Friday, February 26, 2010

Featured farm stays map

I created a map showing all the farms I've written about here on Farm Stay USA. Hopefully, the map will make the farm stay posts more accessible and better organized than they were when they were only listed in the blog archives. A small version of this map will always show up on the right hand side of the blog along with the other widgets, but it works much better in large form. You can always access the larger map with the link underneath the small map widget. Each placemark has a link to my post about the farm; you can also access the farms' websites and additional information via the placemarks.

View Farm stays featured on Farm Stay USA in a larger map

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Guest Post for Beginning Farmers

I recently wrote a guest post for that was published there on Monday. In the post, I define and explain farm stays, which is (strangely) something I haven't yet done on this blog. So I figured I would repost the piece here.

Farm stays are one form of agritourism that is popular elsewhere in the world, though not yet well known here in the United States. But Americans are hungering to reconnect with farms -- and yearning for fresh air, fresh food, and authentic, affordable vacations. As the desire to support small family farms grows, so does the appeal of taking a farm vacation. Compared to other kinds of agritourism, farm stays can be personal and foster deeper connections between farmers and their guests.

What is a farm stay?

A farm stay is any type of accommodation on a working farm. Farm stays can be, but aren't necessarily, interactive. Some are family-focused, offering kids the opportunity to feed the animals and collect eggs. Others don't allow children at all, instead offering a peaceful retreat for adults. For the accommodations, guests normally pay rates similar to area bed & breakfasts or vacation rentals, although pricing varies considerably. The term "farm stay" can also describe a work exchange agreement, where the guest works a set number of hours per week in exchange for free or very cheap accommodations, such as those set up through World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF).

Possible farm stay accommodations include:
  • Cabins
  • Cottages
  • Converted barns/outbuildings
  • Farmhouse guest rooms
  • Platform tents
  • Tent camping
  • Yurts
Should you host guests on your farm?

As with any form of agritourism, the economic and social benefits from farm stays can be tremendous, but the benefits must outweigh the costs for you. Whether or not starting a farm stays makes sense depends on a number of factors, like:
  • Do you like being around people?
  • Would you mind having strangers staying on your farm?
  • What are the laws regarding agritourism and homestays in your area?
  • What kinds of resources do you have on your farm?
  • Do you already have bulidings that would work well for guest accommodations, with or without restoration?
  • If not, do you have an ideal setup for camping?
  • What are reasons people might want to visit your area?
Of course, the best way to decide whether or not you should start a farm stay or other agritourism operation is to talk with other farmers who have tried it.

Pennsylvania's Farm Vacation Association, Vermont's Farms! Association, and Maine's Farm Vacation Association are the best-organized state networks that focus primarily on supporting and connecting farm stays. is a new nationwide directory of farm stays, and Rural Bounty covers agritourism in Canada and the United States. Many of these offer free listings, at least for an initial trial period. Barbara Berst Adam's book The New Agritourism is also a good resource.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Smithfield Farm Part II

To see part I of my Smithfield Farm/Smith Meadows Meats write up, click here. A quick refresher: Smithfield Farm is an eighth generation farm near Berryville, VA. Ruth Smith Pritchard is innkeeper for the farm’s bed and breakfast. Ruth’s two children and their families, including two grandsons, also live on the farm.

Ruth credits her children, Forrest Pritchard and Betsy Pritchard, for bringing Smithfield Farm back into profitable production by embracing grass-based livestock farming and direct marketing. Neither Forrest or Betsy has a background in agriculture -- Betsy has a nursing degree, while Forrest studied creative writing and geology. Ruth says, considering the non-conventional way they run the farm, “it might be good that they didn’t study agriculture.”

Ruth never wanted to push the farm on her children, but she secretly hoped that they would come back to continue the Smithfield legacy. She is delighted that they did. Each of Ruth’s two children has a son, so she hopes that they’ll carry on the farm for generations to come.

