Mucking out horse stalls and milking cows may not sound like your ideal vacation, but maybe it should. City dwellers and suburbanites overwhelmed with electronic doo-dads, social media connectivity, and information overload are seeking a simpler way of life, if only for a few days or weeks at a time. Meanwhile farmers, unable to pay the bills without some form of supplemental income, are throwing open their barn doors to welcome guests onto their farmsteads. The symbiotic result is a farm stay vacation.
My family desperately needs a farm stay vacation. After a weeklong parent-imposed technology fast, my 8-year-old son was allowed to play with his iPod and our old “kids” computer for his daily one-hour limit yesterday. Last night he struggled to fall asleep and told me it was because he kept thinking about video games. He said, “I don't want to play with technology anymore but I can't stop myself. I can't quit, even when I want to. It's like some grown-ups with cigarettes. I wish we could just get rid of technology. Our whole family is happier without it.”
His wise words brought back that nagging feeling that I really should book a family farm stay as a forced and fun way to unplug. I told him about this vacation option and he said, “Have you ever done one of those farm stays?”
“No,” I said, “but I wrote a whole article about it a few years ago and interviewed farm owners and lots of people who love farm stay vacations.”
I did a search for my TODAY Show Travel story and found it had been deleted from Today.com. So, I dug it up on my computer and read it out loud to my son. At first he was wary about the “work” portion of a farm stay but after listening to the story, he said, “I want to help on the farm! When can we do our own farm stay?“
Continuing from the top paragraph, here's the story, as it was originally posted on Today.com in 2012.
Tara Anderson, a mom of two from Chico, California had a tough time convincing her husband to take an eight-hour drive with their two young daughters to the Leaping Lamb Farm in Alsea, Oregon last summer. But after a few days of breathing in the fresh coastal air, collecting eggs from the chicken coop for omelets, and sweeping out the barn, he told his wife, “This is the best.”
The Andersons hope to return to Leaping Lamb Farm someday for its green expanse of meadows and the bleating of baby lambs. It’s a place where, as Tara puts it, “You really feel like things are growing.”
She says, “My kids are naturally drawn to gadgets and I have to strictly monitor their screen time. When we were there, not once did they ask to turn the TV on.”
Families gain more than just relaxation from farm stays. It is an educational experience for children who learn that food does not naturally come shrink-wrapped in plastic. Jessica Bowers, author of SuitcasesandSippyCups.com, has done two farm stays with her four sons. She says, “We’re city dwellers and even though we try to make connections to nature, my kids could very easily be convinced that food grows in the grocery store. Gathering eggs first thing in the morning, milking goats, picking greens and spices for us to cook dinner with, helped them to make connections to where our food really starts.”
Scottie Jones, owner of Leaping Lamb Farm, believes this understanding of what goes into making food will lead to better nutrition decisions and eating habits for families.
While guests are not required to help out with farm chores, many do. Valeria Pitoni of Stillwaters Farm in Western Tennessee says, “Guests are allowed to participate in the day’s activities, if they desire, but they are in no way obligated to.” Activities on her exhibition farm vary from grooming animals, weeding a garden, harvesting hay, and witnessing baby births.
Joanna Bloom, a mom from Oregon, makes a trek to Leaping Lamb Farm with her 12-year-old daughter every year. She says, “Farm work is a natural confidence builder.”
When hosts and guests are asked for the favorite farm activity, the answer is unanimous: bottle-feeding baby animals. On some farms, orphaned critters are the only ones who require bottles but on a dairy farm, calves are taken from mothers shortly after birth, which leads to plenty of feeding opportunities.
A farm stay is different from vacationing at a traditional bed and breakfast or country inn. There is actual work that needs to be done on these farms, which makes a visit more meaningful for many travelers. “When I first started hosting farm stays 28 years ago, I thought I was a B&B. I learned very quickly it’s not about the pillows, it’s about the cows,” says Beth Kennett of Liberty Hill Farm in Vermont.
There are farm stays to suit a variety of preferences, from dairy or lamb farms, to apple orchards and vineyards, to ranches with horseback riding and cattle drives. To find a farm stay that fits your family, visit FarmStayUS.org.
Would you ever consider booking a family farm stay vacation? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments below!