In the spirit of summer vacation, I am excited to introduce a 2 week guest post mini series by gardener, mother, and university educator Amy Parmelee!
Some of you may know her from the Draw Yourself Back to Nature eCourse, or maybe you recognize her name from various photo credits here on the blog as she is our Children’s Garden workshop photographer and assistant extraordinaire! Amy is a wonderful person and I am so happy she agreed to share her unique nature connecting family vacation with us!
Would you opt for a farm stay over lounging around on a beach? (I’d opt for both!) What about your family? Could you convince them to vacation on a farm over an amusement park? After hearing about Amy’s experiences in this mini series, y’all will be booking at room at the nearest farm for sure!
At the end of the post, be sure to check the Seeds to Sprout section for 2 special announcements!! Free videos and live streams headed your way this week!!!
Hi, everyone! When Kelly heard my family would be staying on a farm for vacation, she asked if I would write about our experience. The idea of living on a farm is not a completely foreign concept to me since my grandmother’s family has worked the same land for generations. The thought of convincing my family to stay at a farm for a vacation, though, was a different sort of idea, and one I wasn’t quite sure about. Surprisingly, both my husband and son were game for the adventure, and it resulted in an “awesome” experience, according to the 7-year-old.
We started looking at farms close to home, and then we kept expanding our search when we couldn’t find the right farm for us. The website www.farmstayus.com/ is helpful in getting an overview of what’s available, but you soon realize how different each farm stay is.
Some places were really traditional bed and breakfast spots in a rural setting, others seemed to cater more to weddings and reunions, and, to be honest, some farms just didn’t have the “right” animals for us.
My husband started looking at farms in Virginia so we could tie in a trip to Washington, D.C., to visit family. Advice from our favorite nature guide and Virginia native (Thanks, Kelly!), had me on Google searching for specific cities and “farm stay.” This is how I found Brightwood Vineyard and Farm in Brightwood, Va., which is about two hours west of D.C.
Brightwood Vineyard and Farm is a 100-acre certified organic farm in the rolling hills of Virginia, with the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance. A sign at the drive says it’s a “conservation demonstration farm,” and the owners, Susan and Dean Vidal, welcome interns each year to help with the animals and crops. During our stay, one young married couple was making a return visit to help on the farm so they could gain skills to use on their own farm someday.
Brightwood Vineyard and Farm allows guests to stay in a cottage on the 100-acre farm and participate in animal feedings. The farm is certified organic and uses agricultural practices aimed at sustainability. (Photo credit: All photos in this post are by Amy Parmelee)
Guests are welcome to watch and help a bit during the 8 a.m. feedings for the sheep, ducks, chickens and goats. In the late afternoon, the goats get another feeding, and eggs are collected for the day, too. Our son enjoyed collecting the eggs from the “chicken trailer,” as he called it, which is moved around so the chickens can get fresh pasture and the pasture can get fresh fertilizer.
Eggs were collected each day after 4 p.m., and guests are able help with the collecting. Our first collecting stint resulted in about three dozen eggs, some of which may have ended up in our breakfast basket.
Guard dogs (for the animals), bee hives, a cat, donkeys, and a cow and her calf also were part of the official animal inventory during our stay. The unofficial inventory, of course, includes all of the wild animals you may encounter. We were free to walk up to the enclosures to watch the lambs play in the cooler evening temperatures and to “talk” to the goats as they roamed their large fenced-in area. The farm also was home to elderberry trees with their impressive flowers, berries and an herb garden.
[Amy shared some homemade teas from the farm’s herb garden with me!! Yum!!!]
Pete, dubbed “Old Man Goat” by a certain 7-year-old, is the only man around the goat enclosure. The farm raises Spanish meat goats.
A short distance down the road at the owners’ one-acre vegetable patch, we found ourselves one morning plucking rocks from a row in preparation for the planting of some tomatillos and then weeding between a row of tomatoes and potatoes. We toured the moveable greenhouse and saw how the manual seed spreader worked. In talking with the owner, I learned more about how to plant organically and work with nature, instead of trying to change the environment for the crops.
The one-acre vegetable patch it pretty densely planted, both with edibles and wildflowers to attract pollinators. On our tour, I learned how the owners solved the erosion problem with the rolling hills – make the rows at a diagonal.
During our time observing the animals, we listened to the individual calls the goats, and we heard the communications between mama sheep and their babies. We saw how well the Great Pyrenees dogs guarded their assigned charges. We also observed the great respect shown to the animals by those who cared for them.
