Seeking a last-minute getaway far from the bustle of the city? Why not venture to the country for a farm vacation. The tradition of “farm stays,” a relatively new, yet growing travel niche for Americans, has a long history in Europe.
Agritourism, the farmhouse vacation, took root in Italy in the 1980s as small farms became less profitable and many farmers were leaving the countryside for jobs in cities. Opening farms to travelers emerged as an effort to diversify farm income and sustain traditional small-scale farming.
The appeal of agritourism is growing nationwide, as more people want to see and experience where their food comes from and to escape to a simpler life — if only for the weekend.
Scottie and Greg Jones opened their lamb production farm in Alsea to guests in 2006 to diversify profits. “It’s been wonderful,” says Scottie Jones of hosting guests on the farm. “We’ve maintained relationships with many of the people that come.”
One couple returns once a year from New York City. “They sit on the deck, read books and they drink wine for a week. There’s no cell service so nobody can contact them,” she says. Others return every spring for the lambs.
Since launching the Leaping Lamb retreat, Jones has received two U.S. Department of Agriculture grants to build a website (farmstayus.com) that connects guests with similar opportunities in all 50 states. Currently the site features more than 500 farms, 30 of which are in Oregon.
“We have a lot of really cool farm stays here in Oregon,” says Jones. The farm stays range from working cattle ranches and production farms to vineyards and orchards. The accommodations cater to all whims, including cabin chic and rustic tents, and even a quirky, vintage Airstream.
Jones finds couples that visit treasure the quiet and peacefulness. The evening acoustics on the farm often include a cricket serenade, the view after dusk, starlit sky. Families fondly remember connecting with the farm animals. “Parents want to show their kids that eggs don’t come out of a carton,” she says.
That's why one of the optional activities on many of the farms includes collecting eggs each morning from the chicken coop. “There are surprises when people come out here, too — the unexpected pleasures,” says Jones. Such pleasures may include befriending a wily peacock, the joy of eating fresh-from-the-coop omelet feasts and the magic found in cradling the tiniest turkey chick.
“We hope that people will learn something either directly or indirectly by being where they are, which is partly experiencing what it takes to get food out of the ground or off the trees, to feel the rhythm of being on that farm,” says Jones.
Head out for a Farm Vacation
The snow-capped peak of Mount Hood rises majestically above the 40-acre Draper Girls Country Farm, just a one-hour jaunt from downtown Portland. The farm is a popular stop on the 35-mile scenic Hood River County “Fruit Loop.”
The third generation fruit farm, founded by Roman Braun in 1962, is now run by his daughter Theresa and her three daughters, Rachel, Crystal and Stefanie. Guests can picnic in the gardens, stroll through the orchards and U-pick what’s in season from the 15 acres of apples, peaches, pears, cherries, nectarines, plums, apricots and berries.
A herd of playful pygmy goats live near the farm stay cottage, in addition to chickens, geese, sheep and a llama named Teddy Bear. Draper Girls Farm is also home to Hood River Valley's only 100 percent pure, non-pasteurized licensed apple cider mill.
Off-the-Beaten Path: Pop over to the idyllic town of Hood River, a mecca for windsurfing and kiteboarding. Soak up some sun while watching the surfers and boarders grace the wind and waves — lessons available for the adventurous at heart.
The baked-from-scratch turnovers and tarts from Pennington Farms make this 90-acre farm and bakery in the lush Applegate Valley in Southern Oregon a destination. Guests stay in a ranch-style house surrounded by heirloom berries such as tayberry (a black raspberry-blackberry cross from Scotland), marionberry, loganberry and ollieberry (the Pennington family favorite).
A true family farm, the entire Pennington clan works together to grow, pick, bake and jam the berries into savory and sweet bites that are sold at the on-site bakery and local farmers markets. Although summer is ripe for berry season, the fall brings a new crop in the berry world, with late harvest raspberries, blueberries and blackberries.
