Farm Visitors: Background Research
Walking tour of Hearty Roots Farm in Red Hook, NY
This column was in part inspired by anthropologist Cathy Stanton's
"Ethnographic Landscape Study of Farming and Farmers in Columbia
County, NY." This study is being done for the Martin Van Buren
National Historic Site, a place that aptly blends tourism and
agriculture, and currently is next door to Roxbury Farm
Stanton's research traces the historic arcs of both tourism and
agriculture. She shows that tourism and working farms were deeply
intertwined in the late 19th century up through the 1920s and 1930s
(the time period to which the oral history accounts refer).
Tourism started to diverge from working farms soon after, both because
tourists were taking advantage of an expanding field of tourism
opportunities, and because new trends in agriculture were squeezing out
As Stanton writes, "The added value of a small working farm's 'old
time' ambiance was no longer enough to make up the difference in profit
margin. Farms were less and less able to compete if they remained
small in size, relied heavily on muscle rather than mechanical power,
or sold their products primarily in the local area or in the immediate
region..." (Draft Chapter on Tourism, 2011).
Today the face of agriculture is far different, with small farms able to survive and thrive precisely because
they sell products locally and regionally, and have a supportive
regional customer base. No wonder there is again a convergence of
tourism and small working farms in Columbia County.
Cathy Stanton, dressed as the daughter of a Kinderhook farmer in the early 1900s, poses next to Roxbury Farm's delivery truck.
Farmstay at Kinderhook Farm
Combining agriculture with tourism has a long tradition in many parts
of the world, but is just starting to re-emerge in the United
States. Only about 1% of farms in the US receive income from
tourism activities, in contrast to well-over 1/3 of farms in some
European countries (Bernardo et al., 2004; Census of Agriculture, 2007)
Yet glancing through this summer's calendar of events, one can't help
but think agritourism is alive and well in Columbia County. From
farm camps for kids to wine tastings, from farmers' markets to
Pick-Your-Own farms, from Farm to Table dinners set in farm fields to
entire festivals dedicated to agricultural products (the blueberry
festival) or themes ("Farm on!"), there is clearly a wide variety of
ways that people can interact with agriculture in Columbia County.
Amidst this flurry of local farm tourism, "farm stays," while a little
harder to come by, are also making a resurgence -- both in ways
reminiscent of the early 20th century and in new forms. Several
times this summer I've been asked about ways that people can stay on
farms, so below are some of the resources that exist to facilitate
these connections in the present day:
Farm Stays: www.farmstayus.com
This is a new site that was started a few years ago by a farm couple in
Oregon to begin to provide a nation-wide listing of farm and ranch
stays. The site's founders write, "Just being on a farm is good
for the soul. And each person that stays on a farm helps support
a cultural tradition that is under severe economic threat."
Nearby Kinderhook Farm
is one of the farmstays listed on the site, while other local farms such as Cowberry Crossing
also have farmstays.
For those interested in working on farms in exchange for full room and
board, the WWOOF ("World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms") program
has been connecting people interested in short-term farm work with
organic farms for the past 40 years, for a small yearly membership
fee. In Columbia County, there are 7 different farms that take in
Bernardo et al. 2004. Agritourism: If we built it, will they come?
U.S. Census of Agriculture, 2007
Stanton, Cathy. 2011 Plant Yourself in My Neighborhood: An
Ethnographic Landscape Study of Farming and Farmers in Columbia County,
NY [Unpublished Draft]