When Ruth’s father farmed Smithfield, he sold his crops wholesale. Now most Smithfield products are sold direct to consumers in the DC area at nine farmers markets. Forrest and Betsy also sell to co-op grocery stores in Takoma Park and Laurel, MD, and to a handful of restaurants in DC. An upcoming “mobile kitchen” will expand their farmers market offerings to include hot prepared foods like burgers, sausage sandwiches, pastas with home cooked sauces, and stews, all made with products from the farm and their farmers market friends.

At any given time, the farm is home to 100-200 cattle, 50-75 sheep, 50 pigs, and 750 chickens. All of the animals are raised without hormones or antibiotics, and graze freely in the farm’s pastures. The livestock’s ultimate destination is a Mennonite butcher in Hagerstown, MD but throughout the animals’ lives the Pritchards strive to treat them humanely. Even when they take livestock to slaughter, the Pritchards are careful to stay quiet and respectful, and they don’t use electric prods.

Poultry is processed on the farm in a facility the Pritchards built onto their main working barn. Processing poultry on the farm, while a difficult and demanding job that involves most everyone working on the farm, greatly improves the profitability of raising pastured poultry. The Pritchards process 100-150 three to four pound chickens every two to three weeks. In Virginia, farms can legally process up to 10,000 of their own chickens a year, but all other animals must be processed at a USDA-certified butcher.

Every week, hundreds of boxes of pasta using the farm’s eggs are also made at Smithfield, thanks to a pasta business that Forrest’s wife, Nancy Pritchard, started in 2003. Since then, the Smith Meadows Farm Kitchen has expanded to employ three additional women who help turn Smith Meadows eggs and locally milled flour into fresh ravioli and noodles of over a dozen flavors. Nancy has gone on to spearhead another project, converting the farm’s old pony shed into an artists’ studio called “La Capretta.”

Adjacent to the Smith Meadows Farm Kitchen sits a farm store where drop-by customers can buy handmade Smithfield mugs, locally-roasted coffee, honey from the farm’s hives, and of course eggs and meat. The store is normally unstaffed and operates by honesty policy, although family members can be available to help customers who call in advance.

Smith Meadows meat, eggs, and pasta have a following of farmers market customers who regularly buy the farm’s products because of their great flavor and quality. Many of these customers visit the farm at some point, to take a break from the city and get to know their farmers and their food. Some come to visit the farm store. Others come for bed and breakfast in the elegant 1824 Smithfield manor house. In May, the farm also holds an annual Farm Day, when families are invited to take a walking tour, eat a catered barbeque lunch, see a cooking demonstration, and visit a petting paddock.

When Ruth inherited Smithfield in the 1980s, she decided she would restore the manor house in order to turn Smithfield into a bed and breakfast. The bed and breakfast opened to guests in 1999. Ruth wanted to make good use of the house, and she wanted the restoration to make economic sense. She feels fortunate how much she’s enjoyed innkeeping considering that she came into it “through the back door.” The B&B, she says, generates no profit; it is simply a way to pay for the maintenance and upkeep of the incredible old house.

Linda McCarty is Ruth’s assistant innkeeper. She first visited the farm in 2005 for a story she was doing as a journalist for The Winchester Star, and a year later, she came to work at Smithfield. Ruth praises Linda’s famous biscuits and southern hospitality. When Linda came to work at Smithfield, she remembers thinking, “This is where I’m supposed to be.” Linda says she feels as at home at Smithfield as she does in her own home.

Four guest accommodations are available in the stately manor house: three upstairs rooms and one two-bedroom ground-level suite. All are decorated with elegant antiques (although much of the original Smithfield furniture had been auctioned off, Ruth has managed to buy some of it back). Because twelve-foot ceilings in the upstairs rooms make them difficult to heat in the winter, these rooms are open seasonally, typically from late March through Thanksgiving. The ground-level “English Garden Suite” is open year round. It is more private than the upstairs rooms, with a separate entrance and full kitchen with an original brick fireplace.

