Farms offer home-grown vacations

(Allentown) Morning Call | August 6, 1995

As reported by Randy Kraft in the (Allentown) Morning Call, August 6, 1995:

“When Marcy Ruth was growing up in South Allentown in the 1950s, her grandfather, George Ruth, has a dairy farm near Robesonia, Berks County.
She picked sweet corn on his farm, made early morning runs with him to deliver milk to the dairy, graded eggs and played with baby chicks.
Once she also ran into an electrified fence, which knocked her back about 5 feet. She jokes that may be why she and no childhood aspirations to become a farmer.
‘My dad always says he wishes my grandfather was still alive to see me driving a tractor,’ said Ruth, whose last name now is Tudor and who indeed is a farmer. She even has her own tractor.
She also is president of the Pennsylvania Farm Vacation Association, which represents 17 farms, scattered across the stare, that offer overnight lodgings.
She and her husband, Dale, own Weatherbury Farm Bed and Breakfast, a 104-acre farm in Washington County. It’s about 20 miles southwest of Pittsburgh and only three miles form the West Virginia border.
They raise beef cattle and sheep. ‘For the enjoyment of guests’ they also have ducks, chickens, geese, guinea hens, doves, rabbits and a goat.
Tudor wants to make more people aware that they can enjoy farm vacations in Pennsylvania.
‘We have to let the public know they have this opportunity to get back to the farm,’ she said. ‘Many people who visit us say they had no idea there was anything like this. They take brochures with them to give to their friends.’
She also encourages more farmers to offer such vacations, saying it’s a wonderful opportunity for them to earn additional income.
Tudor wouldn’t speculate about how much other places make, but said: ‘It can be significant. Out B&B income is 30 percent of our total gross farm income.’
She said there also are federal income tax advantages, such as writing off part of electricity, home heating and water usage as business expenses, as well as the cost of upgrading rooms and adding bathrooms.
Pennsylvania has about 51,000 farms, but only 17 are members of Tudor’s organization.
In 1988, there were 32 members. That year, the association still was ‘heavily funded’ by the State Agriculture Department. Annual dues were only $25. After the state ended its support a few years ago, dues increase (now they are $135 a year) and membership dropped.
Now the association’s annual directory is published by Pennsylvania Travel Council, a private organization that represents and promotes the state’s travel industry.
Another reason membership decreased is some places that were promoted as farm vacations decided to market themselves as bed and breakfasts, because more people are familiar with B&Bs, said Debbie Bowman of Travel Council.
Yet Bowman said:’This type of vacation is appealing to consumers more and more. In the last year and a half, there has been a marked increase in people writing to us for the farm vacation brochure. People are getting back to roots — there’s a whole moral and value-consciousness, especially as far as vacations with children.’
However, Jim Dell, past president of the farm vacation association, predicts farm vacation destinations will disappear in Pennsylvania. In younger farm families, he said, wives often must work away from the farm. They aren’t there to pamper people and show them around, “The farmer doesn’t have time to do it himself.’
Dell, who no longer promotes his Huntingdon County farm as a vacation destination, said his income from the farm vacation aspect of his farm was only ‘5 to 10 percent. It doesn’t generate enough total dollar volume to justify that amount of time.’
Countered Tudor: ‘Even 5 to 10 percent is something is you don’t have to go off the farm to earn it.’ She said any additional income generated by offering farm vacations would help more farmers stay in business.
Rather than declining further, Tudor expect her association will grow, to have at least 50 member farms. ‘We probably have 10 people looking into it at the moment,’ she said. She plans to contact every bed and breakfast in the state that uses the word ‘farm’ in its name — and county farm agents.
For their dues, members get a farm vacation association sign to hang out front. They are listed in the association’s annual state directory. Their properties are inspected to make sure they meet minimum standards. And they meet to share and solve problems.
Next year, participating places also will be listed in the travel council’s statewide B&B directory.
Tudor advises farmers interested in the concept to visit existing farm vacation establishments to learn what they are like.
In addition to basics like a good water supply and a couple of spare bedrooms, she said there has to be a willingness by an entire farm family to offer vacations. Some, concerned about a lack of privacy, ask her:’Don’t your feel weird having people in your house?’
