The Importance of Farm Stays – for you AND the farm
My husband and I bought our Oregon farm 14 years ago. We were Phoenix urbanites looking for water and a change of pace. That’s about as far as we delved into what exactly being a farmer entailed. Our farm came with a mixture of smaller livestock, some rusty equipment, a century-old apple orchard, and a peacock. It seemed like an idyllic life choice with beautiful scenery and the requisite historic barn. We thought, “How hard could farming be?”
In hindsight, a business plan might have squelched that naiveté, but idealizing farming isn’t new nor are we the only ones to have gone down that path, even marketing the myth (Does Pepperidge Farm really exist?) Regardless, this is actually a great reason to visit a farm. After all, this is where the food in your fridge starts out – be it livestock or produce, even something simple like eggs (Fair warning: egg-laying chickens are well known as a “gateway livestock”!) Farming is physically demanding; it requires skill and education, and even a bit of luck. It’s a risky business. It’s also a 7-day-a-week job that some will joke is a lifestyle, not a living. But it also brings clarity to pricing at your local farmers’ market. Exactly how much time and labor does it take on the part of the farmer to get those eggs to your fridge?
Most small farms ($100K or less in sales) require off-farm jobs to support the family. We were no different. Which leads me to the creative thinking required to make a living on a farm, also known as ‘value-added’ (thanks USDA). That would be the jam, goat cheese, wool, or soap you’ll find on Etsy, at the farmers’ market, or at the roadside farm stand. For us, it was the addition of a ‘farm stay’ to our operations. Farm stays – overnight lodging provided on the farm for a fee – are as varied as the farms offering them. You might find yourself in a tent on the back-40, a cabin, a yurt, even a room in the farm house; and, often your stay includes a farm-fresh breakfast and a rooster alarm clock.
Yup, we farmers are looking at diversification strategies (wow, we sounds like hedge fund managers) that include the hospitality business and inviting strangers to experience our lifestyle. It helps pay for tractor maintenance, but it also allows us to share our vistas as well as our challenges with urbanites and travelers, often disconnected from the natural world in ways that would have our grandparents shaking their collective heads. We know. We were those urbanites – until we weren’t.
And, it’s not dirty and boring the way you might think. Okay, well the lodging isn’t dirty, although helping around the farm might involve some dirt. Boring never factors in because… farms aren’t boring. Maybe you’ll help collect eggs, brush the donkey, even hold a baby lamb. Maybe you’ll sit on the farm house porch and read a good book, drink the local brew, unwind and unplug. You’ll be our guest for a weekend or a week and you never had to buy the farm!
This is why you would want to stay on a farm. It’s a bridge to the country. It’s a boon to the farm (it saved ours). It’s fun and unexpected, and your friends will think you are crazy, until you return home with tales of feeding a baby goat, and then they will want to go too. You’ll be protecting small-farm America that at one point built this country. You’re a patriot! Okay, bit of a stretch, but at least you have found a unique, relaxing vacation spot… and are now contemplating chickens for the back yard!