Website helps farmers connect with farm-loving tourists
Guests yearn to connect 'with the smell of a farm'
By DEAN REA
For the Capital Press
Greg and Scottie Jones not only operate a farm-stay cabin on their 44-acre farm near Alsea, Ore., but they help others farmers across the nation do the same.
Like many farmers, they searched for ways to supplement their income, which led Scottie Jones to establish what has become the largest website for farm stays in the country: FarmStayUS.com.
"I knew there were people in the city who would come to the country," she said. "Our customers are interested in disconnecting from mobile devices and connecting with the smell of a farm, hearing the frogs, taking hikes, interacting with animals, seeing stars at night."
Jones wrote a business plan, acquired two USDA grants and established the website in June 2010.
Today, 950 farms, ranches, bed and breakfasts and vineyards throughout the United States pay a fee to appear on the website. Prospective visitors can learn about each destination site, rates and other details. There are 24 listed locations in Washington, 27 in Oregon, 48 in California and 11 in Idaho.
While farm work is advertised, recreational activities are often the bigger attraction.
Horseback riding, fishing and hunting bring visitors to the 1,800-acre K Diamond K Guest Ranch in north-central Washington, which signed up a year ago, said Kathy McKay, the manager.
Jones said that farm stay guests usually don't want to work on her farm, Leaping Lamb. They will feed the animals and brush the donkey but "won't scoop poop."
"One of the biggest stumbling blocks is the question of getting a farm zoned to permit the presence of guests," she said. "You also need a host who will interact with customers, and everyone on the farm must be OK with strangers on your property."
In an Oregon survey, Jones found that most ranchers and farmers added lodging to increase their income and that 33 percent reported 2010 gross sales between $1,000 and $5,000, 25 percent reported between $5,000 and $10,000, 8 percent between $10,000 and $25,000 and 34 percent between $50,000 and $150,000.
"Like a lot of us, I have one cabin, which earns $15,000 to $25,000 a year, and I'm booked between 40 to 50 percent of the year," she said.
Christina Sommers said that the website has been helpful in attracting customers who want an agricultural experience at the 5-acre farm she and her husband, Stuart, own and operate as a bed and breakfast near Newberg, Ore.
Guests can help prepare food harvested from their garden at Deer Haven Farms during the summer and can visit with farm animals. This fall they also will be able to stay in a tree house.