Lately I have been looking for places to stay for our summer trip. The one I am most excited about is a farm we will be staying at in Ashland, Oregon. Willow-Witt Ranch has been breeding, raising, training, and selling goats since 1991. They are free range goats, so I imagine we will be bumping into them throughout our stay. The farm also raises pigs and chicken.
As farm stay guests, we will have the opportunity to do some chores. Admittedly, I have no idea what exactly this entails. Are we talking about goat-milking? From my understanding these animals are very comfortable being handled, but I wonder how they will feel about a stranger trying to pull milk from their underside. I know the kids, fans of animals big and small, will enjoy whatever task brings them closer to these creatures.
I also feel really good supporting a business that puts such an emphasis on responsible land management techniques. For example, owners Suzanne Willow and Lanita Witt decided a few years ago to stop letting cattle graze on the land, even though cows have been grazing there over the last 100 years. In addition to stopping this practice, the owners fenced off portions of their land from their own grazing goats to allow for forest and wetland preservation.
Small, privately-owned farms are not easy to come by here in the States. In Europe the agritourism business is far more popular, but in the U.S. it is difficult to earn a living maintaining a farm. That’s why I am particularly thrilled to have found Willow-Witt, which has successfully formed its niche with goats (they even train them to be pack animals). The owners also supplement their business by selling pigs and chicken (laying hens and fryers), selling the plant and animal by-products as nutrient-rich compost, offering a meat CSA (community supported agriculture) where subscribers can get cuts of meat and sausage delivered to them on a regular basis, and of course offering opportunities for guests to be a part of it all through farm tours or farm stays. On this property we had several lodging options to choose from; a studio that sleeps four, a furnished wall tent in the wildflower meadows, or pitching a tent at the campground which offers hot showers and a full outdoor kitchen. Since we need two beds, we will experiencing the farm from the comfort of the studio.
Most of our summer trip will be spent exploring large cities. This makes planning easy for me, since I know there will be plenty of activities to choose from each day. I’m good with that. I’m a city girl who likes having distractions within close proximity. But the funny thing is, what I am dreaming of most is the connection you get from staying in someone else’s backyard. Even if I don’t meet the owners, I will be staying in a place I know is dear to them. The kids will no doubt connect with the animals they get to feed or brush several days in a row. Connections are what we remember and what may shape the paths we choose later in life. I can’t choose what my kids will remember or will connect with on this summer trip. I suspect, though, that spending some time loving the animals and seeing the work that goes into their care day in and out will be something they won’t soon forget.
Want to see if there is a farm stay near where you will be traveling? Scottie Jones, also an Oregon farm stay provider, has recently built a great website that shows farm stay locations throughout the U.S. I highly recommend you check and see if one is near your vacation destination or better yet, you can make a farm stay become the destination. If you have had any farm stay experiences or have read about someone else’s, send me a comment or link. I’d love to hear more about what it was like.