I stood in a field of spongy green clover, my rubber boots sinking into the fresh rain as I watched my son, Isaac, cuddle against a miniature Sicilian donkey named James. Minutes before, Isaac had beamed with pride as he led James by leash from barn stall to pasture for a lunch of tender grass. Isaac has been enthralled with farm animals since toddlerhood, and the pure joy on his 7-year-old face was priceless. I snapped a picture then tucked my camera away. If ever there’s a time to savor the moment, I thought, it
is here on the farm.
We are urban folk but had decided to play farmer for the weekend, choosing a farm stay at Hoehn Bend Farm, a 30-acre plot of emerald pasture along the Skagit River, just a few hours north of our Seattle home. Although we grow a few veggies and occasionally chicken-sit our neighbor’s hens, my husband and I are novices when it comes to actual farming. Our goals were simple: Get out of the city for some country air and learn more about where our food comes from before it hits the grocery shelves.
Farm-stay vacations are booming in the Pacific Northwest as families seek authentic, rural experiences and a connection to local, organic food that’s deeper than a stop at the farmers market. For small-scale farmers, welcoming visitors and sharing their knowledge of rotational goat-grazing or cow-milking techniques is not only fun, it provides needed extra cash.
On a typical farm stay, you can help with daily hands-on chores and commune with barnyard animals, and then spend the night in digs that range from rustic yurts to posh bed-and-breakfast rooms. You’ll smell earth in the air (probably manure, too), cake your boots with mud and (like us) get some hay stuck in your hair — if you want to. Farm-stay hosts are eager to share their knowledge with curious children, and chores are both educational and optional.
At the end of our two-day stay at Hoehn Bend Farm, Isaac, wearing the mud on his overalls like a badge of honor, asked farmers Jean Eagleston and Terry Sapp if they could manage without him after we’d gone back home. “You’ll just have to come back and find out!” Terry told him. And we will.
Here are four Northwest farm stays that are sure to deepen the roots of your children’s agricultural curiosity. For even more, check out farmstayus.com, a nonprofit project that connects travelers with the farms and ranches that love to host them.
This working organic grass-fed cattle farm is tucked into a pastoral pocket of the Cascade foothills. (The more than two dozen reddish brown and black cows are a heritage breed of Irish Dexter cattle.) Your stay begins with a tour led by the owners, with Maggie the collie bringing up the rear. They’ll introduce you to Polly, the sweet and social pot-bellied pig; a small herd of kinder goats; a trio of miniature donkeys; and two flocks of free-range hens. (Jean can tell you which hens lay the most uniquely colored eggs.) Kids: Be sure to keep a count of the vintage tractors around the farmstead, and don’t miss the rope swing hanging from an old apple tree by the cottage.
Fun farm chores: Help lead goats and donkeys out to their pastures each morning, and round up the chickens for the henhouse each evening. Dole out carrot sticks to the donkeys (they’ll gingerly pluck them right out of your hand), brush the goats, push hay to the cattle (make sure the little calves get some!) and collect eggs from the chickens. The cattle here are truly pasture-raised, so all the hay for winter feeding is grown on the farm’s 30 acres. If you’re lucky you might get to ride on the big plow through the hay field. The luckiest of all stay here in July when calves are born.
Digs and rates: The turn-of-the-century cottage is all yours and sleeps six comfortably in three bedrooms. In the modern, fully stocked kitchen you’ll find a dozen eggs and homemade jam in the fridge to get started on a farm-fresh breakfast. A spacious mudroom helps keep messes manageable (and stores a variety of rubber boots in kids’ sizes). In summer, take advantage of the outdoor patio and picnic table with a view of craggy Cascade peaks. The cottage has kid-friendly extras like a crib, outlet protectors, Disney DVDs and a huge basket of farm-themed books and toys. $175 per night, April through mid-September (for up to six people); $150 per night, mid-September through March.
If you’ve ever driven to Port Townsend you’ve passed Solstice Farm, set in the postcard-perfect Beaver Valley just south of tiny Chimacum on the Quimper Peninsula. The close-knit agricultural community is a locavore’s dream, with three weekly farmers markets, a handful of craft cideries, cheese-makers and several organic farms, Solstice among them.
These 33 acres of pastoral beauty are the pride and joy of farmers Jim Rueff and Linda Davis, who began grazing sheep and other livestock in 2002 and added a sunny, modern farmhouse bed-and-breakfast to the property eight years ago. With the help of local farm interns they raise several dozen market lambs each year, plus pigs and free-range hens. They also plant a sprawling flower and vegetable garden, and tend to a young apple orchard.
Fun farm chores: Help bottle-feed adorable lambs, feed the sheep and help herd them to pasture, and gather eggs from the free-range hens. There’s always work to do in the veggie garden that’s particularly well suited to tiny hands, from planting seeds and thinning starts to digging potatoes and carrots.
Digs and rates: The farmhouse has two guest suites with baths, and the downstairs room is best suited for families with children 10 and younger. Common areas in the house include a large atrium with 20-foot-high windows, the perfect spot to watch the sun set over pasture. A farm-fresh breakfast is included, with homemade fare like omelets (made with eggs from the hens, of course), iron-skillet Dutch baby pancakes with seasonal berries, citrus scones and even lamb sausage. $120 per night for a family of four.
