Thursday, December 9, 2010

Stonehaven Family Farm

Stonehaven Farm is a gem of a farm stay in a gem of a spot. Westport, where Stonehaven is situated, is in the Southeastern corner of Massachusetts, 60 miles south of Boston, and 30 miles southeast of Providence, Rhode Island. Only minutes away from Stonehaven Farm, Horseneck Beach State Reservation is a beautiful, 2-mile long beach on Buzzards Bay with 600 acres of salt marsh and sand dunes. Horseneck Beach is most popular in summer, but the off-season holds its own kind of magic. I was there in late September, when the oblique fall light shone golden on the dune grass. To my surprise, the bay water was plenty warm for me to venture in for some delighted wave jumping. The public washrooms were closed for the season, and only a handful of cars littered the windy parking lot, but Horseneck Beach in September felt like heaven to me.

Back at Stonehaven Farm, the guest suite has a big, airy bedroom with a cathedral ceiling and a view past gently sloping sheep pasture and all the way down to the wide Westport River. Windows on all sides, plus a sliding door to a small balcony, let in the ocean breeze. The beds are made with crisp white sheets and an off-white blanket for warmth -- it's woven from the wool of the farm’s own Dorset Horn sheep, a dual-purpose heritage breed good for both meat and wool. 

In 1995, Virginia Merlier moved to Stonehaven Farm from Cambridge, Mass., where she worked in Financial Administration at Harvard for 15 years after a shorter stint as an assistant professor of Medieval French literature. Virginia grew up on a 312-acre farm on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, where her father also raised Horned Dorsets. Originally from France, Virginia’s father came to America when he was 18, marrying Virginia’s mother in 1941. At that time in France, Virginia tells me, having a farm was a dream common to many. Though her father was raised in the city and studied business in college, he decided to buy a farm in America. He essentially learned to farm from USDA pamphlets, says Virginia, and he did well at it, supporting their family of 5 and sending Virginia and her sister to college.

Virginia tells me that she always wanted to get back to farming, but her father wouldn’t give or sell the farm to her because she was a girl. Once she had her own 7.5 acres, Virginia started gardening and raising chickens, then sheep, and finally ducks. Today she has a flock of 20 permanent sheep, which are kept in line by a friendly border collie named Cody. Virginia tells me, “You look at a happy sheep and it’s almost meditative.” The 35 free-range chickens on the farm include American heritage breeds like Delawares, Rhode Island Reds, New Hampshires, and Ameraucanas. The wide variety of breeds presents a pretty palette of brown, light peach, and light green shell colors in the gathering basket. Virginia sells eggs, in addition to seasonal vegetables and berries, to customers who stop by the house.  Lambs or half lambs for the freezer and ducks are available by order, as is yarn processed by Bartlett Yarns in Maine. Virginia started offering a farm stay in 2009, after being inspired during an agritourism conference by a keynote talk by charismatic Beth Kennett, who has hosted guests at Liberty Hill Farm in VT since the 1980s.

Agritourism beyond Stonehaven Farm includes the Westport farmers market every Saturday, pick-your-own berries at Berry Hill Farm, a brewery called Just Beer, the Westport Rivers Winery and Coastal Wine Trail, and Orr’s Farm Stand. Virginia is a generous and informative guide to the area. Though Westport’s population swells with beachgoers in the summer, the town has maintained its unspoiled feel, with beautifully preserved 1700s homes and buildings and strong farming and fishing communities. The Point, where the fishing boats dock, is an active lobster port. Around 12 percent of Westport’s current farmland is protected from development thanks to groups like the Westport Land Conservation Trust.  Westport prides itself in being the home of a variety of turnip called the Macomber turnip, which has its own dedicated historical marker. Dairy and crops like potatoes, squash, corn, and hay are also important. A not-to-miss Westport edible is Hannahbells, a soft-ripened, bell-shaped cheese crafted at the Shy Brothers Farm from the milk of the brothers’ 120 grazing cows. While the farm is not open to the public, the cheese is available at specialty shops and by mail. The farm also forms a lovely picture for those who drive by.

If you go:
A spacious guest suite sleeps four on one double and two twin beds, and offers a fantastic view. The suite is $150/night for two, plus $25 for each child. The suite includes a mini-fridge and large private bathroom with a Jacuzzi tub. Children are welcome to stay in the main suite or down the hall, in a smaller guestroom with two twin beds. Virginia is an accomplished cook, and she invites guests to share breakfast (included) and dinner ($35/person) with her. Almost all of the dishes she makes – from roast chicken with fingerling potatoes to juicy fresh melon for dessert -- are raised right on the farm when the season allows. Guests are welcome to harvest all the garden vegetables they can eat, and to help with gardening, egg collecting, and caring for the sheep. Contact Virginia for rates.

Phone: (508) 636-1361

Virginia Merlier
Stonehaven Farm
1506 Drift Rd
Westport, MA 02790


  1. This farm stay sounds so nice! The surrounding area sounds like a great place to visit as well.

    By the way, your pictures are really great! What kind of camera do you use? I'm looking to upgrade my own to something more serious, although I know that you need more than just a good camera to take great shots!

    Lara Bender

  2. Thanks so much, Lara. I have a Canon Rebel xsi and a wide angle lens which is really helpful for interior and landscape shots. I'm just beginning to learn how to use it - it's wonderful!

    Everyone else: Lara is writing an agritourism guide for the Ottawa, Ontario area. Check out her website at the address she lists above - really good stuff! She's also on Twitter: @AgritourismOtt

  3. Thanks Michelle! I will check that camera out. And thanks for sending people to my website and Twitter account!

  4. I spent some time interning at Stonehaven a couple of summers ago. Michelle, you've painted a delightful and accurate picture of Virginia and her farm. Anyone who hasn't yet visited this farm and is looking to vacation at a truly peaceful, down-to-earth haven - please check out Stonehaven Family Farm.

    Michelle - all the best with your farm stay project - what a wonderful idea!