"OPEN: If you’ve always dreamed of
life on a farm, a vacation among barns and billy goats may be for you. The
Allegheny Front’s Jennifer Szweda Jordan visited a farm where chores are part of
the fun for guests. It’s one piece of the agritourism movement. This story is
part of our Earth’s Bounty coverage on food and the environment.
SHEPHERD: He pretty much likes anyone who feeds him.
JORDAN: This afternoon, at Weatherbury Farm Vacation, 8-year-old John Shepherd
feeds fistfuls of grass to hungry goats and chases chickens. But mornings mark
the highlight of Shepherd's visit.
JOHN: Tomorrow I can’t wait to do the chores.
JORDAN: Rare words from an eight-year-old. But on this vacation, chores mean
joining other kids and grownups in pumping water from 20 feet underground,
plucking freshly laid eggs from under chickens in a henhouse, and feeding lambs
Nat. Sound: GOATS
TUDOR: I need some help over here. (Kid: OK) I need somebody -- several people
to take a milk or a water jug to those. Each of those goats needs to have their
water dish filled and also they need hay.
JORDAN: Dale Tudor, aka Farmer Dale, his wife Marcy, and son Nigel, farm in a
way that’s environmentally sustainable. They pass this information on to guests.
TUDOR: I try to do all my lambing and calving on grass ‘cause we're totally
grass-based on the farm. And that's when it's actually healthiest for the
animals. We give this small amount of hand feed as a guest activity.
JORDAN: At Weatherbury, tourists come to this working farm not just to chill out
but to learn stuff like this and participate. Agritourism can also be less
hands-on: like shopping at roadside farm stands, watching rodeos, and sampling
wine at vineyards. Experts say that, nationally, more and more people are giving
farm life a try through weekend visits or doing other things on a farm. There
are about 150 farms that offer lodging in Pennsylvania. Missouri-based
agrimarketing consultant Jane Eckert says that slow growth in Pennsylvania's
agritourism industry may be blamed on the state.
ECKERT: I don’t think the state of Pennsylvania has embraced it -- either from
an agriculture point of view or tourism and it usually takes one of those two to
make that happen.
JORDAN: Marcy Tudor thinks the state IS helpful enough. The state recently
launched a map of agritourism sites and is funding a startup guide for farmers.
At some farms, taking in lodgers supports cheesemaking or other farming
businesses in tough economic times. A Pennsylvania study found about 40 percent
of farmers said they couldn’t survive without a retail market, hay rides or
other things to do. But Weatherbury Farm Vacation is a second career business
for Marcy and Dale Tudor.
MARCY: We sort of started out like a bed and breakfast but we quickly segued
into doing farm vacations. (JORDAN: How come?) We had a niche. We thought we’d
take advantage of what we had and let people know about farms and farming.
JORDAN: Weatherbury’s drawn national attention. The farm's been mentioned in a
New York Times blog, in Everyday With Rachael Ray magazine, and Arthur Frommer’s
Budget Travel. Most agrilodging businesses welcome children. But the Tudors
cater especially to youngsters. This weekend, one couple drove eight hours from
near Raleigh, North Carolina, to show their daughters farming life. They must
have passed a hundred farms on the way, but Karen Holland says, they’re all huge
single crop operations.
HOLLAND: Our farms are like tobacco, cornfields, soybeans, stuff like that. We
don’t have something like this here. (JORDAN: Why did you want to do something
like this?) The girls love animals. They just love stuff like this. They really
like being able to just take walks.
JORDAN: And the parents say they appreciate their time at Weatherbury too.
HOLLAND: We didn’t know what grass-fed beef meant, so we learned that. And we
also didn’t know the benefits of free-range chickens, either.
JORDAN: This is just the Hollands’ first time here, but chore-loving John
Shepherd is already on his second visit.
JORDAN AND SHEPHERD: Is being on a farm something you could see yourself doing
when you are older? Yea because I'm really interested in animals and creatures.
JORDAN: Shepherd’s mom sucks in her breath and rolls her eyes. It’s pretty
apparent she wouldn’t want this life for her son, even if it’s a great place to
visit. But with 17 fish, a turtle and two frogs at his home near Cleveland, not
to mention the right name for the job, Shepherd may already be well on his way
to a life on the farm. The Tudors know that farming's not every mom's hope --
it's not always lucrative and it's never easy work. But they hope they can
inspire kids like Shepherd anyway -- and maybe someday convince his mom of the
value of small farming, too. For The Allegheny Front, this is Jennifer Szweda
OUTRO: Weatherbury also offers on-farm jam sessions for musicians and others. "