Two brick cottages frame either side of the manor house. They were built around 1845, roughly 20 years after the main house. One of the cottages used to be a schoolhouse for farm and neighborhood children; the other was once a summer kitchen. Now, the converted summer kitchen is available as a guest accommodation, and the schoolhouse will soon open as an additional guesthouse.

Guests who stay at Smithfield seem to appreciate the farm’s peace and quiet above all. Anti-growth policies in Clarke County are partly to thank for its undeveloped countryside. Clarke and neighboring Loudoun and Frederick Counties have been under tremendous development pressure since the 1980s. Clarke has taken anti-growth measures that raised both property taxes and property values and largely succeeded in slowing down growth. Today, Clarke County has more intact farmland and open space than its neighbors. During the real estate boom that began in the mid-1980s and lasted until around 1990, when Ruth still hadn’t restored Smithfield, people who were looking to buy property would assume that the farm and house were for sale. The would-be buyers told Ruth to “name her price,” but she says was never tempted to sell. Recognizing the importance of protecting Smithfield Farm and its open space for the generations to come, the Pritchards have started the process of preserving their land through conservation easements.

If you go:

The English Garden Suite and Summer Kitchen Cottage are available year round. During the winter months, farm-fresh food is provided for guests to prepare their own breakfasts. The Cottage sleeps two at $250 per night, and the Suite accommodates up to four at $225/2 and $250/4 per night.

Three additional rooms with king and queen beds open late March and close on Thanksgiving. Rates start at $175/night, double occupancy. During the summer season, a full, hearty farm-fresh breakfast is provided to manor house guests as well as those staying in the English Garden Suite and cottages.

The B&B accepts only children over 12, as many visitors are seeking quiet. Pets cannot be accommodated.
Families are welcome to visit for Smith Meadows Farm Day, held every year in May. The Smith Meadows Farm Store is also open year-round.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Louisiana Agritourism

Dora Ann Hatch is the Extension Agritourism Coordinator for the Louisiana State University AgCenter. I asked her to say a bit about Louisiana agritourism for Farm Stay USA. Thanks to her for the following info!

In Louisiana, farmers have been opening their farms to “city folks” for over a century. In 2008 the Louisiana Legislature recognized the potential of agritourism and introduced a bill into the legislature that would provide limited liability for certain agritourism operations. Since the passage of that bill, the Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service and the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry have promoted agritourism as an alternative agriculture venture. A Web site,, was developed by the LSU AgCenter to provide resource information and a blog,, was created to provide up to date information on agritourism attractions.

Louisianans practicing agritourism in the state are engaged in bird watching in rice fields, ranch stays, farm tours, farmers’ markets, u-pick-ems, pumpkin patches, etc.

Dora Ann Hatch, Extension Agritourism Coordinator for the LSU AgCenter, click here to email

Photo: LSU AgCenter: Steve Cardiff atop the rice combine points out to the birdwatcher on board the many Yellow Rails in the field. The birdwatcher was instructed on safe riding techniques and the combine landing was retrofitted with an additional safety support bar. Seeing a combine in action was the first for many birders.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Farm Stay USA on Facebook

Farm Stay USA is now on Facebook. Check it out here, or from the link at the bottom of the right sidebar.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Smithfield Farm

First, I want to say a bit about historic preservation and farm stays, then I will profile Smithfield Farm/ Smith Meadows Meats in Clarke County near Berryville, VA. I’ve decided to break my write up from Smithfield into two parts. It’s an incredible place, and I think two posts will better do it justice.

Old barns and farmhouses are expensive to maintain, and their owners unfortunately but understandably let the buildings deteriorate when the economics of restoration don’t add up. Hosting guests on the farm is one way that some farmers are able to restore and preserve historic buildings on their properties. Smithfield Farm, listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 2001, is a remarkable example of historic preservation made economically viable through an on-farm bed and breakfast. Armstrong Farms, which I profiled early January, is another example of wonderful historic preservation made possible through agritourism.

