The Farmscape Ecology Program * KYPP Nugget 20:
Aug. 15, 2011

KYPP Nugget: Farm Visitors Past & Present
Farm Visitors: Background Research
Walking tour of Hearty Roots Farm in Red Hook
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 small farms. 

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 at Roxbury Farm
Cathy Stanton, dressed as the daughter of a Kinderhook farmer in the early 1900s, poses next to Roxbury Farm's delivery truck.

Agritourism Today

Kinderhook Farm
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:
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 wwoofers.


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]
6/30/2011 Column
Summer Visitors on the Farm

by Anna Duhon

As July looms large with promises of lounging sunny days and ripening tomatoes, we enter that dual season of summer vacation and agricultural bounty.  These are, of course, closely linked in origin, as it was the rhythms of agriculture that first shaped the school calendar, which is in turn behind the timing of many family vacations. 

Today summer vacations and farms are connected in other, vibrant ways.  Instead of seasons for agricultural work, vacations are rituals of escape and renewal.  And for the 99% of people who do not work in agriculture in their everyday life, farms can offer an opportunity to step outside normal routines and reconnect with an agricultural heritage and the food we eat.

In Columbia County, we are rich in both farms and summer visitors, and the creative intertwining of the two expresses itself in diverse ways.  These include the many types of farm outlets that depend on summer visitors for a significant share of their customer base, as well as the more obvious combinations, like farm tours, trails, fairs, festivals, harvest dinners, retreats, and camps.  Such examples of “agritourism” are increasingly being promoted and embraced as an innovative way for small farms to diversify and sustain themselves in the current economy.

Though newly coined as a word, “agritourism” is not at all new in Columbia County.  I first realized this last year, when I had the chance to sit down with a Hillsdale farmer in his early 90s.  He described how, when he was a child in the 1920s, his family would take in summer boarders at the farm – mostly families from Westchester who were looking for a vacation in the country.

He explained: “My dad would go down to Hillsdale to pick up people with the horses and bring them up.  They’d come up on like a Saturday and they’d stay until the next Saturday, for a week…That made some income.  I think most of the time we had a family in for 25 dollars a week to stay in the house.  My mom would cook three meals a day for them…”

Another story of early farm tourism in the area comes from Lebanon Springs, which in the 19th century was one of the preeminent tourist destinations in the country.  Beginning around 1918, Jerome Clinton “J.C.” and Lucretia “Mom” Johnson had a hilltop farm, just up from the famous Lebanon spring at the old Columbia Hall and the Taconic Inn, and just a few miles from the Mount Lebanon Shaker village.  There they hosted many summer boarders in simple cabins on their property.

I recently had the chance to speak with Arthur Koepp, who knew the Johnsons in the 1920s.  He explained: “She entertained much.  J.C. had several little cottages for bedrooms…and the people who came up from New York or wherever, they’d stay over the weekend and Mom would prepare the meals.  And I think they compensated.  But she was a great cook, and a great worker.” 

Many of these guests were drawn by the famous medicinal springs, while presumably a number of them were also among the many tourists that visited the Shaker village each year (another prime example of early agritourism).  However, in stories of the Johnson’s farm, it is clear that the three bountiful farm meals that “Mom” Johnson prepared from her large gardens, and the warm Johnson family hospitality were powerful draws in their own right. 

Much like today, the exchange between farmers and tourists in the early 20th century dealt in many kinds of value.  Certainly, tourists provided another income stream for small family farms, many of which were struggling in the midst of an agricultural shift towards more mechanized, larger-scale “modern” farming.
Yet other values were strongly present as well.  Anthropologist Cathy Stanton, who has been working through the National Park Service at Lindenwald on an ethnographic landscape study of farmers and farming in Columbia County, writes that farm tourism in this time period “became a useful platform for asserting that the value of farming transcended the marketplace.” 

In other words, that the rural, agricultural way of life had other social, cultural, health-giving, and spiritual value beyond what it might secure in profit.  Though likely an exceptional case, the Johnson family exemplifies this, as there are numerous stories of the many needy school kids, ailing families, or destitute strangers that the Johnsons took in and nourished without any expectation of compensation. 

And of course, these other forms of value, connection and nourishment were in part what tourists were seeking out when they came to Columbia County to stay on a farm, or take in the agricultural landscape.   

Stanton’s analysis of farm tourism as it pertains to the County shows that working farms and tourists did not always stay as closely integrated as they were in the initial decades of the 20th century.  By the 1940s they were starting to diverge, with many small farms ceding to the demands of industrial agriculture, and new agricultural museums and historic sites seeking to recapture the small farm nostalgia for a new generation of tourists. 

Another change is clearly afoot, however.  The current rise in agritourism activities reflects both a century-old history, and the emergence of exciting new connections between small farms and the non-farming community that surrounds and visits them.  What will these new connections bring?
Additional background information on this and previous “Perspectives on Place” columns is available on our website, at columns.html, where we invite your observations of the landscape, your comments, or your questions.