The farm had sheared the sheep about two months before our visit, and it was interesting to see how thick the fleeces already were. The lambs, of course, were too cute.
When we were not watching the animals, we spent time walking around the farm, including the acres of woods behind it. The woods, which included a 200-year-old oak tree, had marked trails and footpaths, and we found a few unmarked paths down to the water, where we hopped stone-to-stone to see what we could see.
From our cottage we could see the Robinson River and this stream, which had great rocks. Does anyone else see a rock that resembles a whale breaking the water?
Now that I hope you are contemplating your own farm stay, there are a few things to think about before booking your vacation.
- If you are taking children to the farm, will they be able to be respectful toward the animals and not frighten them by yelling or running? I have a rather loud and active child, and I was a bit worried on this one, but he did great. We also were warned that some of the fencing was electrified, so make sure your child can safely handle similar situations.
- Visiting a farm means you may encounter the full circle of life. Yes, we saw lambs and young goats, but we also were greeted by the dead bunnies the cat had left on the front walk. The cat was doing its job controlling the rabbit population to protect the farm. There’s also the fact that the animals on the farm probably will end up on the dinner table at some point. Make sure you are ready for any possible questions from your child.
- Rubber boots. I so wanted to bring mine, but I couldn’t figure out how to pack them for a flight when space was tight. If you have room, pack the boots or some old shoes if you plan to go into the animal enclosures. It’s a farm. Naturally, there’s lots of poop, um, fertilizer. My waterproof shoes came in handy, too.
- One thing we didn’t expect during our stay was being off the grid, as in no television and no cellphone service. I enjoyed the experience and learned it’s OK not to know what’s going on every second. But if it’s important to you or you need to stay in contact with someone, you might want to check on this first. (We did have cellphone service off the property.)
- And last, but not least, bugs. I gave up trying to keep the stinkbugs out of the cottage. The I-know-it-had-to-be-at-least-3-inches-across spider on the bathroom ceiling just had to go, though. (Dispatched back into the wild, not just dispatched.) We also had our first experiences with ticks after hiking, which I found a bit unnerving with a child. That said, there were some pretty cool bugs, including tons of fireflies, which my son and I had not seen before.
Brightwood was the perfect place to experience our first farm stay and have an “awesome” vacation. We enjoyed having our own space with a kitchen for meals. (A compost pail and recycling box were even sitting on the counter!) We were able to see great farming practices in action. The surrounding nature was beautiful. The breakfasts provided by the farm were great and supplemented with the farm’s own berries, butter, eggs and jellies (spruce tip and the best raspberry ever).
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are my own, and I received no compensation for this post.)
On our final full day at the farm, we took about an hour-and-a-half hike through the “Back 40,” which is populated with tall pines, a meadow and a 200-year-old oak tree.
On what type of farm would you like to vacation?
Share in the comments below!
If you have a farm stay experience, share that too with a link.
Share your farm vacay pics on Instagram #wingswormsandwonder
Seeds to Sprout:
Amy recommended the website FarmStayus as a resource for finding farm stays that meet your specific wants and needs.
I once stayed and worked on Findhorn Farm in Scotland (yes the one famous from the 60s with giant cabbages and fairies), which was amazing. If you are looking for a workshop education type farm stay this could be an option. It’s pretty far out though (in every way literally, physically, metaphisically…) so be sure you’re okay with that! Check out their Ecovillage Education programs. This could be an especially great option for families with adolescents interested in sustainability.
FREE VIDEOS launching this Wednesday and Thursday on my You Tube Channel!! Be sure to follow so you don’t miss any of my upcoming free summer nature journaling videos! This new series, Nature Journaling Tools, is all about nature journaling art supplies from what weight and press paper to use for what to what are all those types of brushes and why are they so expensive, to why shop at an art supply store over a big craft store, and more!! Check out video 1 tomorrow!!
I’m on Periscope now, are you? I decided to just jump into it and I’m going to try to go live for a few minutes each Thursday. That’s the plan this month anyway, we’ll see how it goes and I’ll keep you posted. Last week was my first try! Join me and ask any garden, art, journaling, or whatever questions you want in live time!! Be sure to follow me on Twitter to get the Periscope live stream announcement and join me live in my garden for short talks on plants, gardening, garden bugs and whatever else the garden throws at us that week!