Agritourism helps travelers relax, connect with nature
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Most of us are more like Lisa Douglas than her husband, Oliver, of the old TV show. "Green Acres" may be the place to be, but farm living is really not the life for most of us. It does make a heck of weekend or entire vacation, though.
Called "farm stays" and very popular across Europe, Australia and New Zealand, agritourism is a win-win.
Visitors get to wind down and come to understand rural life and where their food comes from (a huge theme in the sustainability movement).
Farms and rural communities can improve the bottom line so they can continue to provide for the country and themselves.
Kids love feeding baby lambs and brushing horses and adults can appreciate learning how to can veggies, see a blanket of stars sans city lights and wake to chirping birds instead of honking traffic.
Agritourism can be as simple as visiting farm markets or getting lost in an autumn corn maze but consider these ideas to take a nice, juicy bite out of farm living.
Feather Down Farm Days (featherdown.com) is successfully operating agritourism vacations on more than 55 working farms across the UK and other European countries as well a handful in the U.S.: one in California, another in the northwest corner of the Catskill Mountains and the third right here in Illinois in Boone County.
Twenty-five years ago, David and Susan Cleverdon were living and working in Chicago and today the couple owns and works an organic market farm, Kinnikinnick, in Caledonia near Rockford. You may have even tried some of their organic produce since they sell to many of Chicago's notable chefs and restaurants. The farm, in continuous operation since 1849, raises egg-producing chickens and is home to sheep, hogs, dogs, a rabbit and a Nubian goat which you can learn to milk. Before you arrive, meal and cooking options are set into motion. Expect a farm supper made from local provisions or families might want to make their own pizzas on the farm's wood-fired grill. Local meats, produce and everything you need for breakfast is available for you to whip up in your tent. The spacious, wood-floored tent that accommodates up to six people is fully equipped with a flush toilet, cold running water, a wood-burning stove for cooking and heating and candles and oil lamps for lighting.
Take a tour of the fields and gardens, gather eggs, help harvest crops, feed the critters, walk or bicycle on nearby trails or just watch farm life ensue. If you are a foodie or just interested in the sustainable and local farm movement, this is your next getaway (good for families, too). An easy 85-mile drive from Chicago and you can be in rhythm with the seasons, not your iPhone. For details about the farm properties and reservations, call Featherdown at (716) 226-6323.
Frank Lloyd Wright found an essence of Wales when he chose Spring Green, Wis., for the site of his home and workshop called Taliesin and you can get a sense of the English countryside with scenes of grazing Blackface and Suffolk sheep and Scottish Highland cattle at Brambleberry Farmsnear Black River Falls. Named for the proliferation of blackberry plants in the area (called brambleberries in Scotland) the farm grows organic produce and contains a home orchard and small vineyard. Stroll private nature trails, grab a book from the library while sampling Scottish shortbread or homemade country wine, visit the pigs, chickens and perhaps a baby lamb or two. A home-cooked breakfast is included and features at least one item grown or produced on the farm -- you can't get more "local" than that.
You can make arrangements to have dinner prepared and served for an additional fee. There's a multi-course dinner served on Saturday nights, Friday is pizza night and Sunday features pasta.
Make your reservation for one of the special harvest dinners, taking place July 20 through September, that are made up of Brambleberry's homegrown produce -- at least 80 percent of the meal is grown on site, the remainder sourced locally. The 80-acre estate is part of a 600-acre working family farm surrounded by nature, however, you can easily motor to state parks, antiques, wineries and breweries, canoeing and kayaking and nearly 500 miles of bike trails.
Brambleberry accepts reservations for the five guest rooms Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, although it's open extra days over the July 4 holiday. Rates range from $99 to $169. Call (608) 525-8001 or go to brambleberrybandb.com. Leave the 13-and-under set back at your ranch.
You can bring the whole family to Room To Roam farm vacation at Century Dairy Farm in Fountain City, Wisc. Take over the entire secluded three-bedroom guesthouse on a working farm, then select your own fresh eggs for breakfast. Kids will love the hay ride that takes the crew to a scenic lookout way above the Mississippi River.
Other fun includes watching cows being milked, bottle feeding calves and checking out the herding dogs, goats, geese and sheep. Rates at the farm, which has been in Mary J and Jess Veraguth's family for more than 100 years, are $100 for one night, $90 per night for two nights, $80 per for three nights or $400 for the week (rates for a family of 4).
The guesthouse has central air and a fully equipped kitchen and is close to Merrick State Park, Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge, vineyards and for the kids, Toad's Cove BMX, The Corner Store for old fashioned ice cream sodas and Elmer's Auto & Toy Museum.
Call (608) 687-8575 or amble to roomtoroamfarm.com.
