Monday, November 22, 2010

Berry Fields Farm: Our Family Farm Vacation

I had visited lots of farm stays on my own, so I wanted to see how my parents, sister, and her two cutie pie kids liked the experience. Last August, I planned a farm vacation to Berry Fields Farm in North Central PA for the five of us. I especially wanted to see how my nieces Skylar (5) and Ruby (2) took to gathering eggs and feeding the animals, and to snap a few adorable pictures of them along the way.

My parents live in Western PA, my sister and her kids live in Connecticut, and I live in Maryland; Berry Fields Farm was almost equidistant for the three of us. In addition to the location, I loved that the farm had a tiny field-to-table restaurant, a farm store, and a focus on growing diverse crops and livestock sustainably. Plus, my family and I are blueberry fiends and figured the berry bushes at the farm would be heavy with fruit, and we could pick gallons of them to take home and freeze. The drive to Berry Fields winds through Pennsylvania's beautiful Endless Mountains region, with the last two miles climbing a gravel road up the side of K-hill Mountain. I arrived to the hill farm just after dusk, and my sister pulled in with the kiddos a few minutes later. My parents would arrive a few hours after us.

After stepping out of my car, the warm lights of the restaurant and farm store guided me inside, where I met Barbara Gerlach, who was finishing serving coffee to her dinner guests. She pointed me towards the stairs to my family's home for the next three days, a one-bedroom apartment that the Gerlachs renovated for guests just this year. It's the second apartment they have built on their farm. Our cozy place was just big enough for our group of 3 adults and 2 kids. My parents took the bedroom, I slept on the futon in the small entrance room, and my sister and nieces slept on the pullout couch in the living/dining room/kitchen. The farm's other apartment, which the Gerlachs opened to guests about ten years ago, sleeps up to 10 in three bedrooms and sits on the second floor above the farm store and restaurant. 

In the 1970s, Charlie Gerlach bought the property where Berry Fields Farm now stands. The land was much different then -- it was covered with forest and only had a primitive hunting cabin. Charlie and Barbara spent decades clearing the land, and building their house and barn using recycled materials from Charlie's design-build general contracting business. Charlie describes his desire to build things as almost a compulsion. He plans to add at least one more guest apartment to the two others already on the farm. Charlie and Barbara have slowly built up their poor mountain soil to grow their lush, 1-acre organic garden, and have planted a small orchard of apple and pear trees as well as putting up fencing for their grazing beef cattle. Down the farm's driveway and across the road, a field of blueberry bushes invites u-pickers. Weekly, Barbara and Charlie sell meat and produce at a farmers market in Eagles Mere, a nearby resort town.

Day 1
In the morning, we woke to a big, wonderful view out the living room window. Skylar was jumping to get outside and see what animals she might find, and Ruby was excited to be a part of it all too. Once we met the bunnies, it was hard to pull the kids away. Skylar and Ruby could have fed them for hours, poking grass and weeds through the wire cages and watching while they chewed. Barbara and Charlie also introduced us to the chickens and showed us how to collect eggs, pointed out their huge pregnant Tamworth pig, and found a hidden pile of kittens for us to cuddle. We all had a great time wandering around the farm. We decided to venture away to visit the nearby World's End State Park, where a s-shaped bend in Loyalsock Creek that forms a big, scenic swimming hole. After a dip in the chilly water, we headed back to the farm for a field-to-table dinner in the little restaurant. We had a lovely meal of greens, beef, mashed potatoes, and corn, all raised on the farm, with locally-made goats milk cheesecake and hot drinks for dessert. 

Day 2
The kids headed out again for their dose of animal feeding and petting. Charlie and Barbara told us that the blueberry season had ended early, and that the bushes were pretty much bare, but we were unshakable and went to forage for leftovers anyhow. We managed to wrangle a few berries, enough for a little taste. We asked Barbara for hiking recommendations, and she pointed us towards The Haystacks, where a gentle, relatively flat trail along the Loyalsock River and rounded rock formations make for picturesque pools and rapids. The trail was a great choice for hiking with kids. 

Day 3
For our last day at the farm, we stayed put and found plenty to do. We harvested a bed of onions, with Skylar taking the helm and pulling almost all of them by herself. Charlie rewarded us with a loaf of bread that he had made that morning. We pulled spent cornstalks and threw them to the cows. We helped Barbara search for ripe carrots in the greenhouse. We watched the beautiful changing sky as a storm blew through. And to end the day, cozy again in our apartment, we cooked up a feast in our little kitchen.

It was a great vacation.  We loaded up our coolers with beef, pork, and chicken from the farm since the quality was great and the prices were much better than what we could find at home, bid the farm goodbye, and went our separate ways. For more photos from our stay at Berry Fields, check out my Berry Fields Farm album.

If you go:
Berry Fields Farm has two guest apartments. One can sleep 10 in three bedrooms; the other can sleep a very cozy 7 in one bedroom, a futon, and a twin and double pullout beds. Both apartments have full kitchens. Rates start at $100/night and $600/week. Meals are available ($15-30) on the farm with advanced notice; non-guests are welcome to reserve dinners in The Strawberry dining room as well. The farm’s beef, pork, chicken, sausage, vegetables, and fruits are available at the farm store. Berry Fields also offers u-pick berries in season.

Note: some of the material on the website is outdated, for example, the farm now has two guest apartments instead of one. Also, it’s a great idea to ask what fruits and vegetables are in season before you go, so you know what to expect and don’t suffer from blueberry disappointment.


Postal/Physical Address:
Charlie and Barbara Gerlach
Berry Fields Farm

New Albany, PA 18833

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Your Questions, Answered: Part II

"So, how expensive are these 'farm stays,' anyway?"

Lots of folks who approached our Farm Stay U.S. booth at the Mother Earth News Fair asked this question.  For the answer to another common question, check out this post, which talks about farm stays v. WWOOFing v. B&Bs.

Back to the question at hand. Farm stays are a broad category of accommodations, ranging from a spot to pitch a tent to luxurious resort with five-star amenities and service. The unifying factor is that the accommodation is situated on a working farm, i.e. a farm that produces food or fiber. Accordingly, price varies tremendously. For a non-working American farm stay, you can pay from $10-15 for a tent site at a place like Four Springs Farm in VT or D Acres of New Hampshire, to upwards of $1000/night for an all-inclusive stay at the Blackberry Farm in Tennessee. Of course, you can find all prices in between as well. The most typical range is something like $70-150/night, so comparable to other B&Bs you would find in the same area. There's a farm stay for every type and every budget -- what a relief!

Photo: Four Springs Farm, Royalton, Vermont