Saturday, October 30, 2010

Walpole Valley Farms Tour

I've uploaded some photos from the October 1st farm tour at Walpole Valley Farms. Gorgeous red barn, lively chickens and turkeys, content cows, and my favorite, the pretty pigs. All of them are out on pasture, with movable shelters, and they hardly set foot in the big barn. After the tour with farmer Chris Caserta, his sister Jackie Caserta, the innkeeper, showed me around the lovely Inn at Valley Farms. More about that later.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

New England Farm Stays!

The first week of October, I was lucky enough to visit 11 farm stays in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts during fall colors in New England, one of the most beautiful displays of nature anywhere. A bold statement perhaps, though thousands of "leaf peepers" agree. Here's a roundup of the 11 farms I visited; I'll profile each of them in more detail later. Please excuse the lack of photos; I don't have good internet right now. These farms are wonderful spots, combining awesome scenery with delicious farm-fresh food and the chance to milk a cow or pick some bright green chard. There's something here for every type and every budget.

I started off by tagging along on a farm tour at Walpole Valley Farm in Walpole, New Hampshire. Farmer Chris Caserta showed off his pastured poultry and livestock operation on 100 acres. The farm is gorgeous, set in a valley with a huge old classic red barn, which actually doesn't get much use because the animals spend their days and nights out on the pasture. After the farm tour, Chris' sister and innkeeper Jackie Caserta showed me the elegant 3-bedroom Inn at Valley Farms and plied me with fresh-baked cookies. Jackie also rents two 3-bedroom cottages and a 3-bedroom farmhouse. Children are welcome in the cottages and farmhouse; the inn rooms accommodate guests 12 and up. Inn guests enjoy a farm-fresh, candlelight breakfast. Cottage and farmhouse guests are supplied with kitchen pantry basics and are welcome to gather veggies from Jackie's lush, no-till garden. Rates are $175-220 for two.

I visited Shearer Hill Farm in Wilmington, VT next, a comfy, six-bedroom B&B and farm with a small herd of grass-fed beef cattle and maple sugaring in the spring. Patti and Bill Pusey moved to Vermont from Long Island 40 years ago. They have now raised seven children in the farmhouse they worked for years to restore, and their B&B is in its 20th year. Every morning for breakfast, Patti and Bill serve apples baked with their own maple syrup and topped with vanilla ice cream. Rates are $85/night for single and $115/night for double occupancy. Children are welcome. 

Kenburn Orchards B&B in Shelburne, MA, offers three lovely rooms, decorated with art from local craftspeople, in a restored colonial farmhouse that has been in owner Susan Flaccus' family since 1924. Susan's husband Larry wanted to be a farmer in his youth; he and Susan have made a second career out of farming Christmas trees and berries on their scenic 150-acre farm. Guests shouldn't miss a walk through the farm's abandoned apple orchard to spot birds, beavers, and coyotes. Susan and Larry cook up a big breakfast that includes homemade breads and muffins topped with their own fruit preserves. What's not from Kenburn Orchards comes from nearby farms. Rates are $139-169 for one or two.

Currier Brook Farm in Wentworth, NH is a diverse, 20-acre farm with one B&B room and plenty of space for camping along the Baker River. Carol Friedrich and her daughter Amy raise organic vegetables, free-range laying hens, Icelandic sheep, and heritage pigs, mostly for their own use, and they are interested in building and sharing their set of sustainable living skills. The Friedrichs welcome interns and work-traders in addition to B&B and camping guests. A rail-trail for hiking and skiing goes right through the farm.

I met up with a couple of dear friends from Montreal for a 2-day stay at D Acres in Dorchester, NH, an organic farm, "educational homestead," and hostel where I lived and worked in 2005. It was good to be back and see all the new buildings and the results of years of building the soil: kale tall as trees and cabbages as big as babies. Guests choose from three private bedrooms ($55-65) in the impressive, modern, green-built farmhouse, floor space in the yoga room ($15/person), or tent camping on platforms ($10/person). Guests are also welcome to share dinner and breakfast with residents ($10/person per meal). Meals are 95% organic and centered around fresh D Acres veggies. The farm sits on 180 acres, mostly forested, with hiking/skiing trails throughout, and artistic, handmade greenhouses, animal houses, and outdoor kitchens made of wood and cob (a mix of sand, clay, and straw). Rumney Rocks -- a great rock climbing area -- is only 10-minutes away.

After leaving D Acres, I visited with Jinny Cleland at her Four Springs Farm in Royalton, VT, an organic vegetable, small fruit, and pastured poultry farm on 70 acres, with a small campground (each secluded site is $25 for up to 5 guests, and includes a fire ring and picnic table), and a rustic cabin rental (no electricity, $65 for up to 5 guests). Guests are welcome to tag along with chores and u-pick berries and vegetables. Jinny is passionate about sharing her land and beautiful Green Mountains view with the public in a way that's accessible and affordable for families. On Saturdays, you can also find Jinny at the Norwich Farmer's Market.

