese.

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There are four guest rooms with private baths, along with a large common area for relaxing, reading, or exercise. The stay also includes 3 meals a day prepared from food raised primarily on the ranch and by other local producers. Children under 12 are welcome at the ranch.

To learn more and plan a visit, check out the CA Bull Elk Ranch listing here on Farm Stay U.S.!

(Photos courtesy CA Bull Elk Ranch)

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

 

 

 

Karen Searle, Owner/Manager of Montana Bunkhouses Working Ranch Vacations, has the impressive distinction of creating one of the first agritourism cooperatives in the United States. Today Montana Bunkhouses includes 20 authentic ranch vacations spread across Montana's remarkable landscape. Karen plays matchmaker between ranches and guests, and aims to give great personal thought and attention to pointing guests to their ideal ranch vacation.

Farm Stay U.S. recently had the pleasure of asking Karen about her organization, ranching in Montana, all of the great press Montana Bunkhouses has received, and more. We're excited to share her answers here. Photo credits for all the photos in this blog go to Montana Bunkhouses.

1. Montana Bunkhouses is a group of 20 working guest ranches that have teamed up to  offer guests a great selection of authentic cowboy experiences. How and why did the group form?

Families who want to pass their ranches down to the next generation are under increasing economic pressure to sell out. To give ranchers another option, I formed an agritourism cooperative, modeled after the European Farm Holiday program. The supplementary income each host ranch receives will hopefully help future generations to sustain their ranching way of life. We are able to offer a variety of authentic cowboy experiences, because that is exactly what we are, authentic. Ranching is a labor of love; we do not ranch because it is easy, we ranch because it is who we are. Montana Bunkhouses provides a gateway for others to share and understand our disappearing way of life.

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2. What kinds of experience do your guest ranches offer? You act as a matchmaker between guests and ranches: how do you know which ranch is the best for for a particular guest?

I am a native Montanan with ranching roots and I guess you could say I'm a travel coordinator and matchmaker. I know these ranchers personally, they are my friends and neighbors, and I understand what makes each of them unique. I devote myself to getting to know guests as well, not just as potential customers, but also as friends. Developing personal connections with our guests means I am able to match them to a ranch not just based on their interests, but also based on their personalities. My goal is to match guests with a ranch that will give them the authentic ranching experience, with emphasis on the areas they find most interesting, and introduce them to people who will become "family" during their visit.

3. There's a cluster of your ranches concentrated east of Bozeman and west of Billings. What's special about that area?

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The idea for Montana Bunkhouse Working Ranch Vacations started where I live in southwestern Montana, and the participating ranches now stretch border to border -- each in dramatic landscapes -- across the entire state. It is a great benefit for our guests that the area with the highest concentration of ranches is within the distance of a day's excursion to Yellowstone National Park.

4. What sets Montana ranch vacations apart from ranch vacations elsewhere in the U.S.?

"Saddle Up" and experience a part of the Old West that still exists.  We love sharing the ranching way of life and what comes with it.  With over twenty Montana Cattle Ranches hosting guests, we offer a wide range of choices. Working ranch vacations offer more than just head to tail horseback riding. Guests participate in seasonal ranch activities while learning about conservation practices and sustainable ranching in the Rocky Mountains. It is traditional for ranch families to get together during brandings or roundups or cattle drives and they welcome guests to join them. Guests enjoy the camaraderie and appreciate the skill involved in the roping and wrangling. Springtime in the Rockies brings the perfect combination of nature and nurture. During calving and lambing guests can make a difference -- watching expecting mothers, reading the weather, and lending a hand in preserving new life. Something vital fills each and every day.

5. What's your background? How did you end up with such an unusual and fascinating job?

Ranching is in my blood. I grew up on a cattle and sheep ranch in southwestern Montana, and am sympathetic to the challenges of the family farm. I am the galvanizing force behind the agritourism cooperative. I was credited by a former director of Cooperation Works, a national center for cooperative business development, for having put together the first agritourism cooperative of cattle ranches in the United States. The co-op was formed after I was selected as a representative to the 2002 World Congress on Rural Women and Rural Issues in Spain. I see agritourism as a way to help preserve family ranches and to narrow the divide between ranch and city dwellers on land use and wildlife issues. Those objectives have put Montana Bunkhouses on the forefront of a trend in the travel industry labeled "geotourism," travel that sustains or enhances the character of a place, helping to preserve its heritage, habitats and scenic beauty.

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6. Is there a 'typical guest' that you work with? What kind of folks crave a Montana working ranch vacation, and what are they looking to do during their stay?

Why do guests come?  Montana is a place where myth has long been in partnership with reality. The kinds of folks who find me on the internet are searching for "working ranch vacations." They are not interested in simply traveling to another destination, they are seeking a life changing experience. Whether they are looking to connect with their roots, or reconnect with their family members, or establish a connection with our ranching way of life, it is all here. We offer the opportunity for them to share the ranching way of life with people who are tied by birth or choice to a part of America that to some feels like the country's soul!

With our working ranch vacations, everything on-ranch is included: comfortable lodging, hearty family style meals and seasonal ranch activities. Rates vary from $1500 to $1900 per week depending on the ranch and the hands-on experience they offer.

7. Your group has gotten a lot of good press! Do you have a favorite article (or two) that you want to share with our readers?

Yes, we have gotten a lot of good press as you can see if you go to our Montana Bunkhouses News Page. The USDA/Rural Developments folks told our story in their national Rural Cooperatives magazine. We've been featured in newspapers in places a far-flung as New York, Chicago, and Sidney, Australia. Respected travel magazines including Condé Nast Traveler and Sunset Magazine have celebrated our unique vacations, as well as journalists in China, Taiwan, Japan, Italy and the United Kingdom. But the one that I'm the most proud of - my favorite, hands down - is being selected for the National Geographic Geotourism MapGuide of the Greater Yellowstone area. Anyone who visits Montana will want to have this map in their back pocket. You can order a free copy of the map from our website, www.montanaworkingranches.com. We are the only Montana ranch vacations to have met National Geographic's criteria for authenticity of experience, culture and heritage. We're proud of that.

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8. What has changed for the ranches since your group formed? What changes do you foresee in the future?

Change is measured in generations in Montana. Our agritourism cooperative is just starting its second decade, so we can only speculate what the longer term impact will be for the ranchers down the line.  Already, the diversified income from agritourism has provided everything from money to remodel a kitchen right on down to the money necessary to make the next ranch loan payment. In some cases it means the difference on whether the ranch family's son or daughter can return home so they can carry the ranching traditions on to the next generation. But the benefit is not just measured in dollars and cents. We enjoy sharing our way of life. It jogs us off-center so we don't simply take for granted what we've been born to do because we see our ranching world through our guest's eyes and it brings us joy.

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To contact Karen, send an email to karen@montanabunkhouses.com, call 406-223-6101, or visit Montana Bunkhouses Farm Stay U.S. page. Karen likes to warn potential guests with a wink: "Caution!  Working Ranch Vacations may be habit forming."

Thanks to Montana Bunkhouse Ranches for the use of the photos in this blog.

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