“We also get into apples and pears,” says Cathy Pennington. “The Seckel pear is divine — it’s about the size of your palm, often found in restaurants as a poached pear,” she says. “The taste is like the perfect fig, just heavenly.”
Off-the-Beaten Path: Cruise the nearby Applegate Valley Wine Region, with dramatic rugged mountain views, and find the perfect pairing for the soul-satisfying Pennington Farm chicken pot pies.
Go “glamping” near the Rogue River on Pholia Farm and slumber in a whimsically refurbished 1970 Airstream Land Yacht. (Glamping is a term for fanciful camping.) The Airstream is outfitted with a covered front porch, set for prime viewing as the resident Nigerian Dwarf goats frolic with wild turkeys.
The farm is completely off the power grid, so leave your laptop behind and embrace a weekend unplugged. Instead, participate in feeding and milking the goats and other farm chores.
The goat herd at Pholia Farm is small; production is less than 100 pounds of cheese per month and will always remain low. One of the Pholia mottos is: “If we can’t remember the doe’s name, we have too many goats.”
Off-the-Beaten Path: Interested in owning a goat? Enroll in Dairy Goat School or goat cheesemaking classes. Bonus: The farm-fresh ricotta you learn to make turns into a lasagna lunch.
Stoller is a 373-acre property in the heart of the Willamette Valley Wine Country with nearly 200 acres of grapevines, mostly pinot noir and chardonnay. The renowned vineyard comes with a rich backstory and a cast of fine-feathered, unexpected characters.
The Stoller land began as a turkey farm from the 1940s through the 1980s and grew to be the largest turkey facility in Oregon. In 1995, after the decline of the turkey industry, the Stoller family planted their first 20 acres of grape vines.
Ten years later, they designed and built the first LEED Gold-certified winery in the United States. The winery is one of few that features a Vineyard Stay where oenophiles can slumber surrounded by grape vines. Guests of the property receive a complimentary tasting and behind-the-scenes winery tour to see how wine is made from vine to table.
Off-the-Beaten Path: Visit the nearby Oregon Olive Mill to taste Oregon-produced olive oils and stroll around the olive grove.
The 440-acre Willow Witt Ranch is a medley of wildflower meadows, lush conifer and oak woodlands, wetlands and streams. Ranch owners Suzanne Willow and Lanita Witt grow pasture-raised goats, chickens, hogs and vegetables, and make specialty sausages for the community and local restaurants. The farmers also have a CSA program and a raw-milk herdshare.
Guests can stay in a Farm Stay Studio, Rustic-Chic Wall Tents, or go au natural and pitch a tent in the forested campground at this historic, off-grid ranch. The ranch is for all seasons, with ample trails to hike in summer and snowshoe adventures in early winter.
“The harvest season brings brilliant colors, morning meadow fog, and the occasional dusting of snow to our high mountain ranch,” says Suzanne Willow. “It is the best time of year for hiking and birding; the days are still warm but the nights are cool, perfect for watching the night sky while enjoying the wood-fired hot tub.”
Off-the-Beaten Path: Only 12 miles from Ashland, enjoy the Best of the Bard, a play at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival by day, followed by a starlit night on the farm.
The beauty of the Wild West lives at Wilson Ranches Retreat, a 9,000-acre cattle and hay ranch near the town of Fossil, population 450, located in North Central Oregon. The historic town, established in the 1880s, was named when prehistoric fossilized bones were found in the vicinity.
The Bed & Breakfast is a 4,300-square foot 1910 Sears Roebuck Ranch House with six grand ranch-style guest rooms. The ample deck looks out on century-old locust and fruit trees, often home to a symphony of songbirds during migration.
The Wilson family runs cattle drives throughout the week and guests are always welcome to lend a lasso. Saddle up at sunset for a ranch ride, a feast for the senses with sweeping blue sky, the scent of sagebrush and the undulating Cascade Mountain Range in the distance.
Off-the-Beaten Path: Explore John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, home to some of the most renowned prehistoric plant and animal fossils in the world. Discover world-class small-mouth bass fishing on the John Day River, and fishing for steelhead come fall.