Road Journals Blog—I wrote briefly about farm stays for an upcoming issue of VIA, but the topic is still foreign to many people. Here’s a quick primer:
What is a farm stay?
The term “farm stay,” also known as a farm vacation, farm holiday (UK), or agriturismo (Italy), refers simply to lodging on a farm. Think of a farm stay as a regular B&B or cabin rental, but in a bucolic farm setting. Farm stays can range from luxurious, 5-star retreats to rustic and simple, and are priced accordingly.
You can find farm stays in most parts of the world. They are most common in Europe, especially in Italy, where they have been popular since the 1980s. Elsewhere, including the United States, Australia, and India, farm stays are not yet well known, but are on the rise. A number of new websites (including farmstayus.com  and agritourismaustralia.com.au  have popped up within the last year to help travelers find farm stays.
Why would someone want to vacation on a farm?
If your farm stay includes breakfast, the eggs you’re served will probably be some of the best you’ve ever had. They are ultra-fresh, and might have been gathered only minutes before they were scrambled. Also, they likely came from a small flock of happy chickens that have access to fresh grass, plenty of space, and sunshine—chickens you’ll be welcome to meet if you’d like.
There’s more to it than getting close to and learning about fresh, delicious, and healthy food. Farm stays offer urbanites a chance to enjoy fresh air and wide open spaces. Many farm stays feature trails maintained for hiking, biking, and cross-country skiing.
For families or couples, farm stays can be a chance to unplug from techno-centered routines and reconnect with one another through unscheduled time together and being close to nature.
Today, farmers make up less than 1 percent of the American population. (In 1950, that number was 12 percent). As the number of farmers per capita has dropped, so has the number of Americans with a farmer friend or relative.
Having a grandparent or other relative who farmed meant that kids once had the opportunity to spend some of the best days of summer running through the fields, eating blackberries picked fresh off the bush, or building forts of hay in the barn loft.
These days, those joys are only accessible to most through farm stays.
Do farm stay guests have to do farm work?
Absolutely not. Sleep in if you like, then spend your day sipping tea on the porch, taking in the rhythm of rural life.
Can guests help out with chores like animal feeding and gardening if they want to?
It depends on the farm. Some welcome guests to pitch in; some even have special programs for visiting kids, featuring workbooks and organized activities. The Inn at East Hill Farm  in New Hampshire and Weatherbury Farm  in Pennsylvania are two examples of farm stays with kid-centered programs.
Other farms are not set up for guest involvement due to farmers' preferences, liability concerns, or the nature of the operation. It’s important to do your research, to find the kind of farm stay that fits your needs.
I’m ready! Where can I find a farm stay to visit?
For detailed profiles of farm stays, my blog  features the stories of farms that I’ve been fortunate to visit. I also contribute to Farm Stay U.S. , which features more than 620 farm stays throughout the country. On the site, you can search for farms using dozens of categories for specific amenities and activities, including “swimming pool,” “sheep dog demonstrations,” and “berry picking.” Be sure to communicate with the farmer beforehand so you know what kinds of activities are available during your stay.
Michelle Nowak is writing about farm stays for an upcoming issue of VIA.
This blog post was first published in May 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.