Take a Farm-Fresh Getaway to an Organic Dairy Farm
Organic Valley farmers are opening the pasture gates and welcoming guests to on-farm accommodations. Farm vacations are a top travel trend and opportunities to milk cows, feed chickens and relax in a pastoral setting provide a connection that extends beyond the grocery aisle.
If you want to squeeze a vacation in before summer slips away to fall and the children go back to school, a farm stay may be in order. Autumn is also a fantastic time to visit many farms as the fall colors with the backdrop of the rural landscape can be awe-inspiring.
The Webb farm in Franklin County, Vermont, is a prime example of a farm stay where you can immerse yourself in a fall-color kaleidoscope.
Organic Valley farmers Melanie and Tyler Webb never planned to offer lodging rentals on their farm.
In 2016, the first-generation beef and dairy farmers purchased a neighboring parcel of land to expand their dairy farm. The couple knew the house on the property had the potential to generate additional income for Stony Pond Farm and decided to experiment with short-term rentals.
“We got on Airbnb and haven’t looked back,” Melanie said. “There’s a learning curve and it takes time to figure it out, but we pride ourselves on being good farmers and good Airbnb hosts.”
There are three lodging options at the Webbs’ organic dairy farm in Vermont.
The initial experiment with short-term rentals was so successful that the Webbs expanded their offerings. Stony Pond Farm now has three farm vacation rentals: the Pond House, a three-bedroom, two-bath farmhouse tucked into the back of their 300-acre farm; Meadow Cottage, a one-bedroom, one-bath retreat that once served as a farm store; and a mountain cabin that was built as lodging for farm labor but doubles as a rustic farm vacation rental.
“Each one is unique and has a different price point and attracts different people,” Melanie said. “We have good reviews (on Airbnb) and people are interested in seeing what the experience is like.”
Farm Stays Are Hot
The idea of vacationing on a working farm has become increasingly popular. In 2021, Airbnb reported a 1,055% increase in searches for “farm stays” compared to similar searches two years earlier; searches for “barns” were also popular with a 1,068% increase from 2019 to 2021.
The interest in farm vacations where guests can have animal interactions, help with harvesting, experience a hayride, navigate a corn maze or just enjoy nature has paid off for hosts.
For Organic Valley producers, inviting guests to book overnight stays on the farm is about more than adding revenue.
“Bringing people to the farm gives us direct contact with our customers so they can see what we’re doing and how hard we’re working,” Melanie said.
Accommodations and Ag Experiences
Organic Valley producers Don and Samantha Frei started offering short-term rentals at Morning Dew Dairy in 2018 after the couple purchased a neighboring property with a house.
Visitors to the Lafayette County, Wisconsin, dairy farm stay can spend the night in the three-bedroom, three-bathroom home with views of the barn and pastures. Some guests book the accommodation because it’s close to a wedding, reunion or other special event; others are interested in the rural setting or experiencing a true farm vacation.
“We’re very proud of what we do as dairy farmers, especially as organic dairy farmers, and we want to share that,” Don said. “We’ve had people from all walks of life from CEOs to grandparents who grew up on dairy farms and want to bring their grandkids to show them what it’s like.”
Farm stays often allow for hands-on chores and interaction with more than just cows.
Overnight guests at Morning Dew Dairy have the option to participate in a farm tour. Don walks guests through the barn and pasture, sharing the history of the second-generation dairy farm and explaining the basics of dairy production and Organic Valley co-op membership; he also takes them into the milking parlor, and even lets them attach a milking unit to the cows.
Doing Chores Is a Treat
Guests love the educational and hands-on experiences; the farm has a five-star rating on Airbnb and the reviews include comments like “The dairy farm tour in itself was worth its weight in gold” and “Participating in farm chores one afternoon was the ultimate treat for our three-generation group.”
For the Freis, farm tours provide opportunities to educate guests about dairy farming and correct misconceptions about the industry.
“We tell them there is no such thing as a dumb question,” Don said. “At the end of the day, most people don’t realize how much work it is.”
Melanie also loves showing guests around Stony Pond Farm and introducing them to the cows, goats, chickens, donkeys and pigs. She is also passionate about teaching them about the farming practices used on an organic beef and dairy farm and the advantages for the animals and the environment.
“We want to educate people about farming and where their food comes from,” she said. “’(Being on a farm) also helps the customer think more about … the choices they make at the store.”
The Perkins family, West Virginia, is converting a grain bin into a rental.
Bringing people back to the farm was a key motivation for transforming a grain bin, a metal structure used to store and dry grain, into a vacation rental on Perk Farm Organic Dairy in Greenbrier County, West Virginia.
“Most people are so removed from where their food comes from, and for us to be able to share a part of our farm with the community makes it, it helps us realize and helps us share the beauty of the seasons in West Virginia and what we're doing on the farm,” said Lauren Perkins, fourth-generation dairy farmer and Organic Valley producer. “It’s something that we're really excited about.”
The retrofit has been a labor of love, and Perkins hopes that when the farm stay opens to guests in August, it will be popular with visitors who want to spend their vacation relaxing in a bucolic setting, fishing in the stocked pond, watching cows grazing in the fields and row crops growing all around the grain-bin-turned-guesthouse.
To reinforce the farm-to-table message, Morning Dew Dairy and Stony Pond Farm stock Organic Valley products for guests. Stony Pond Farm also operates a self-serve farm store filled with cheese, pork, beef and eggs along with maple syrup from a neighboring farm that guests can enjoy during their farm stay or take home to remember their experience.
Cheese wheels cure in the cheese room at the Webb farm.
“We have an Organic Valley sign up over the entrance to the (milking) parlor, and it’s great to see people recognize the name and tell us, ‘We buy those products.’ It’s a chance for us to put a face to the products they buy,” Melanie said.
Operating an organic dairy and a farm rental is a lot of work. In addition to managing all aspects of a farm vacation rental — from reservations and cleaning properties to leading tours and offering recommendations for local attractions — producers must also manage their farms. Juggling the responsibilities is worth it for the benefits of building revenue and building community, Don said.
Recently, he received a photo of a past guest holding a container of Organic Valley whipping cream with the caption “I’m hooked.” It was a reminder that the impact of the farm stay lasts long after guests check out.
“It’s a way to connect people with the brand,” Don said.
Perkins also hopes that adding a vacation rental to Perk Farm Organic Dairy will help the next generation carry on the legacy and continue stewardship of the land.
“I have four siblings and none of them want to be full time on the farm like I am,” Perkins said. “(The farm stay) is another way for us to really encourage family to come back to the farm to be involved in the farm and the diversification helps set the next generation up for success.”
Jodi Helmer is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in magazines like National Geographic Traveler, American Way and Hobby Farms. She never turns down a chance to spend the night on a farm, especially if there is an opportunity to snuggle a sheep or caress a cow.
- farm life