A boy makes a quick friend at Leaping Lamb Farm in Alsea, Ore.
By Colleen Lanin, TODAY.com contributor
Mucking out horse stalls and milking cows may not sound like the ideal vacation, but it can create deep memories in kids and adults alike.
City dwellers and suburbanites who are overwhelmed with the busyness of their plugged-in lives often dream of a simpler life, if only for a few days or weeks at a time. Meanwhile, small farmers who struggle to pay their bills without some extra income, are throwing open their barn doors to welcome guests onto their farmsteads. The symbiotic result is a farm stay.
Tara Anderson, a mom of two from Chico, Calif., had a tough time convincing her husband to take an eight-hour drive with their two young daughters to the Leaping Lamb Farm in Alsea, Ore., last summer. But after a few days of breathing in the fresh coastal air, collecting eggs from the chicken coop for omelets, and sweeping out the barn, he told his wife, "This is the best."
The Andersons hope to return to Leaping Lamb Farm someday for its green expanse of meadows and the bleating of baby lambs. It's a place where, as Anderson puts it, "You really feel like things are growing."
She says, "My kids are naturally drawn to gadgets and I have to strictly monitor their screen time. When we were there, not once did they ask to turn the TV on."
Families gain more than just relaxation during farm stays. They provide an educational experience for children who learn that food does not originate in shrink-wrapped plastic. Jessica Bowers, blogger of SuitcasesandSippyCups.com, has done two farm stays with her four sons. "We're city dwellers and even though we try to make connections to nature, my kids could very easily be convinced that food grows in the grocery store," she says. "Gathering eggs first thing in the morning, milking goats, picking greens and spices for us to cook dinner with, helped them to make connections to where our food really starts."
Wandering amid the flock at Leaping Lamb Farm in Alsea, Ore.
Scottie Jones, owner of Leaping Lamb Farm, believes this understanding of what goes into making food will lead to better nutrition decisions and eating habits for families.
While guests are not required to help out with farm chores, many do. Valeria Pitoni of Stillwaters Farm in West Tennessee says, "Guests are allowed to participate in the day's activities, if they desire, but they are in no way obligated to." Activities on her exhibition farm vary from grooming animals, weeding a garden, harvesting hay and witnessing animals giving birth.
Joanna Bloom, a mom from Portland, Ore., makes a trek to Leaping Lamb Farm with her 12-year-old daughter every year. "Farm work is a natural confidence builder," she says.
When hosts and guests are asked their favorite farm activity, the answer is unanimous: bottle-feeding baby animals. On some farms, orphaned critters are the only ones who require bottles but on a dairy farm, calves are taken from mothers shortly after birth, which leads to plenty of feeding opportunities.
A farm stay is different from vacationing at a traditional bed and breakfast or country inn. There is actual work that needs to be done on these farms, which makes a visit more meaningful for many travelers. "When I first started hosting farm stays 28 years ago, I thought I was a B&B. I learned very quickly it's not about the pillows, it's about the cows," says Beth Kennett of Liberty Hill Farm in Vermont.
There are farm stays to suit a variety of preferences, from dairy or lamb farms, to apple orchards and vineyards, to ranches with horseback riding and cattle drives. To find a farm stay that fits your family, visit FarmStayUS.org.