They say the build-up to a vacation is almost better than the vacation itself. We imagine the sites and the smells based on photos we've seen or copy we've read; but there is nothing quite like driving up to a farm in the countryside and actually smelling fresh hay, hearing the baaing of baby lambs, or looking through row upon row of manicured orchards!
This is the rural backbone of your country, maybe only an hour away from your urban residence, but a lifestyle as unfamiliar as foreign country. This is where your local foods come from, and these are the folks who work hard to earn your business. There is an old saying that rings true for most farmers, "Farming is a lifestyle, not a living." While farmers and their children will probably never go hungry, profitability is a hard chase There are other considerations than profit for pursuing the country life.
If you have spoken with your hosts in advance, you have probably checked out what clothing and footwear to bring. Here in Oregon, I always recommend boots for winter and spring since the mud has a way of topping any sneakers, if it hasn't already sucked them straight off! We have seen wonderful kids' boots: bright yellow ducks, red and black lady bugs, and green crocodiles. They all do the job and make the trek into the paddocks and loafing sheds much more enjoyable, especially once the kids realize they are walking in manure.
I also recommend layers of clothing and nothing so special that getting it wet or dirty is a worry. It's a good thing to ask whether there are laundry facilities because, if you are bringing kids, clothes need to be dried or cleaned before you can even say, "Don't…"
Expect that your farm stay hosts will have certain check-in times, often based on previous guest departures, field work, or feeding schedules. Most of us can be relatively flexible depending on the time of year. If I am going to be out, I let guests know where to find me on the farm or leave written instructions for self check-in. However, I do my best to meet and greet. It is important to get the introductions with the farm dogs out of the way, as they can be noisy and oftentimes wary of little kids who want to hug them like the family dog.
We always follow this with a tour of the property, including instructions for behavior around livestock, creeks, farm equipment, gates, and the hay loft. Farms have hidden dangers, it seems at almost every turn, so it's good to point these out from the offset. What I have learned: accidents seem to happen within the first 30 minutes of arrival!
What's to Eat?
Many farm stays offer breakfast. Depending on their location and their interests, some will offer other meals, sometimes even elaborate dinners. Ranches are more likely to provide three meals a day because of their remoteness. If the website doesn't say, ask about food for other meals. Can you graze the gardens in season? Is there a local grocery store? When is the farmer's market? Is there a kitchen?
During your stay:
Most working farms and ranches will have their own agenda for what they do and do not allow. Some are overjoyed if you want to pitch in and help with the chores. But realize this is not a requirement of your farm stay unless it has been expressly indicated in the sign-up materials. Most of us want you to ask questions, learn something, appreciate the life style and hard work, but primarily have a good time and do things you can't do back home. We have fields and trails to wander, animals to brush, creeks to play in, and eggs to collect.
Working farms and ranches are busy places so don't be surprised if you are left on your own during periods of the day. This works both ways since vacations, even haycations, are times to get away from over-programming our lives. There may be things you are not allowed to help out with (tractor work comes to mind). It's not that we don't want the assistance, but most insurance agents take a dim view of mixing guests and farm equipment. However, we may hand you a pitch fork or a trowel or pruners if you act interested. And, yes, some of us have been known to take the kids with us for chores while leaving mom and dad to a good book or a nap!
Farm stays come in all forms, from the farm house decorated with antiques to camp sites provided out in the back pasture next to the creek. They will vary in price and offering. Always make sure to check what you are getting so your expectations are reasonable. Specifically, if your travel plans include children or pets - are they allowed?!
Where ever you are staying there is likely a long list of things to see and do. If, when you leave, you have stories to take with you and a new-found interest in shopping your local farmer's market, that's great. We have had guests who added chickens to their suburban back yards. Others now contemplate moving to a farm to raise their kids. Some took time off from harried city jobs to read books, reconnect with each other, and relax with our local wines.
Best of all, many guests leave wonderful comments about what it has meant to them personally to stay on a farm in the country. Common sentiments: welcoming, peaceful, quiet, warm, earthy, fresh, tasty, fun, simple, beautiful, relaxing, eye-opening. For the farmer, that is often thanks enough!
From a Farm Stay U.S. blog post February 19, 2010