Smithfield Farm

Smithfield Farm has belonged to the Smith family for eight generations – in 2016, the family will celebrate 200 years of continuous ownership. Throughout most of this time, the property has stayed a working farm. While the bed and breakfast goes by the farm’s traditional name of Smithfield, the grass-fed meat and egg farm operation is called Smith Meadows to differentiate it from Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork producer and processor. This distinction is well deserved – contrasting sharply with most large-scale meat producers, Smithfield Farm raises animals on plenty of fresh pasture, strives to treat their animals humanely, and practices rotational grazing and natural pasture management.

By the 1980s, when innkeeper Ruth Smith Pritchard inherited the farm, the Smithfield manor house had been sitting vacant for nearly 40 years. Though Ruth’s father, Robert R. Smith, had been ill, he protected the house by keeping the roof on and the windows closed. When Ruth was 8 years old, she announced to her family: “One day Smithfield will be mine!” It turned out that Ruth was right though nobody knew it then; they assumed the farm would go to Ruth’s brother. He, however, did not want to take over the farm or restore the house, and the monumental task fell upon Ruth. The house was in bad repair, but Ruth, who was then working in real estate, made up her mind to restore it and open a bed and breakfast. And she desperately wanted to return the land to a profitable working farm.

Throughout the farm’s long history, it had traditionally been passed to the firstborn son in each subsequent generation, following the law of primogeniture. But the women of Smithfield Farm have really been responsible for holding onto the farm in its most difficult times. As one story goes, Ruth’s great-great-grandfather, Edward Jacquelin Smith, suffered from a mysterious mental illness that was diagnosed as “melancholia.”  He cosigned a note for a friend, and neither of them was able to repay the debt. As a result, Edward fled to Missouri, which at that time acted as the gateway to the western frontier. In Edward’s absence, his wife Elizabeth Bush Smith decided to plant 500 acres of wheat, an important crop in Virginia during that era. The wheat was exported to Europe, and with the money from the sales, she paid off her husband’s debt and kept the farm. When Edward was told that his debt had been paid, he came back to Smithfield, where he lived to be over 90 years old. Elizabeth, unfortunately, died only a few years after paying down the debt.

Ruth’s father Robert Smith was a conventional farmer who originally grew hay, grain, corn, and other row crops, some of which were used to feed his cattle. A local senator and farmer encouraged friends and neighbors, including Robert, to plant apples throughout the area, resulting in thousands of acres of orchards. Over time, Robert transitioned 350 of Smithfield’s acres into apples. Now, Smithfield mostly grows grass for animal pasture, though 40 acres of apples still remain.

During the area’s apple boom, the farm was doing well, hiring up to 16 orchard workers. But the apple business was unreliable. As Robert would say, “Apples are good one out of three years.” Because of the weather, he said, “you make good money one year, and you lose it the other two.”

Before World War II, many local people were employed working the orchards. During the war, with a shortage of young men, German POWs were enlisted as orchard workers. When the servicemen came home from the war, however, they wanted something different. Ruth says that change helped to signal the demise of apples, and most of the orchards in the area have since gone over to housing.

When Ruth took over the farm in the 1980s, she decided that she wanted to get away from apples because of the chemicals treatments required. And she didn’t have the equipment for row crops. Having to rely on her neighbors for their machinery meant that her crops were last to be put in the ground and the last to be harvested. After trying row crops for two years and losing money each year, she decided that she couldn’t do it anymore, especially without any control over her prices.