Info: 360-732-0174, Website
Granite Falls, Washington
This 17-acre homestead sits on cleared meadow and pasture just off the Mountain Loop Highway west of Verlot, encircled by foothills of fir forest that frame a glorious view of Mount Pilchuck. A herd of 20 charming and quirky Huacaya alpacas dots the hillside. These long-necked, doe-eyed beauties grow fine, dense fleece coats all year long in preparation for shearing, a popular event open to the public in late June each year. The quality hypoallergenic fiber (which comes in many rich tones like chocolate, chestnut and ivory, and doesn’t require intensive dyes) gets handspun into limited-edition Pendleton wool blankets and fashionable wares like hats and socks that are sold on-site at the ranch store.
Begin your visit with a guided tour; Paca Pride co-owner David Capocci shares his enthusiasm for the sustainable alpaca ranch, particularly the design principles of permaculture, a sustainable agriculture model that centers on working with nature rather than against it. You’ll learn about their rotational grazing system that reduces the impact on the meadows, and how they grow bright, grassy barley fodder micro greens to sustain the alpaca herd all winter long.
Fun farm chores: Alpacas are calm, gentle animals, and children will love hand-feeding them and giving them chin scratches and soft hugs. Help move the herd from one meadow to another. Listen for the musical humming sounds alpacas make when they feel content. Kids can also collect eggs from the ranch’s free-range chickens. Leave some time for hiking — you’re a stone’s throw from trailheads including Gold Pond (an interpretive trail good for small kids) and Heather Lake (a bit of a climb more suitable for older kids).
Digs and rates: The cozy Mountain View Guest Yurt is fully furnished (sleeps four with queen bed plus futon, linens, heat and electricity) for a fun family glamping adventure ($79 per night). For larger families, the huge Roundhouse Yurt checks in at 730 square feet, though sleeping accommodations are more rustic on cots and air mattresses ($99 per night for four, $20 per additional person). Bathrooms with heated showers are a short stroll away. Bring your own food, pots, pans and towels.
Info: 360-691-3395, Website
Spend a few days with Scottie and Greg Jones on their bucolic Oregon farmstead — about 5.5 hours south of Seattle — and your food-ambivalent kids will be mini-locavores by the end of your trip. The Jones’ passion for organic, sustainable farming and pasture-to-plate food is contagious.
First homesteaded by pioneers in 1862, the farm sits in an often-misty corner of the Willamette Valley that meets Coast Range foothills in a confluence of bright green beauty. On this picturesque landscape graze fluffy sheep (the Katahdin lambs are sold in shares to local families), turkeys, chickens, horses, goats, a peacock and, of course, farm dogs and cats. Leaping Lamb grows its own hay for the livestock and also tends to an orchard of blueberries, raspberries, apples, plums, grapes and more.
Fun farm chores: Kids can assist with a wide variety of farm chores, from gathering eggs each morning and bottle-feeding the lambs to brushing a miniature donkey and harvesting veggies from the garden. In late summer and autumn there’s ripe fruit to pick, jam to put into jars and cider to press. In between corralling sheep, feeding scraps to the chickens, playing follow-the-leader with the peacock and petting the farm cats (as important a job as any), there’s bocce ball and croquet on the lawn.
Digs and rates: The cute farm cottage has two bedrooms with queen beds and sleeps six. Cook meals in the full kitchen equipped with basic condiments and all the cooking supplies you’ll need. There’s also a dining area and full living room. On chilly evenings, cozy up with Pendleton blankets on the spacious porch and enjoy the gentle gurgling of Honey Grove Creek. The farm-fresh fixings to make breakfast in your kitchen are included. $250 per night mid-March through October and on holidays, $175 per night November through mid-March.
Info: 541-487-4966, Website
Farm-fun day trips: Where to get a taste of working farm life close to Seattle
Kelsey Creek Farm (Bellevue): A bit of wild in the city, this scenic working farm has pastures full of sheep, goats, pigs, chickens, rabbits and ducks. It’s free to enter and view the cute barnyard animals, but for hands-on learning, you’ll want to take a kids’ farm class or reserve a guided tour.
21 Acres (Woodinville): This nonprofit farm focused on sustainable farming practices hosts field trips, farm tours, demo classes and farm camps for kids. The “classroom” is acres of pasture with livestock and vegetable gardens that yield goodies destined for local farmers markets (and its own on-site farm store).
Seattle Farm School (Seattle): Got a yearning for backyard chickens, but don’t know where to start? Want to build some raised beds, or can jam and pickles? Seattle Farm School hosts family-friendly workshops year-round at various locations in West Seattle.
Mystery Bay Farm (Marrowstone Island): Yogurt, ricotta and chèvre — oh my! This family of small-scale artisan cheesemakers leads kid-friendly tours showing how their fine cheeses are made — including cute goats being milked. You’ll see how sustainable cheese is crafted start to finish.