Not five years ago, Dan Morgan and his wife were living a fast-paced city life in Manhattan. As habitual shoppers of New York City's urban farmers markets, the Morgans grew increasingly more passionate about sustainable farming practices. Rather than simply fume over the destruction of small family farms at the hands of urban sprawl, the couple decided to do something about it: They bought the farm.
Set amid the rolling hills of Ohio's Ashland County, Morgan Farm is a 10-acre plot complete with refurbished barn, egg-laying hens, lawless goats, and even the proverbial river running through it. But rather than keep all this unsullied charm to themselves, the Morgans decided to open up their land to overnight guests.
Welcome to the wonderful world of farm stays, an increasingly popular trend that immerses travelers into the ecosystem of a real working farm. Also called "haycations," the encounters offer a measured taste of farm livin' while kicking in some much-appreciated income to the landowner.
"The motto here is 'Enjoy farm living without the hard work,'" says Morgan. While Morgan Farm is a working farm, one with gardens, livestock and never-ending chores, the bulk of the work is done by Amish neighbors, leaving visitors little to do but take it all in.
"There is definitely a growing interest in these types of places," explains Morgan, "where guests can learn about sustainable farming while getting an escape from the city."
In Ohio alone, there are literally dozens of farm-stay opportunities for adventurous travelers. And like those travelers, the available experiences run the gamut from rough and tumble to posh and gourmet. In order to have a successful farm stay, it's important to look not only at the accommodations, but also the types of activities offered, both onsite and nearby.
Located on 2,000 beautiful acres in Southeastern Ohio, Smoke Rise Ranch is a
working cattle ranch that turns city slickers into cowpokes. Situated on the edge of Wayne National Forest, the ranch offers activities such as cattle drives, trail riding, even calf roping. Beginners can take private horseback riding lessons or simply take in the scenic beauty of the landscape.
"We encourage beginner riders to participate in our rodeos to build confidence for bigger shows," explains ranch GM Kay Collison. "We all have to start somewhere."
Accommodations range from primitive sites for camping beneath the stars to deluxe cabins with private bath, full kitchen, and a bubblin' hot tub on front porch. In between are rustic bunk-style cabins with fridge and stove but no running water. Regardless of lodging, guests are expected to cook up their own chow except during special events, when the chuck wagon serves up brats, burgers and dogs.
For more civilized travelers who prefer sipping syrah over tending to saddle sores Northeast Ohio beckons. Visitors to Kay Herdman's Warner-Concord Farm are ideally situated to take advantage of the dozens of charming wineries that populate that corner of the state.
Herdman's 130-acre property features a 30-acre vineyard, on which she grows concord grapes for Welch's. Guests are welcome to hike the property, visit the horses in the barn, or simply use the inn as home base to visit area attractions. In addition to the numerous wineries, Geneva-on-the-Lake and Ashtabula County's famed covered bridges are popular tourist destinations.
Guests stay in a converted 1850s barn with king or queen beds, private baths, fireplaces and Jacuzzi tub. Overnight stays include a full breakfast along the lines of French toast, bacon, pastry, juice and coffee.
Some of the most celebrated chefs in the country have stayed in the Executive Chef’s Suite at the Culinary Vegetable Institute, the nonprofit arm of successful Chef’s Garden. Chef or no chef, guests are welcome to book the luxury lodging for an overnight stay in Milan, conveniently located near Cedar Point and the Lake Erie islands.
While on the grounds, visitors can wander the herb gardens, schedule a guided tour of the Chef's Garden, or savor a private meal prepared by the executive chef in the state-of-the-art kitchen. Activities are tailored around the guests' wishes, interests and budget.
Over 200 years ago, Jonas Stutzman settled the region now known as Amish Country Ohio. On a portion of that very land, Stuzman's great-great-great-grandson Larry Miller now runs the Indiantree Farm, a charming bed and breakfast in the heart of Holmes County.
At 68 acres, the farm is a fraction of what it once was, but it still grows traditional Amish crops like corn, wheat and oats. The land is farmed by Miller's Amish neighbors, who use Belgian plow horses to work the soil. On the property are 40 dairy cows and 20 head of heifers.
Overnight guests stay in the renovated guest house, which was built 75 year ago by Miller's grandfather. There are two suites, one large enough for two or three couples, the other perfect for two or three people. Each comes with a private bath and kitchen, which is stocked each evening with breads, pastries, milk, and coffee.
What you won't find is a phone or television.
"We encourage people to unplug from the electronic world and talk to each other when they stay here," says Miller. "Just sit on front porch and watch the cows switch their tails."
Visitors to Dan Morgan's farm have the entire place to themselves. The four-bedroom farmhouse, built 150 years ago, can accommodate a large family or group of friends. While farm-fresh eggs are included with the stay, it's up to the guests to gather them from the coop and fry them up in the full kitchen. Morgan also provides a map to area farm markets and Amish homes that sell in-season produce.
"Many of the Amish families sell produce but don't set up farm stands," explains Morgan. "It's really special to pull up their driveway, knock on the door, and deal directly with the people who grow the food."
And that is the allure of the farm stay. What better way to truly experience a place, to get acquainted to the locals, than by living with and amongst them.