Take a trip down on the farm

Pittsburgh Tribune Review | September 14 2014

As reported by Rachel Weaver, in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review  September 14 2014 (lots of photos in article online):

” Dale Tudor loves the life of a farmer, when every work day is a half day.

He just has to choose which 12 hours he wants to work.

The joke sends a smile across the affable man’s face, but his family knows there’s truth behind the humor. The Tudors — Dale, wife Marcy and son Nigel — own and operate Weatherbury Farm in Avella, Washington County. Though as an agritourism destination, they occasionally have some extra help.

Agritourism, the act of incorporating a farm-life education into a vacation or outing, has become a trendy choice across the country in recent years. Farms offering agritourism brought in around $700 million in 2012, a 24 percent increase over five years, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

‘It has become more popular,’ says Marcy Tudor, who is a manager at the Pennsylvania Farm Vacation Association. ‘It’s a great opportunity for farmers who are looking to make additional income without leaving the farm. The really nice thing is every one is different. You can learn something different everywhere.’

In addition to the Tudors, Weatherbury’s 100 acres are home to grass-fed cows and lambs, chickens, geese, ducks and goats.

‘We’re mainly set up as a grazing farm,’ says Dale Tudor, aka ‘Farmer Dale.’ ‘The only time one of our cows leaves the farm is as product.’

While the farm didn’t host ‘haycation’ stays this year, as the family got their on-site flour mill up and running, they plan to offer the option again next summer. For one weekend each month, June through August, visitors can get hands-on experience in farm life.

‘We love having guests and educating people,’ Marcy Tudor says.

That education includes breakfast around 8:30 a.m. in the dining hall, then it’s off to chores. Guests can gather eggs, work in the garden, get a lesson in cow raising from Farmer Dale or tour the new flour mill.

Participation is entirely up to each guest.

‘Some want to come and do chores. Some just want to be on a farm, ‘Marcy Tudor says.

For either group, there’s much to enjoy. Guests stay in one of three two-story suites in the barn, featuring dark-wood floorboards and rustic ceiling beams. A second-floor deck boasts sprawling views of the fields.

‘We do encourage people to just relax, take a walk in the garden,’ Dale Tudor says.

But for those willing to learn, the Tudors appreciate the opportunity to enlighten. Marcy Tudor recalls one guest who took his daughter out to the garden, where he pointed out various vegetables. He didn’t identify one correctly.

‘People have become further and further removed from their food,’ Marcy Tudor says. “They have no idea what it is. It’s really important people know where their food comes from.’

For anyone looking to get a little farther away from home, Lancaster County offers several farm getaways. At Rocky Acre, a 200-year-old dairy farm, guests can feed calves, gather eggs, milk cows, take a hayride or just enjoy the peaceful scenery from the porch overlooking the wooded creek and rolling hills.

Because the 130-acre property is just a short drive from Hershey and Amish country, some guests leave to explore for the day while others opt to stick around and enjoy the farm, says Holly Noll, daughter of innkeepers Galen and Eileen Benner, who are nearing 50 years running the business.

‘Quite a lot of people come back every year,’ Noll says. “We’re definitely family oriented.”

Some visitors opt to put a more formal spin on the term ‘agritourism.’ Armstrong Farms near Saxonburg, established in 1816, hosts weddings in its two restored barns.

‘For most of our history, our primary focus has been raising purebred Angus cattle,’ spokeswoman Kristan Allen says. ‘As our bed and breakfast and weddings have taken off over the last 15 years, we’ve downsized our cattle herd and currently raise about 250 head. We encourage guests to really enjoy our 1,000-acre farm with unique experiences like our pasture walking trails and rustic cabin. Guests can also bring their own horses so they can enjoy even more of the farm.’

Wedding packages include overnight accommodations on the farm to allow couples and their families to fully enjoy the environment.

‘Each wedding is completely unique, and we’ve had everything from casual barbecues to black-tie affairs,’ Allen says.

When Nancy Zwigart married husband Brian in May, Armstrong Farms provided the ideal location.

‘Brian and I were looking for something nontraditional,’ Zwigart of Sewickley says. ‘We didn’t want the ‘hall feel’ of a reception. We wanted something very laid back and casual. We wanted our guests to come and party and have a good time.’

The moment she saw the property, Zwigart knew it was a perfect match.

‘The area is gorgeous with the open field and the barn,’ she says. ‘We fell in love immediately.’

Some guests were a bit skeptical about the venue at first, but all ended up adoring it, she says.

‘The reaction from guests that night was, “This is like a movie,” ‘ she says. ‘It was magical.’

The Zwigarts went with soft, natural decorations to stay in keeping with the farm feel. Since their wedding, the couple started a family business, Rustic Chic Decor and More, and partner with Armstrong Farms to help brides decorate the unique space.

‘It’s a unique environment in that it’s a clean slate,’ she says. ‘You go in and make it whatever you want it to be. You can decorate it or leave it as is, because it’s just as gorgeous.’

Another way to get down on the farm this time of year is through fall festivals, celebrating the best of the season with hayrides, pumpkin patches and corn mazes. There are several throughout the area.

Trax Farms in Finleyville is hosting its 45th annual event on the 148-year-old farm every weekend from Sept. 20 through Oct. 26. The festival also features live music, a petting zoo, hot apple cider and apple dumplings. This year, guests also can shop at Trax’s craft beer store, set up in the specialty market.

The festival is a favorite among residents in the South Hills and beyond.

‘It is the biggest thing we do here,’ says Courtney Robinson, Trax advertising manager. ‘By the end of October, thousands of people have come to find their perfect pumpkin and take a hayride.’ ”