City dwellers looking for a unique and rustic vacation destination are packing up their bags and heading for the country to become camping farmers for a week. "Farm Stays" are nothing new for people who live in Europe where sleeping and eating among the animals and haystacks is common, due to the lack of hotels in between remote villages and wide swaths of rolling hillsides. The concept has been catching on here in the United States over the years. More and more farmers are opening up their barn doors and rolling out tents, to not only make a few extra dollars, but also to help educate curious adventure seeking holiday travelers about the way food is produced, and what it takes to maintain a real working farm.
According to Farm Stay U.S., there are currently 905 farms and ranches across the country that offer lodging, with the largest number, 304, in the Western region of the U.S. 169 Farm Stay properties are scattered throughout the South, 134 in the Midwest, 125 in the Mid-Atlantic, the Northeast boasts 104 farming vacation spots, while the Southwest has 69.
The agritourism business generated over $566 million in income for farms which offered agritourism activities in 2007 according to the latest U.S.D.A. Census of Agriculture (conducted every five years). For farmers Dan and Kate Marsiglio, who operate the family owned Stony Creek Farm in Walton, New York, hosting Farm Stay guests not only brings in extra cash but helps grow interest in farming. Dan Marsiglio tells Fox, "We can educate from the farm as opposed to the somewhat empty space that is the farmer's market setting where we sort of have to fabricate something that is reminiscent of the farm." His wife Kate adds, "I think more and more people are starting to ask where their food comes from, and I think more and more people are realizing that they are disconnected, from those things. So when you come to a farm and you see a working farm, maybe you milk a cow, maybe you collect eggs, and you start to realize, these food things, you know, these products come from somewhere and they are realizing a true connection."
Making that connection in comfort is a big selling point of staying on the Marsiglio's farm, now that they have partnered with Feather Down Farms, a Dutch company that has been promoting farm stays with shabby-chic furnished tents. For the price of a hotel (costs range between $525 dollars for two nights, $685 for four nights and tents accommodate up to 6 people) guests can sleep next to a babbling brook, wake with the chickens, collect their eggs, cook them for breakfast, and take part in as little or as many farm chores as they choose. Feeding pigs, pulling vegetables from the garden, baling hay and milking cows are all on the menu of a day’s work.
Pete and Molly Quinn from Chicago ditched the theme park summer routine and took their two kids, 6 year old Natalie, and 5 year old Benjamin along for the adventure. Mary Quinn says, "This is, you know, like camping. You get all the benefits of that and you know participating on the farm. And then you get to sleep in real bed at night with clean sheets and take a hot shower. It's great." She adds, "For me, it is more about partaking in the farm activities and just, you know, watching the wheels spinning in my kid's head that they understood how the whole food system works." Her husband agrees, saying, "We are from a big city, so to come and do this for us, it's great."
The Marsiglios, and other farmers like them, hope the Quinn's enthusiasm will feed the interest of future farm stay guests. Kate Marsiglio says, "I think there are some people who come with this intention of teaching their children - and then I think there are some people who come with an intention of relaxing, and they come away with their eyes open and they realize that there are all these things that their children have learned, and they will definitely come back. They loved it."
Laura Ingle currently serves as a New York-based correspondent for FOX News Channel (FNC) and also frequently anchors FOXNews.com/LIVE. She joined FNC as a Dallas-based correspondent in 2005.