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Farm Vacations

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Farm Vacations

American Agritourism Grows in Post-Pandemic Times

by April Thompson

Long a staple of European travel, agritourism is growing in popularity in the United States, as concrete-weary urbanites seek out a taste of country living and a way to support small-scale farms. The concept broadly covers any activity linking agriculture with tourism, and it takes as many forms as there are farms. Farm-stay  options run the gamut from helping with farm chores like feeding chickens and collecting eggs to structured classes on weaving, soap making or beekeeping. 

“Living in towns and cities, most Americans are very disconnected from nature and agriculture. Farm stays are helping to make an important urban-rural connection,” says Scottie Jones, founder of Farm Stay USA, an association connecting travelers with working farms and ranches that offer hands-on opportunities and overnight accommodations. 

Since 2007, Jones has operated her own farm stay, the 70-acre Leaping Lamb Farm, in Alsea, Oregon. She has been surprised at many guests’ “agricultural illiteracy”, underscoring the importance of the educational experiences that farm stays like hers offer. “I used to send guests off to graze in the garden alone, but then realized many people don’t know what carrots look like in the field,” says Jones. “I would get questions like, ‘Don’t you need a brown cow to make chocolate milk?’”

More than one in three guests to Leaping Lamb Farm return for subsequent stays, a very high retention rate for the lodging industry. “We get to watch families grow up as they return to the farm year after year. That has a real impact, as we need the next generation to get involved in farming and food systems,” Jones notes. 

Justin Bolois, of Los Angeles, got introduced to agritourism in Tuscany, later seeking out the farm experience closer to home. “We had been living in New York City at the time and came to value the expansive countryside being in Italy,” he says. “The family, which ran a vineyard, would cook incredible meals for us. Vacations are great when they mirror the experience of living in a place, and agritourism is one of the closest ways to access that.”

Bolois and his wife later discovered Straus Home Ranch, in Marshall, California, and fell in love with the place and its people so deeply they hosted their wedding there. The ranch was founded by a pair of pioneers in organic farming and land conservation in Marin County, and it was later revitalized to include a farm stay by siblings Vivien, Miriam and Michael Straus after their parents’ deaths. “You can tell that Vivian and Michael not only care about what they do, they also care about you, and about you enjoying their life mission. That’s a very special bond to develop with an agritourism owner,” Bolois says.

The ranch features special touches, including a beautifully equipped kitchen to shuck local oysters or to host private chefs for farm-fresh meals served on a handcrafted table made of reclaimed redwood from their old hay barn. There is no cellphone reception on the ranch, encouraging guests to kayak, hike, birdwatch
and stargaze.

“After being cooped up during COVID, people want to see wildlife and biodiversity again. People are aching to disconnect from their screens and reconnect with nature—what we call ‘dirt therapy’,” says Ashley Walsh, president and founder of Poconos Organics, one of the largest Regenerative Organic Certified farms on the continent, sprawling across 380 acres in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. 

Walsh built the boutique resort, The Village at Pocono, with her grandfather when she was 25 as a sister destination to the farm. The accommodations feature full kitchens where guests can cook a cornucopia of produce fresh from the fields. Visitors can enjoy luxurious amenities on site, then pop over to the farm to attend hands-on cooking classes, wellness retreats, farm tours and more.

Beyond connecting with rural life, farm stays are a meaningful, mutually beneficial way for farmers and consumers to reconnect on a personal level. “Agritourism puts a face to farming. We want to educate people so they can make better choices in food and get to experience what really fresh food tastes like,” Jones says. 

Connect with Washington, D.C., freelance writer April Thompson at AprilWrites.com.

Photo credit: Stefano Oppo from Corelens / CanvaPro

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