Still, Ruth was determined to hold on to the farm. Searching for possibilities, she started going to sustainable agriculture seminars and reading about alternatives to conventional farming. In 1990, before Joel Salatin and Polyface Farms became famous via the book The Omnivore’s Dilemma and the film Food, Inc., Ruth and her late husband Ed Pritchard heard Joel preach his “grass farming” gospel at a conference. Ruth describes his talk as a turning point. He said, “You can do this! You can raise your animals on pasture and sell direct to the customer! You don’t need to take sale barn prices!” With that, Ruth was inspired to try out a new way of farming. She and Ed invited Joel to come look at their farm to see if his way of farming might be tenable on their land. His prognosis was that they had it even easier than he did.

To be continued…

Monday, February 1, 2010

Creek Crossing Farm

Here's my report from Creek Crossing Farm in Lincoln, VA, along with a bit of background about the area.

Loudoun County           

Loudoun County, Virginia, only 25 miles from Washington DC, is one of the fastest-growing counties in the nation, and boasts one of its highest median incomes. With a steady population of roughly 20,000 from 1900 through the 1950s, Loudoun County has exploded to a population of nearly 300,000 today. Large single-family homes, standing freshly built atop miles of formerly productive farmland, now line many of the county’s major roads.

In the 1880s, Loudoun County was the fourth largest wheat producer in the United States. Today, agriculture is still central to the county’s character: the area is lauded as DC’s wine country, with more than 20 wineries and still more farms. The county’s celebrated rural nature and its important role in Colonial American history have long served as major draws. Protecting that rural and historic character, while accommodating rapid population growth, is Loudoun County’s primary challenge.

Creek Crossing Farm

Creek Crossing Farm is a bit of Loudoun County farmland that remains much as it has been since 1773, when Quaker Edward Thompson built the Federal style home on one of his many plantations. The farm’s 25 acres of fields and woods, with a small and picturesque creek meandering throughout, is home to a flock of free range chickens and a few pet rabbits, as well as 700 organic blueberry bushes on what may have been the first commercial blueberry field in the county.

Owner Barbara Baroody once also kept sheep, cows, and horses. But, as she likes to say, they became “too much like work.” Far from lazy, though, Barbara is quick and active, flitting about her home and farmyard, from knitting to chicken feeding and egg gathering, always trailed by her friendly little dog. Barbara, who was raised on a vegetable farm in Massachusetts, sees her B&B as a way of welcoming guests to her world, to show them how she lives on her farm. Barbara hopes that guests enjoy the farm’s serenity. She invites guests to freely roam the property, collect eggs, or pick blueberries and raspberries. The remaining eggs and blueberries she sells to friends and neighbors who come to buy them at the farm.

Barbara’s ‘pets and children welcome’ policy reflects the relaxed, unpretentious quality of her B&B. The B&B is comfortably lived in, while still retaining its elegance and historic charm. The home offers four guestrooms, all with beautiful antique beds, that sleep between two and five. A sunroom, sitting room, and parlor with grand piano are also available for guests to use. In the floorboards under the piano, a trap door is a reminder of the house’s days as a stop on the Underground Railroad.

The Creek Crossing Farm home has built up more than 230 years of fascinating stories, and Barbara is a great historical guide, as she served for 10 years as the President of the Civil War Round Table. Accordingly, she has an extensive Civil War Library that guests are welcome to browse.

The property’s outbuildings hold stories of their own. The stone foundation of an old barn, burned by Yankee soldiers during the Civil War, is now the site of a perennial garden. A 16 square foot springhouse, now in disrepair, was required by a Colonial law which stipulated that property owners must enclose and improve their springs.

When guests wake up hungry after a full night’s sleep, they’re treated to a breakfast of fresh eggs, seasonal fruit and berries, grits, local ham, and sweet cake or bread. Barbara learned to cook in Paris, and she can prepare several cuisines, including French, Italian, and Lebanese. She also makes her own homemade pasta.

If you go:
Rooms start at $165/night for double occupancy, and $135/night for two or more nights, plus 9% sales tax. Breakfast is included. Pets are an additional $25/night.

Creek Crossing Farm at Chappelle Hill
Barbara Baroody
37768 Chappelle Hill Road
Lincoln, VA  20160

For more information: