Vacationing down on the farm
Picking strawberries at a farm in Northumberland, England. (Press Association)
The trend of farm-to-table cuisine may be spreading, but it doesn’t get more local than dining right in the farm house – one of the many attractions to a farm stay vacation.
Ethical travellers can also sleep easy knowing that their holiday choice is a responsible one, since the money spent on room and board directly benefits the local community.
Bunking in barns or in farmers’ homes -- long a widespread way to see the countryside in Europe -- has become increasingly popular in the US in recent years. It coincides with a burst of farmers markets popping up on urban streets and a growing chorus of consumers asking where their food comes from. Farm stays are also mutually beneficial: city slickers can develop a connection with local residents and, perhaps, a culture much different than their own. And farmers earn extra income to help keep the harvests going.
Several websites can help plan a farmcation, where guests have the chance to be a farm hand for the day, feeding chickens, learning how to milk cows and picking crops out in the field. But some farms tell guests just to relax -- it is a vacation after all. No matter which farmcation you choose, those roosters will probably wake you up rather early.
This site, which partners with working farms and ranches in the US, offers tips on what travellers should expect out of a stay down on the farm. For instance, guestrooms run the gamut -- from camping by the creek to whirlpool-tub-style accommodations -- and some stays include educational seminars on skills like butter-churning and hitching a horse. Book a stay at a 100-acre Amish farm in Ohio where you’ll raise hay and milk the dairy herd. Or practice your lasso skills at a 9,000-acre cattle ranch in Oregon. Pitching in with chores normally isn’t a requirement, but many farms will take you up on the offer. Farmstayus.com allows travellers to search by region, state, number of guests, and whether they’re looking for a farm, ranch or vineyard. Bookings are made directly with the individual farms.
Rural Bounty is dedicated to all things rural, promoting not just farm stays but day trips, wine festivals, hay rides and farmers markets. Search by activity, location or specific farm product in the US and Canada. Find where to pick your own blueberries and blackberries in Texas or -- for those with some horse riding experience -- join a frontier cattle drive through the mountain countryside of southwestern Alberta, Canada. Bookings are made directly with the farms.
US state sites
Many states -- including Pennsylvania, Maine and Vermont -- have websites focused on rural rooms, ranging from luxury bed and breakfasts to real working farms. Learn how sap becomes maple syrup at a Vermont farm or stay in an 1800s log cabin in Pennsylvania. Farms promote local attractions and activities, such as fishing, hiking, horseback riding and even nearby golf courses.
Europe and beyond
Many of Europe’s farmhouse vacations are more likely to offer B&B accommodations without the opportunity to help feed the chickens. If you’re looking to get your hands dirty, Germany’s Landtourismus.de identifies farm stays that encourage you to harvest potatoes and care for your new barnyard friends (click on the “cooperation possible” link). If your idea of appreciating nature is more along the lines of watching the sunset while sipping an earthy chianti, Italy’s agritourismo.net lists accommodations with nearby wine tours. Australianfarmstay.com.au features farms that combine both hands-on activities, like bottle-feeding and milking goats, with high-end amenities, like a morning hot-air balloon ride capped off with a glass of champagne.
Lori Robertson writes the Ethical Traveller column for BBC Travel. You can send ethical dilemmas to email@example.com.