At Liberty Hill Farm in Rochester, VT, I chatted with Beth Kennett as she and her friend Lois danced around the kitchen cooking up dinner for 15 guests. Beth is a pioneer and a charismatic spokeswoman for Vermont agritourism -- she's been hosting guests in her farmhouse since 1984. Beth loves to cook, and she treats guests to two homemade meals a day featuring Cabot cheddar and food from her neighbors' farms. Liberty Hill Farm is a dairy farm (and proud member of the Cabot Dairy Cooperative) that's been owned by Beth and Bob Kennett since 1977, and their two sons have now come back to work on the farm as well. Guests are welcome to tag along for chores and try their hand at milking a cow, and the farm abuts both the White River and the Green Mountain National Forest. Rates (includes lodging, breakfast, and dinner) are $98 per adult, $75 per teenager, $54 for children under 12, and kids 2 and under stay free.

Echo Hill Farm in Craftsbury, VT is a 4000-tap maple sugaring operation owned by Louise and Randi Calderwood. The Calderwoods are about to open a new sugar shack that will serve up pancakes topped by the farm's own maple syrup. They also rent out a sweet 3-bedroom guesthouse ($130/night, 2 night minimum stay), and guests are welcome to help with maple sugaring in the spring. Louise is a great person to chat with about farming and farm policy, as she served for 8 years as Vermont's Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, and has worked as both a farm consultant and a dairy extension agent. 

Stony Brook Farm in Hyde Park, VT (near Stowe) is a small farm with a managerie of goats, geese, chickens, cows, and turkeys that pose together like a barnyard scene from a childrens’ book. Tom and Carole Younkman have converted their blacksmith shop into a comfy two-bedroom cottage (sleeps up to 6; pets are welcome), complete with a kitchen, deck, and grill. Guests are welcome to help feed the animals and gather eggs. Carole also makes goatsmilk soap that visitors can find in the farm's little gift shop.

At Vermont Grand View Farm, I got to meet Romney sheep, angora goats, and mohair rabbits so sweet and soft it made me giggle. Shepherd Kim Goodling sends her animals' fiber to be spun into wonderful yarn that you can buy at her farm store, through an online shop, or by becoming a member of her fiber CSA. Kim hosts B&B guests in two bedrooms ($85-95) of the older, 1700s wing of her family's beautiful home. Kim cooks breakfasts with organic ingredients from her greenhouse and garden and from other local farms. She also offers dinner with advanced noticed ($25/person). The farm has a calendar of fiber retreats, summer day camps, and natural dye classes scheduled throughout the summer.

My final stop was to Trevin Farms in Sudbury, VT, which was founded by two chefs who escaped north to Vermont from urban Massachusetts. Troy and Kevin are devoted caretakers of their herd of Nubian goats, and they are passionate about cheesemaking. Most of the guests who stay in the B&B's three plush bedrooms ($105-$165) take advantage of the cheesemaking package ($295-$395, including lodging), which includes a cheesemaking class, dinner, and a bundle of fresh chevre for guests to take home. Visitors are also free to pick vegetables from the garden, gather eggs from the hens, and learn to hitch Tyrone the draft horse.

Thanks to Sarene, Noah, D Acres, and the Viking Motel for hosting me on this whirlwind New England tour. I also appreciate the farmers who told me they would have hosted me if they hadn't been all booked up. And thanks to all of these farmers who took the time to meet with me during their busiest time of year and who fed me with scones, baked apples, cookies, and fresh berries. Such generosity!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Your Questions, Answered: part 1

Last weekend, my wonderful mom and I hosted a Farm Stay U.S./Farm Stay Project booth at the Mother Earth News Fair at Seven Springs Resort in PA. We talked with hundreds (thousands?) of people about farm stays, and they had lots of questions for us. I'm going to do a series of little posts in the next few weeks trying to answer some of these questions. Here's question number one.

Q: How is a farm stay different than a B&B? How is it different than WWOOFing?

A: The term 'farm stay' is pretty broad - it just means you're staying on a working farm for a short time. The 'farm stay' might be interactive, with the guests helping out with chores, or it might not be, depending on the needs and wants of the guests and the farmers. The 'stay' could be in a B&B, or it could mean camping as a WWOOF volunteer. On this blog, I talk mostly about farm stays where guests pay for their lodging, like a farm B&B or cabin rental, and there's absolutely no work requirement. These farm stays are great for people who want to escape to a farm to relax for a weekend, while getting a closeup view of the source of their food. Many of these farm stays are especially suited for families with kids, though some are retreats specifically for adults.

There are some great resources out there for people interested in working farm stays, where there's usually a minimum work requirement and length of stay, and in return the volunteer gets free or very cheap lodging. For short-term working farm stays, in addition to WWOOF, check out