WHILE FARM VACATIONS HAVE BEEN FAIRLY COMMON in Europe, they are just now becoming popular in North America. Here in the States, interest in vacationing on a farm has been growing in part due to the slow food and local food movements.
But for most vacationers here in the States a farm vacation remains a new concept with completely different considerations from, say, a week at Disney. Vacationers should get an idea of what they are getting into if they want to get the most out of their stay. For many Suburban Hobby Farmer readers a farm vacation is an obvious option because it combines the subject of growing food with a break from the hectic suburban lifestyle.
Like most things in life, preparation is key. To help you prepare, I’ve spoken with three farmers that offer farm stays: Christine Cole from Full House Farm, located in wine country just north of San Francisco; Beth Kennett from Liberty Hill Farm in Rochester Vermont; and Scottie Jones from Leaping Lamb Farm in Alsea Oregon. Jones also runs the Farm Stay website, which provides a full-service listing of farm vacation offerings in the U.S. Here are some of the most important questions they suggested vacationers ask before making a selection.
What to ask before your farm vacation
1. What clothing should you bring? Suburbanites are often unprepared clothing-wise for life on the farm. There’s a lot less pavement and much more muck. Open toed shoes are a no-no. Kennett at Liberty Hill makes the point that “Even a baby calf weighs enough to break a toe if you get stepped on.”
2. If you’re interested in organic, sustainable or chemical-free farming methods, you should ask if they do it, don’t assume. The same goes for a specific type of growing method. Keep in mind this subject can be touchy. Ask gently. Some farmers that aren’t organic, for example, can get a little defensive when asked. Some are organic but not certified so you should determine if certification is important before you talk to the farmer.
3. Ask about specific crops or livestock. What will be available during your visit. Of course, sometimes a crop is in season, but it’s a bad year. There’s no way to be 100 percent certain before you get there.
4. Can you bring pets? Dogs and horses are sometimes allowed. But often they are not. You should ask.
6. Can you participate in chores? Sometimes this is a free option and sometimes it costs extra. Often it’s not allowed. You should keep in mind that it’s almost always more trouble for the farmer than it is worth in extra labor and should be considered a privilege.
7. What’s provided for food? Some farmers suggest that you pick and cook your own. Cole at Full House Farm is amazed that, even after showing guests how to pick fresh vegetables, they will still travel to buy them from the grocery store during their stay. On the other hand, other farms may serve food bed and breakfast style. No picking or cooking allowed. Some even supply their own professional chef.
8. Are there safety issues you should be aware of? For example, are there big animals or is there deep water nearby? Parents will want to know.
9. What are the accommodations like? Are you staying in the same house with the farm family or in a location detached from the house? Are you sharing a bathroom? Maybe it is even a tent with an outhouse? Options run the gamut. How much privacy do you need? What about mobile phone service, landlines, TV or WiFi? Cell towers are frequently out of range. Are these conveniences important to you?
10. What costs extra? Are there special educational opportunities like jam or bread making or special farm tours, for example, bee keeping.
Jones at Leaping Lamb Farm suggests that, for all of these questions, you should talk with the farmer who is actually working the farm – not someone removed from the operation. This will give you the best sense of what to expect. You should keep in mind that many farmers are offering farm stays not because they intended to but because they need to make the farm viable. They are not profession inn keepers or educators, although SOME are very good at these tasks.
Have you vacationed on a farm? What was your experience like? Are you a farm owner with a special offering? Let us know by commenting below.
Photos provided by Leaping Lamb Farm