Sometimes you just need to get out of town. A change of scenery is a beautiful thing, and spending downtime in an environment you don’t typically find yourself can be especially beneficial. Thoughts of getting away from it all can conjure images of digging your toes into the sand, reading an entire book in an afternoon, or sailing off into the wild blue yonder of beach, mountains, the desert, or resorts. But what about a farm stay where you spend a few days on a working farm?
Say what?! A vacation on a farm?!
The days that make us happy make us wise – John Masefield
The farm stay is a growing trend these days, both stateside and globally, and is a great opportunity to unplug, unwind, and disembark (at least temporarily) from the crazy train that is so often our daily lives. “Disconnect in order to reconnect,” is the motto at Rancho Dos Amantes in Paso Robles, California.
A farm stay gives us a chance to relate to and immerse ourselves in our natural environment, to learn about or be reminded of where our food comes from, and to get to know the kind, wise, and hardworking people who grow or raise that food. It is an occasion perhaps, to wander aimlessly down a dirt path, listen to the songs of the crickets, cicadas, peepers, local birds or other native creatures in the area, experience a truly dark and star-filled night sky, and to be reminded that most of our worries and woes really aren’t so consequential after all.
The Basics of a Farm Stay
Farm stays can be found near major urban areas and popular tourist destinations as well as in locations that are off the beaten path. Costs for a stay are typically on par with hotel and B&B accommodations in the same area.
While the term “farm” may bring to mind the image of a big old red barn and cows grazing on a hillside, know that a farm stay can also occur on a ranch, vineyard, or orchard. A farm stay can be a fun and educational solo exploit, a chance to do something different with a few friends, a cozy getaway for two, a family adventure, or a place to hold a small family gathering, work-related retreat, or even an intimate wedding.
The optimal time to visit a farm depends on both the geographic location and the particular function(s) of the farm you’re visiting. Usually, warm weather months are the best and most enjoyable times to observe and participate in farm activities, but not always.
For example, on our farm in southern Maine, our primary pursuit is maple syrup production, so folks who want to help us collect and boil sap need to visit in late Winter/early Spring (though blueberry picking on our farm in the mid- to- late Summer is a good alternative for those unwilling to brave Maine during the colder months!).
Closer to LA, Spring and Fall may be more temperate times to get away, and if you choose to stay at a vineyard, be aware that harvest and crush occur in the fall.
In terms of food, arrangements vary widely from farm to farm. One (or more) home-cooked meals may be provided per day, or possibly just a continental breakfast option, and some farms make kitchen facilities available to guests. If this is the case, you might need to bring groceries with you depending on the location of the nearest grocery store, though many food items such as seasonal fruits and vegetables, meats, cheeses, honey, eggs, maple syrup, fresh milk, kefir, yogurt, or ice cream may be sourced directly from the farm itself, and make great picnic items!
Can I drive the tractor?
You probably won’t be driving a tractor (or a team of horses) for liability reasons, and while you almost certainly won’t be required to perform any sort of physical labor, farm stays are frequently designed to be informative and interactive experiences; you will likely be allowed and even encouraged to help with such activities as feeding chickens, collecting eggs, picking fresh produce, pressing apples for cider, grooming horses, or even trying your hand at milking cows or goats.
You could have an opportunity to learn about cheesemaking, beekeeping, raising alpacas, shearing sheep and spinning wool, making goat’s milk soap, preserving food, or a myriad of other farm-related topics.
Alternatively, farms are located in close proximity to other desirable destinations such as the mountains, the ocean, local, state, or national parks, or other areas of interest, and as is the case when staying at a hotel or B&B, it is certainly your prerogative to make a farm stay just a place to rest your head, while you spend daylight hours exploring other nearby attractions.
What about catching up on a bit of R&R!?
If all the talk of farming endeavors wears you out just reading about it, never fear, your farm stay experience doesn’t have to be all work and no play. In fact, a farm can be a picturesque and peaceful setting in which to relax and unwind. Our farm is equipped with Adirondack chairs in a gazebo surrounded by wildflowers, a front porch with rocking chairs, and a hammock strung between oak trees – all good places to revel in the joy of inactivity.
Farms might have private swimming holes, ponds for canoeing or kayaking, and trails for wandering through the woods or fields, and some offer regular yoga classes or the option to hold retreats.
Yoga and meditation classes take place on the patio overlooking vineyards at Dunning Vineyards in Paso Robles (don’t worry, friendly resident canine Ralphie won’t judge your downward facing dog). Following weekly yoga classes at Rancho Dos Amantes, visitors are invited to harvest fruits and vegetables from the guest garden and can prepare them any way they like in the available commercial kitchen.
Former city dwellers turned farmers Kristy and Evan Bishop found their slice of heaven in Reves de Moutons, also located in Paso Robles. “Lose the television,” advises Kristy, “when you have live sheep and goat “tv” and a glass of wine, you don’t need it!”
On a warm September day last year during a farm stay at Morrill Farm in Sumner, Maine, my husband Frank and I took a meandering stroll (accompanied by the delightful family dog) down a long dirt path that led us by fields of grazing dairy cows, over a footbridge, and to a lazy stream where we kicked off our shoes and waded into the cool, shallow waters. You can find a more leisurely tour available via a good old-fashioned horse-drawn carriage, hay wagon, or sleigh ride on farms such as the one run by our friend and neighbor Kathy Ossinger of Spirit Wind Farm; at the end of the day, perhaps there’s an outdoor fireplace or fire pit to cozy up to!
Ready, set, country!
If you are starting to think you could use a bit of country in your life, it’s time to do a little research about farm stays in your desired area. Then pack some sturdy, closed-toed shoes or boots and some comfortable, casual (very casual) clothes you won’t mind getting a bit dirty and that are appropriate for the activities on your chosen farm (think function, not fashion), and hit the road!
Get out there, embrace the wide-open spaces and appreciate the beauty that surrounds you. Breathe the fresh air (I promise, more often than not the smells on a farm are good ones, like fresh cut hay – my favorite!), meet some interesting people, learn something new, and have fun. After all, isn’t that what life is all about?
Peruse Farm Stays U.S. to find farm stays in every state in the U.S.
Jennifer Schultz is a Midwestern girl living in New England. She is happiest when living, working, and playing close to nature, and can frequently be found with her hands in the dirt at Maple Moon Farm: maplemoonfarm.com.