Back to the Land

Back to the Land

City folk reconnect with their roots at bed-and-breakfasts that offer farming experiences.

By Brenda Rees 07/01/2013

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If your dream vacation involves hands-on, can-do activities, consider a new industry buzzword — agritourism. That encompasses vacations on a farm where you can roll up your sleeves and help with chores or simply enjoy the bounty of an organic garden. “The trend of locally produced organic foods and living off the land has expanded into the bed-and-breakfast arena,” says Mary White, founder and CEO of  bnbfinder.com, a guide to B&Bs around the country. “People are hungry for an authentic experience of what ‘back to nature’ means, and they want to explore that in a peaceful retreat setting.”

Indeed, B&Bs and inns are no longer just rest stops for collectors of antiques. Today, some offer city folk the chance to participate in and learn about life beyond freeways, mini-malls and high-rises. White stresses that these comfort-minded inns still provide luxury lodgings (you won’t end up sleeping in a hay-filled barn), and no one is required to participate in farm activities. “If they want to join in, they are welcome to,” she says. “[That involvement] just adds to the whole package.

“We see B&Bs offering fruit-picking in orchards, grooming animals, milking cows and helping with harvests,” White continues, adding that these activities are not just family-friendly, but also a way for adults to connect with the land.
One Southern California B&B has been luring weary guests to rejuvenate at 4,800 feet above Yucaipa. Located in the hamlet of Oak Glen, the Serendipity Ranch Bed and Breakfast is nestled in a scenic valley known for its apple orchards. The seven-acre ranch boasts trees from an orchard originally planted in the early 1900s. And when fall landscapes the property with colorful leaves, guests are encouraged to pick the fruit which may then be used in the hearty breakfast. Nina Foster, who owns the B&B with her husband, William, says she often sends people home with fresh squashes, tomatoes and onions from her two large garden beds. “Fresh vegetables are a perfect parting gift,” she says.
Wildlife is also abundant around Serendipity as the ranch, itself a Certified Wildlife Habitat, abuts a wilderness area. Weasels, chipmunks, coyotes, bobcats, bears and mountain lions have been seen on or near the property, and ducks, quail and rabbits are regular visitors, Foster says. Every morning she fills an enormous bird feeder which another regular visitor, Judy McInnis, says draws a flock of  “the most beautiful birds.” Foster says she has counted 47 different bird species at her feeder.

Guests are also welcome to interact with the domesticated critters that live on the ranch. Brea resident McInnis, who has visited Serendipity with family and friends for years, recalls that when she and her sisters groomed and walked the miniature horses, she felt like she was “12 years old again. It was so special. We were so giddy.” McInnis is one of many guests delighted by the inn’s stable of miniature horses — animals that have been there for many years, Foster says. “Big kids, little kids, everyone is welcome to take them for a walk,” she says, adding that visitors can also take part in a special guided tour of the ranch’s other fauna — llamas, goats, geese and deer — and get hands-on experience feeding and grooming them.

Serendipity’s natural beauty has brought McInnis back year after year. “I’m a nature freak, and this place is so charming with the flowers, apple trees, ponds and all the animals,” she says. McInnis’ sisters and parents recently joined her in taking over the entire B&B for a weekend get-together (there are only four guestrooms in the entire place). “My mom uses a walker and we like the fact that it’s all flat walking here,” she says. “We really feel like it’s our home away from home. When we all sit at the table, we are it!”
 
Northern California’s Stanford Inn by the Sea, an eco-resort on the Mendocino coast, bills itself as the country’s only vegan resort so, not surprisingly, the freshest produce is high on its list of amenities. The source is Big River Nurseries, sandwiched between coastal forest and ocean, where the inn’s owners, Jeff and Joan Stanford, have been practicing organic and sustainable farming for more than 26 years. In addition to supplying the B&B’s award-winning Ravens’ Restaurant, the garden also provides herbs and other produce for a few other restaurants and grocers in the area. The Stanfords are happy to explain their gardening techniques to their guests; the garden also welcomes interns from around the world who are studying agriculture and sustainable practices.

In addition to having guests help with the weekly harvest, the Stanfords offer gardening and cooking classes (all presented with a vegan beat) as they share their philosophy of the sustainable lifestyle, which has transformed the area. “When we first came here in the 1980s, there were no birds here,” says Jeff Stanford. “The grasses died out until the next season; there were no seeds, no insects, no birds.” Now, after working the 10-acre property without pesticides or fertilizers, the resulting lush green meadows and landscape have created a haven for wildlife. “We are on the top of bird counts for the coast,” he says.

Bay Area resident Margaret Miner has been coming to the Stanford Inn for more than 10 years; in fact, she was married there two years ago. Miner says she was initially drawn to its popular vegetarian restaurant but has since returned numerous times, not just for the landscape (“It’s breathtaking”) and the owners’ company (“Joan and Jeff don’t just talk [sustainability], they live it”), but because pets are welcome and she can bring her dogs with her.
“Jack [a mixed breed] was in our wedding party and the best man held his leash,” she says, adding that her new collie, Jerry, has joined the family on vacations there. In addition to relaxing by the fireplace with her dogs and hubby, Miner walks the nearby trails, watches folks kayak and bike, relaxes in the indoor pool and spa (which is cleaned with natural enzymes instead of chlorine) and enjoys the other guests she meets at the daily happy hour (yes, vegan wine is on the menu).

When Miner lost both parents and a brother a few years ago, she found solace at the inn. “It’s a wonderful haven that is welcoming and comfortable, and I honestly think of it as an extension of my own home,” she says.

That kind of testimony rings true for Stanford, who came to the area with wife Joan to raise their extended family on the land. “I hope when people come here they remember who they are, because so often we get lost in the everyday world,” he says. “We want them to fall in love with life again and to remember the optimism of their youth.”

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