Family Vacations: Visiting Farms
Hay Now, Farmers!
Looking for a down-home departure from your typical family vacation? With many independent farms on the verge of extinction, cash-strapped farmers are now opening their homes -- and barns -- to city slickers eager to pay for the privilege of milking cows and gathering eggs. Some farms maintain a full-fledged operation while hosting a few visitors; others operate like B&B's with a barn attached. In either case, "agri-tourism" has great appeal for young children. For grownups -- hosts and guests alike -- there's a financial incentive! Typically, farm stays are moderately priced. Parents keep vacation price tags in check, while farmers boost their modest incomes with a second career.
Hull-O Farms, Durham, N.Y.
"We are the real McCoy," says Jason Hull proudly. He's one of four sons helping to run the 350-acre Hull-O Farms dairy farm at the foot of the Catskills. The circa-1779 farm has been in the Hull family for seven generations and has hosted guests since 1993.
"We ship about 5,000 pounds of milk every other day," says Hull, noting that in addition to 55 cows, the farm features horses, sheep, goats, pigs, ducks, geese, rabbits, and even exotic red deer. Guests stay in a cottage built for a family of 4-6, or a chalet that sleeps 10-12 people. Children visiting the farm are invited to take part in all the daily chores.
Hull has been surprised to discover that very young children are often most excited about the kittens they find in the barn. "When they sit on the porch and hold a little kitty in their lap, that's just it for them," he laughs.
Weatherbury Farm, Avella, Pennsylvania
Unlike most farmers, Dale and Marcy Tudor bought Weatherbury Farm for the purpose of operating a farm B&B. Although they have a herd of 25 cattle, they are not full-time farmers. Still, chores must be done in and around their restored 1870's farmhouse on 100 acres in southwestern Pennsylvania, and pint-sized visitors are delighted to help, especially with feeding baby calves and lambs.
"We have a children's program," explains host Marcy Tudor. "We give children a full kit of information about the farm when they arrive, including a coloring book and a worksheet. They get stickers for helping with farm chores, and when they leave, we give them a Junior Farmer certificate."
A farm stay offers not only an escape from the pressures of urban life, the Tudors believe, but also an important educational experience for kids accustomed to "manufactured" vacations.
"This is not Disney World," Marcy Tudor muses. "Our animals are not plastic. Everything that's brown here is not dirt!"
Click here for more information on Pennsylvania farm vacations.
Llaughing Llama Farm, Boscobel, Wisconsin
Tucked into the rugged hills of southwest Wisconsin is a 180-acre farm, home to 13 llamas and assorted ducks, goats, chickens, and peacocks. Guests stay in two cabins on the property, both equipped with whirlpool tubs and gas fireplaces. Children can help feed the llamas or take them for hikes on the property.
"Kids who are used to playing Nintendo all day aren't sure what to do here," observes Sue Ten Pas, who co-owns the farm with her husband. "On the other hand, I had some 11-year-old girls playing with chickens for 2 to 3 hours! And even teenagers think llamas are unusual enough to be cool."
Click here for more information on Wisconsin farm vacations.
Inn at East Hill Farm, Troy, New Hampshire
For Suzy A., mother of six-year-old Will, four-year-old Ari, and two-year-old Gabe, the sweet slowness with which time passes on a farm was a bit unnerving after the brisk pace of life in a Boston suburb.
"The first day, my husband Bill and I looked at each other and said, 'What are we going to do?'" she recalls. But by the second day of their vacation at East Hill Farm, the couple had bonded with other families and delighted in their children's newfound sense of independence.
"Will was reaching right under a chicken to take the eggs all by himself!" Suzy remembers. "The kids didn't even ask for TV the way they would at home. They're like, 'We want to go see the animals.'"
As an inn, East Hill offers more organized activities for children than many working farms, a definite plus for weary parents in need of a break. There are arts and crafts, a late-afternoon story hour, plus pony rides and hayrides during the summer. The inn also has both outdoor and indoor pools.
Still, "It's not a Club Med," Suzy says with a laugh. "It rained a lot and my kids got filthy jumping in the puddles. But they loved it. Every day they still ask me, 'When are we going back?'"