Farm stays are affordable family fun in Oregon
By Jessica Garrison
Los Angeles Times
ASHLAND, Ore. — Americans' surging interest in the origin of their food has led to a renaissance in farm stays in which vacationers, usually urban folk, pay to spend a few days on a working farm and even contribute a little labor.
The experience can be pricey. Farm folks' eyebrows shot up last summer when the New York Times reported one of its writers had paid more than $300 a night to stay in a tent on a farm in upstate New York — although it sounded like a very nice tent.
In California, where the value of agritourism has jumped from $6.6 million in 2002 to $34 million in 2007, the Philo Apple Farm in Mendocino charges $250 a night, plus $625 a person for weekend cooking classes.
I almost hope they don't hear about this in Oregon, where farmers have embraced the farm-stay concept and the rates are still relatively modest.
For my family's visit, we had about a half-dozen newly launched programs to choose from, including Pennington Farms, which began accepting guests about two years ago and specializes in berries, and the Leaping Lamb Farm, which has its own burbling creek.
Overnight programs are how many farms are becoming sustainable, said Scottie Jones, who owns Leaping Lamb and had advised about 25 other Oregon farmers on how to open their own overnight programs.
"Most small family farms can't make enough money from agriculture to get into the black, said Jones, adding that she had come to view her business as a community service, "a way to introduce Americans back to that farm culture."
Willow-Witt Ranch sits in a meadow about 4,600 feet above Ashland in the southern Cascade Range; we liked the idea of being able to pop into Ashland with its fudge shops, actors and gourmet restaurants. Even better for a late-August visit, we liked that the temperature was 20 degrees cooler at the farm than in town.
Our $135-a-night fee got us a charming studio with a sleeping loft, a wood stove, a full kitchen and enough board games to occupy our family for months. The price also included tutorials in how to milk a goat, approach a horse and talk to a piglet. For an extra fee, we could buy sausage produced from the farm's pigs, fresh eggs and goat's milk.
Willow-Witt is owned by Suzanne Willow and Lanita Witt, who during the past two decades have tried to restore the wetlands, revitalize the forest and otherwise make the farm as environmentally sustainable as possible.
Our window looked out on a pasture of frolicking goats. We could also see chickens, ducks, horses, pigs, cats and dogs around the farmyard. Towering above them was a dense forest of white fir, Ponderosa pine and Douglas fir.
After breakfast our first morning, we went to help milk the goats.
In the afternoons, we had other activities to choose from. One day we drove a short distance to a 1 1/2;-mile trail leading to Grizzly Peak, which afforded a view of rolling forests. On another, we visited one of the many nearby lakes for swimming.
In the evenings, we returned to the farm and, as the sun set over the meadow, prepared simple dinners and then went to sleep. By our second morning, we found ourselves falling into the rhythm of farm life, waking as the sun began to rise.
We lay in bed, thinking about getting up to help with the chores. Then went back to sleep. After all, we were on vacation.