Leaping Lamb Farm is a special kind of place. Tucked into the green hills of the Oregon Coast Range and backed up against Honeygrove Creek (raging in the winter, lazy in the summer), the farm has idyllically green pastures, mossy split rail fences, and a menagerie of adorable as well as eccentric animals. It might be something out of a fairy tale, but for farmers Scottie and Greg Jones, maintaining the farm is a messy, imperfect, and labor-intensive process that they are able to share with folks who choose to stay on the premises for a night or a week as part of their farm stay program.
At Leaping Lamb Farm, like hundreds of other farm stays across the country, guests are encouraged to participate in farm life as little or as much as they want. Honeymooners can simply cuddle in the porch swing while overlooking the goings-on of the ranch, or kids can collect farm-fresh eggs, bottle feed lambs, and weed the garden patch. While each farm stay has a different set of accommodations, most are welcoming to families with young children, and some will even lodge the family’s horse.
The modern farm-stay movement originated in England in the 1980s with the formation of the Farm Holiday Bureau. Over the years, it morphed from a loose collection of twenty-three local groups into Farm Stay UK, which now has over 1200 farms listed on its website. Italy, France, and other EU countries began to promote similar ventures in agritourism during the 1990s in an effort to strengthen rural economies and preserve farm traditions and practices. Eurogites.org currently offers a directory of over 100,000 farm stay listings in twenty-eight countries across Europe.
After getting her own successful farm stay up and running, Scottie Jones launched the website Farm Stay U.S., a comprehensive directory of farm stays across the country, in 2010. Jones’s definition of a farm stay is “a working farm that also provides lodging,” but the variety of the hundreds of farm stays nationwide is amazing. There are horse-centric, goat-centric, and vegetable-centric farm stays; farms stays in arid climates, high mountains, the sultry Southeast, and even within major metropolises.
At Liberty Hill Farm in Vermont, you can help out with daily Holstein milkings. Guests young and old ride the range in Colorado at Zapata Ranch. Wine enthusiasts can relax at the end of the workday with a glass of local Pinot in California’s Sonoma County at Full House Farm. Juniper Moon Farm in Virginia offers beginning spinning and knitting classes with fiber straight off an animal’s back. Or if you’re feeling rugged, you can sleep in a yurt and wake up to an organic breakfast in Maine at Pagett Farm.
Farm stays offer a small but genuine agricultural experience. For many children and adults, their brief time at a farm stay is a terrific eye opener into the world of food production and land stewardship. Guests often bring their on-farm education back with them to the city or the suburbs and use that newfound knowledge to inform their choices in their everyday lives, promoting sustainability and supporting rural economics from afar. Families who choose a farm stay over a more commercial vacation will not only have a great adventure but will also endorse the value of small farms and strong communities.
Have you helped out on a farm? Share in the comments below!
Camille Storch is an off-the-grid mom of two living in rural Oregon. She is owner and designer of the Etsy shop Red Onion Woodworks, which sells natural-edge cutting boards and serving trays. She also writes about ecology, agriculture, and the reality of her modest but joyful lifestyle on her blog,Wayward Spark.