Dell said you have to be ‘a people person’ — not upset by having strangers in your home and around your farm, and with the patience to answer ‘a lot of unique questions.’ He added children must be protected from tools, machinery and even animals could injure them.
Dell said the greatest deterrent to offering farm vacations is ‘it is time-consuming.’ When visitors arrive, they expect attention, even papering, which ‘can bring the farm operation to a halt.’
‘It’s not for everyone,’ agreed Tudor. ‘It takes a certain type of person to do it But for them, it’s a great opportunity.’
Eighty-five percent of all family farms do have someone working off the farm, said Tudor. She’s a self-employed accountant. Her husband, who’s from Williamsport, is a business analyst at Bayer Corp.’s US headquarters in Pittsburgh.
Tudor  acknowledges farming is ‘a dying way of life. Less than 2 percent of the population are farmers and there are less than 2 million farms in the United States, for the first time since the mid-1800s.’
But as family farms become more rare, the idea of taking a family vacation on those that remain should become more appealing — because people can learn about a different way of life. She said it especially has value for children. Unlike when she grew up, few still have grandparents living on farms.
Booklets given to Weatherbury’s guests include explanations of animals and equipment. Children get farm coloring books and the house is ‘overflowing’ with farming books.
‘A lot of people think they can sit on the tractor and make hay,’ said Tudor. ‘Because of insurance reasons, we can’t have guests driving the equipment. But we have specially developed chores people can do if they want to.’ They can help feed animals (including bottle feeding lambs in season), gather eggs (‘that’s enough for most people) or roll bales of hay.
Most people spend more time on the farm than they thought they would. Tudor said families will arrive with lists of nearby attractions they want to visit, but children just want to stay on the farm. When those families return a second time, ‘they don’t even plan to do anything else.’
Tudor said the farm vacation experience has been especially beneficial for her 14-year-old son Nigel. He’s met many people and has learned to be at ease around adults. He takes visitors on tours of the farm. Both children and their parents write him letters.
When Tudor — now 47 — was growing up in Allentown, her family lived at 222 E Federal St., then at 1095 Lehigh Parkway East. She attended Roosevelt and Jefferson elementary schools and South Mountain Junior High School.
She remembers sledding down Federal Street, romping through Lehigh Parkway, playing the piccolo in South Mountain’s band in the school district stadium and Christmas Eve specials in Hess’s on Hamilton Street.
Tudor lived in Allentown until she was 13, when her family moved to Reading. Her father, Fred Ruth, lives in Sun City Center, Fla. Her mother Sara is deceased.
‘My dad went to Penn State and studied animal husbandry and became a banker,’ said Tudor. ‘I went to Penn State and studied business administration and became a farmer.’
In 1968, she received a bachelor of arts degree in psychology at Albright College in Reading. In 1975, she received a master’s degree in business administration at Pennsylvania State University, where she later returned to earn an accounting degree. She also was a captain in the Air Force.
In the early 1980s, during a six-week vacation while living and working in Germany, she and Dale stayed in bed and breakfasts throughout Europe. ‘That’s the way to really see Europe, but meeting the people.’
They enjoyed their stays so much  that they decide they wanted to own a B&B. After returning from Germany, they began looking for a house on 10 acres. After a three year search they found the farm with more than 100 acres.
They moved from Pittsburgh’s North Hills area, where they had lived in a development on a quarter acre lot.
They named the farm Weatherbury, for the setting of Thomas Hardy’s novel ‘Far From the Madding Crowd’ — ‘because we are far from the madding crowd.’
They’ve been offering farm vacations for three years. ‘It took us that long to get ready,’ she said.
Previous owners ‘modernized’ the house built in the 1870s. The Tudors restored it to more of its original appearance. But they also added two guest bathrooms. They plan to add two guest rooms in a summer kitchen, for a total of four.
In addition to being financially beneficial, Tudor said operating a farm vacation has non-monetary awards. ‘When someone hugs you when they leave and says ‘this is the best vacation I’ve ever had,’ it makes you feel wonderful, like you’re doing something right.’ ”