Susan Odom simultaneously lives in 2013 and 1910 at her Hillside Homestead(hillsidehomestead.com) in Suttons Bay, Mich., and so will you. Stay in a guest room with a claw-foot tub, iron bed with pillowy bedding, hooked rugs AND wireless service. The farm is situated in the rolling hills of Leelanau County, so it's easy to get out of a 21st century state of mind, especially when the scent of a hot farm breakfast wafts through the air. Odom teaches all kinds of things that we wish our grandmothers had taught us: canning and pickling, how to make a flaky pie crust from scratch (she even renders her own leaf lard and raises the pigs from which that lard comes) and a wood stove cooking class during which you make a simple meal on the stove using the stove top, baking in the oven and the broiler basket.
Odom will customize a farm stay for families, couples or friends by organizing meals and activities like a picnic on the lawn, orchard walks to learn the difference between tart and sweet cherry trees, and show kids how to care for the chickens everyday, feeding, watering and collecting eggs.
She'll take couples into the woods to forage and return to prepare their findings. Rates range from $150 to $190, single or double occupancy, with farm classes and dinner experiences extra. Call (231) 271-1131 or go to the web site. Hillside Homestead offers two free events each year: Farmhouse frolic, June 9, for ice cream making, porch sitting, game playing and pig meeting; and Apple Bee at Hillside on Oct. 27 to make apple butter outside in 30-gallon copper kettles.
There's more to Willow Witt Ranchthan its incredible location on a 100-year-old homestead, a mile high in the foothills of the Cascades above Ashland, Ore. Three generations are now living and working the land that has a rich history of use by local Indians, cattle ranchers from California's Central Valley, and it was once a local dairy supplying the area creamery. Suzanne and Lanita, their daughter, Brooke, and Brooke's daughter, Ella, raise organically fed, pastured dairy goats, meat goats, Berkshire pork, laying hens, meat chickens and have a garden that provides vegetables for guests, employees, and local farmers markets. Chose to hunker down in the Farmhouse Studio that sleeps six, and has a wood stove, a full kitchen and bath, private entry and overlooks meadows and farmyards. There's a campground with bring-your-own-tent sites, or furnished wall tents that sleep four. The camp, nestled in trees near the top of a meadow, has a large group kitchen, a bathhouse with men's/women's sides, and an outdoor shower house. A short walk brings views of Mount Shasta, Pilot Rock, and Mount Ashland. New this year is Meadow House, which sleeps eight and is on the edge of a 60-acre meadow. It offers a full kitchen, two baths, wifi, TV, barbecue, wrap-around porch and laundry. All accommodations include a farm tour which offers hands-on opportunities for all ages: collecting eggs, feeding and pasturing pigs/goats/chickens/dogs/ducks, milking, and working in the garden, wetlands and forests. Some guests love to just roll with whatever the crew has scheduled for the day. The farm offers guided hikes with pack goats, too.
"The ranch is 440 acres with oodles of hiking trails and secret meadows and glens to be found and explored," explained Brooke Willow. "Unlike many agritourism experiences that are on flat farm land, we are in an alpine setting at 5,000 feet. Summer temps rarely get above 85 and evenings stay cool all summer."
Farmhouse studio is $150/night, wall tents are $100, tent sites go for $40 and the new Meadow House is $250 nightly. Take a look at willowwittranch.com.
Agritourism thrives in the desert, too. Not far from where the Chicago Cubs work out the kinks every spring, Mesa, Ariz., now offers farm-tailored experiences to go along with your visit to the Valley of the Sun.
Get in on a neat dining experience at Schnepf Farms,a fourth-generation family farm and the largest organic peach grower in the state. The casual Dinners Down the Orchard program takes place in the middle of their peach orchard on the 300-acre farm. Dinners events are helmed by prominent Valley chefs and feature the bounty of the season. Expect numerous courses paired with wine and served with sunset views and a sky full of stars. Call for dates and reservations at (480) 987-3100 pick up info at schnepffarms.com. Schnepf Farms offer camping and RV guests year-round, too.
Who would have thought? Mesa's combination of long sunny days and cool desert nights provide the ideal growing conditions for olive trees and Queen Creek Olive Mill and farm propagates and presses olives for fragrant extra virgin olive oil. After a tour and complimentary tasting of oils, olives and tapenades, why not dine at del Piero -- the mill's Tuscan-inspired eatery? When the weather is ideal, you can even dine in the olive grove. Call Queen Creek Olive Mill at (480) 888-9290 or visit queencreekolivemill.com.
Experience daily life on a working "agritourist" family farm at Superstition Farms (superstitionfarmtours.com), a fourth-generation dairy farm steered by a brother-and-sister team in east Mesa. See what's involved in modern dairy operation and realize the dedication taken for the care and health of animals. Kids will like the petting zoo, Milk Bar featuring a dozen flavors and a fully stocked boutique featuring toys, novelty items, games, candy, fresh eggs, cheeses, and local jams and honey. Visit Mesa (VisitMesa.com or (800)283-6372) can help with details.
• A list of farm vacations and overnight accommodations on U.S. working farms and ranches. farmstayus.com
• In return for volunteer help on organic farms around the world, World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) hosts offer food, accommodation and opportunities to learn about organic lifestyles. Choose countries from Australia to Venezula. wwoofinternational.org.
• Get the 2013 directory of Michigan farm markets. michiganfarmfun.com
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