By Terry Hannum
Farm stays, as they are most commonly referred to, are rapidly growing in popularity as bed-and-breakfast type accommodations with some definite added attractions. Farm-stay guests typically spend a portion of their day being able to participate in activities of the farm before pursuing off-farm events, resting or regional touring.
Most farm-stay inns welcome and encourage families with children, and the discoveries of rural life are often new and shared by all ages.
Waking up to the smell of bacon sizzling, the first batch of homemade biscuits steaming from the oven and the allure of coffee is a morning pied piper for guests staying at the Handsome Brook Farm outside of Franklin.
The mornings are relaxed enough that curling back into the warm covers for a few more minutes is encouraged, although the sounds of chickens, cows and sheep somewhere in the near distance beckon to the day's adventures.
This is how days start at Handsome Brook Farm, Betsy and Bryan Babcock's farm-stay bed-and-breakfast where visitors have the opportunity to enjoy the finest parts of farm life while being pampered with modern comforts. Betsy explained that they began their farm with the idea of a blueberry business and while she and Bryan were establishing the berry bushes, family and friends wanted to come visit more and more often.
"We love having people come and stay with us, and they all said that this was a place that other people would want to come to. We did some expansion work and began in 2007."
Talking casually as they served breakfast to eight or nine guests, the fine-tuned duties of Betsy and Bryan made it clear that communication is a key ingredient. They explained that farm stays have been popular in Europe for decades and popularity is growing in United States with the expanding agri-tourism industry.
"Being able to learn more about where your food comes from has become mainstream," Betsy said.
The Handsome Brook Farm produces much of the food that is served at breakfast, including bacon, fruits and eggs, while other local farms supply maple syrup and cheeses for their wine and cheese gatherings.
The success of their hospitality is evident as the Babcocks have added a guest house to allow more people to stay.
"Every farm stay is different just as every farm is different and every bed and breakfast varies from the next," Betsy said. Even at the Handsome Brook Farm, things change not only from season to season but the farm itself changes.
The Babcocks are beginning to use the wool from their sheep to make blankets, berry harvests are increasing and there are more farm and art-related activities taking place throughout the area. Winter is not a limitation to outdoor activities, because the number of areas to sled, cross-country ski, ice skate and downhill ski are all available nearby.
A farm stay can be very personal but the interactions with other guests over cheese tastings and breakfasts always create unique gatherings that instill a sense of unity despite wildly different backgrounds.
The Gibson family traveled from just outside Washington after doing an Internet search of places in this region. Zach and Rebecca, along with their 2½-year-old son, Charles, said they are making farm stays a part of their family tradition. A step away from crowds and commercialism is a welcome opportunity for many people, and Betsy said that the non-present cellphone service is a great relief for guests.
Several other guests enjoyed the farm and were wrapped up in the farm's beauty and total essence of relaxation. Betsy explained that many people arrive with an almost tangible level of stress but as soon as at the breakfast table the following morning, their tension is gone. At the farm for the second time, Elizabeth Moorman from Princeton, N.J., was staying at the farm as a restful accommodation while visiting her recently graduated daughter who is beginning a job in Cooperstown.
Some of the other guests included Natara Feller and Michael Benvenga of Brooklyn who will be married in three weeks. Taking a step away from the wedding preparations, a birthday gift from Feller and life dream for Benvenga were being fulfilled. Feller said, "We have been on a farm stay in Italy but it was much different because it was a produce farm and vineyard," more of a setting rather than an experience.
Feller said she wanted to give her fiance a very special birthday gift, and he had told her about his wish to be able to meet pigs.
"I had read that they were highly intelligent and sensitive animals, oftentimes abused and treated only as a commodity," Benvenga said. He knew these things but had never been able to get close enough to see them for himself.
Feller said she found Handsome Brook Farm on an Internet search, contacted the Babcocks and explained that she was seeking out a farm stay where Benvenga would be able to interact with pigs. This was an easy request to fulfill, as the farm raises friendly, social pigs that guests can get to know.
The Handsome Brook Farm has gardens, swings, meadows, berry patches, an orchard and hammocks, along with lawn space for games or just stretching out _ but the real attractions are tractor rides, feeding chickens, collecting eggs, being able to hug woolly sheep that are as tame as the sweetest dogs and romping with pigs. Bryan and Betsy both talked about how parents with young children are just as thrilled as their children to be on a farm.
Other farm-stay opportunities can be found at the Delaware County Bed and Breakfast Association website, bnblodgings.com/amenities/farm-stay/, Stay in the Hay at www.farmstayus.com or by searching for New York farm stays.