Farm stays may have been all the rage last year as people looked for safe, outdoor escapes during the pandemic, but for East Hill Farm in Troy, New Hampshire, they’ve been on-trend since the 1940s.
“It’s always been that way because that’s what we are,” says owner Sheri St. Laurent.
Hosting numerous couples and families each year, many of the Inn’s guests have been returning to the vacation resort for 20 to 30 years.
Laurent says that before their stays, “Most people have spent zero time on a farm, and they want the experience for their kids especially … They want to get in and get their hands dirty.”
Part of what visitors enjoy so much is that they can have the complete farm and nature experience without ever leaving the property. From milking cows and patting bunnies after breakfast to hiking the trails and soaking in gorgeous views of Mt. Monadnock --- it’s all right there.
The Inn’s website, East-Hill-Farm.com, features an extensive list of activities, but one of the most popular, believe it or not, is egg collecting.
“They get a carton when they check-in, and we actually have to limit it during the summer,” St. Laurent says.
Guests can store the eggs and bring them home or bring them on down to breakfast and have them cooked up. The Inn provides three generous meals a day for each guest.
All farm activities, except horseback riding (which is available for an additional fee), are included right in the stay package, so there’s plenty to explore. Equally alluring is the countryside, whether it be for fishing, hiking, or simply sitting in the green grass.
“We actually do some guided night walks, which is very exciting for people,” St. Laurent says.
Guests often express their surprise at feeling so relaxed.
“I think people just want to get back to nature or just to nature,” St. Laurent says.
Farm and RV stays
That note resonates with Suzanne Chickering, owner of Unity Meadows Farm in Charlestown, New Hampshire. Though farm stays are a newer offering for her, they haven’t taken long to draw in curious and contented guests.
One of Chickering’s stay options is a farmhouse she actually purchased as a foreclosure.
“I’ve been basically bringing it back to life,” she says.
Last summer, she also opted in with Harvest Hosts, and the response was great.
“I think the most campers we had at once was eight on Labor Day weekend,” she says.
Harvest Hosts is a membership program that invites self-contained RVers to have unique overnight stays at more than 2,000 wineries, breweries, farms and more. The remarkably affordable plans serve up unlimited overnight experiences around North America, an offer that a growing number of travelers can’t seem to pass up, especially after being cooped up for the last year.
There’s no single place Unity Meadows’ guests arrive from; particularly with the Harvest Hosts crowd; people come from all over.
“People last year, they just hit the road,” Chickering says, many looking to leave their suburban neighborhoods behind and shake things up.
Echoing St. Laurent, Chickering says, “A lot of the time, it’s people with kids, and they just want their kids to be immersed.”
At Unity Meadows, visitors can go for a walk in the field, see the animals up close, and maybe even pet them when one of the farmers is around. It’s a chance to “just experience rural life,” she notes.
She hopes that as people discover Unity Meadows, they’ll also enjoy the farm’s products --- such as beef, pork, chicken, eggs and maple syrup --- become repeat customers and spread the word. Chickering says the pandemic has “gotten people wanting to eat local and just support local,” and that trend has remained steady so far. She hopes whatever people come for, they walk away with “a good experience, a memorable one.”
With the farmhouse and RV spaces proving so successful, Chickering says, “I am hoping to build a smaller tiny house that we can rent out to folks who want to experience farm life firsthand.”
To get a small sample, people can also follow along at @ChickeringChicks on Instagram.
Always something new to discover
There’s something new happening in every season, and each farm stay is unique for that reason.
“We had some people that booked specifically for kidding season,” notes Louisa Conrad, who founded Big Picture Farm in Townshend, Vermont, back in 2010 with partner Lucas Farrell.
They now have two daughters, Maisie and Minna, as well as a herd of 40 healthy, happy goats who are responsible for the award-winning goat milk caramels and farmstead cheeses that Big Picture has become known for.
In the beginning, the family was simply too busy building their business to consider farm stay opportunities.
But, Conrad says, “We definitely felt like there was a desire and need for people to come onto the farm and be really physically connected to it.”
They’d had inquiries at the farmer’s market and through email.
“People want to see where their food comes from and have a taste of a different pace of life,” she says.
Big Picture had already been offering goat tours and hangouts for years, but they knew it would be different for people to stay and experience full days there. As they acquired additional pieces of surrounding property, they were able to purchase the original farmhouse and begin renting it.
“Seeing the success of that, we converted a worker house into another farm stay, and then in September, we built another one-room cabin to complement the offerings that we have,” Conrad says.
No matter which accommodations guests choose, one of the best perks is that they get to cuddle the goats freely.
“Goats are really affectionate and love having people around. That’s unique,” Conrad says.
While other farming activities, such as milking, may be available for people to watch or participate in soon, COVID has put all that on hold for the time being.
But there’s no shortage of farm fun in the meantime. For instance, how about cocktails with the goats?
“It’s sort of like a goat soiree,” Conrad says.
Adults can enjoy a drink and kids a box of caramels during the early evening hours.
“The light is nice. The goats have been fed; they’re relaxed and mellow. In my family, it’s our favorite time to be with the goats and enjoy,” Conrad says.
As an Animal-Welfare-Approved farm, the farm stays align well with Big Picture’s name and mission, which Conrad says is “to spread the word on holistic animal welfare and care … The best way to do that is getting people to the farm and getting their hands on it.”
Once they witness the happiness of the goats, lovingly referred to as “the ladies,” they can see what’s possible. Not only do the farm stays acquaint visitors with the work happening at Big Picture, but Conrad hopes it might also encourage “seeking out other similar products and being aware of the spectrum of animal welfare.”
With Vermont remaining quite a safe destination and people itching to travel, Conrad is looking ahead toward summer with excitement. Already, groups incorporating multiple generations of family have booked birthday and anniversary celebrations at the farmhouse. Known for its gorgeous elopements, Big Picture will see many a first wedded kiss this season, as well.
Conrad also plans to extend the invitation for goat soirees and hangouts to visitors who want to join for just a day instead of a whole stay. As things open back up and the summer moves into full swing, stay tuned via the website, BigPictureFarm.com.
Caroline Tremblay writes from Richmond, New Hampshire.