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Organic Consumers Association

A Farm Vacation

OCA Editors' Note: Take a farm vacation with the Organic Consumers Association in Mexico. Click here to learn more about Via Organica.LET me start by saying that if you want to throw bales of hay into the back of a truck, Vans are not the best choice in footwear.

That's the sort of thing one learns when the family vacation is on a farm.

Of course, there are those who might say throwing bales of hay is a stupid way to spend a vacation - especially a vacation where the accommodations cost $332 a night, tax and fresh eggs included.

They might also say I was a fool to pay the farmer an additional $35 so I could dig up the beets and carrots she would later sell at a farmers' market. It did have a little of that Tom Sawyer fence-painting quality to it. But I got a little education in the process. And I got to keep a pile of spectacular Tuscan kale, some tender stalks of fennel and a few crookneck squash.

In a world where small farmers need to diversify to keep their fields afloat and city dwellers are more desperate than ever to learn where their food comes from, a "haycation" for about the price of a nice hotel room in Manhattan didn't seem like such a far-fetched idea.

For my family, the appeal was a fancy floored tent with a flush toilet and running water. On the Web site, it looked bigger than a junior one-bedroom apartment on the Upper East Side.

I'm no stranger to this kind of thing. My mother grew up on a Wisconsin dairy farm. I was once so tough, I hiked for days across Alaskan tundra. But I have gone soft from all this city living. And my partner makes a point of telling me regularly that her people don't camp.

On the other hand, we have a toddler who had never seen a live chicken. And I was desperate to get out of the city and eat vegetables still warm from the sun. So what if I had to do chores? How tough could a $300-a-night farm stay be?

This is essentially how we talked ourselves into spending a long weekend at Stony Creek Farm in Delaware County, N.Y., a part of the Catskills so rough that most everyone who grew up there describes it as "two stones to every dirt."

Sleeping and eating on a farm is a common way to vacation in Europe, where the ties to farming are strong and motels are few. It's rare but not unheard of in the United States. Stony Creek Farm is part of a new way to get hay in your hair. Call it farm stay 2.0.

The owners are often young, recent converts to farming, with few acres and strongly held beliefs: animals should be raised on pasture, vegetables should be grown without chemicals, and America needs to be re-educated about food.

They cater to people looking for a connection to their food that goes beyond a stroll through the local farmers' market. Their customers, like me, want to get manure on their Vans.

"When we first started, we were like, 'Why would somebody want to come to a farm?' " said Kevin McNaught, a former chef from Boston who bought Trevin Farms in Vermont with his partner six years ago. "We were pleasantly surprised that there are a whole lot of people out there who want to know what a brussels sprout looks like when it's growing, and actually want to milk a goat."

They charge up to $500 for a two-day cheese-making package that begins with milking goats and hanging cheese. Guests select vegetables for the owners to cook for dinner. Breakfast with eggs from their chickens is included.

These new farm stays are profitable. For three years, Scottie Jones has been subsidizing her small lamb and turkey business by renting out a cabin on her 60-acre Leaping Lamb Farm, about two hours from Portland, Ore. For $125 a night, visitors can feed the animals, bring in hay and learn the basic rule of farming: closed gates stay closed and open gates stay open. It now brings in seven times what she makes on her meat business, plus a little free labor.

"Even those people sitting on the porch drinking a glass of wine will come help me feed eventually," she said.  


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