Bicycle Friendly Profile: FarmStayUS.com
We’re starting a new series on the site highlighting people who are working to improve cycling in the US. Are you a business, restaurant or accommodation that is bicycle friendly? Tell us how! Are you a small community that is trying to encourage cyclists to visit, share your story. We’re looking for stories about how businesses, communities and individuals are trying to make their area more bike friendly.
Scottie Jones is walking us around her property, Leaping Lamb Farms. It’s a working sheep farm, on property originally homesteaded in 1895. We navigate gingerly along a dirt path toward the barn, weaving our way through a small minefield of sheep poop. “Be careful, that’s stinging nettle,” she tells us, pointing at a tall, looming plant. Brushing up against the leaves can cause a burning sensation, followed by a rash. Conveniently, she tells us, all you have to do is look for a “dock plant”, found alongside the stinging nettle, whose leaves will neutralize the pain. The solution to a problem is oftentimes right under our nose; we just have to know what it looks like.
Eight years ago, Scottie and her husband Greg moved from Tempe, Arizona to the small rural farm community of Alsea, Oregon. She was “naive at 50,” she likes to joke. With their natural pluck and “we can do anything” attitude, they thought they could easily make farm life work. The reality of the situation was a lot different from their rustic frontier idea. When she realized she was basically paying people to eat her lamb, she began scrambling to find a solution. She found one and it was beneath their feet the whole time, she only had to see it in the right way.
In 2006, she opened her farm to guests. The cabin they had built for their parents, which subsequently sat unused, was re-purposed as “farm stay” lodging. Employing the marketing skills she learned while working at the Phoenix zoo, she turned her farm into a customer-oriented, hospitality-based business. That year, the farm made $4000 in lamb sales and $25,000 in farm stays. The farm stays were paying for the farm. From this transformative insight, she began the website FarmStayUS, a directory which lists US-based working farms which offer guest accommodations. FarmStayUS has a directory of over 900 farm stays across the US with accommodations that range from the rustic to regal. Many farms, she tells us, are in danger of becoming “hobby farms.” Farms that are doomed to lose money year after year, that people hold on to because they love the lifestyle. Farm stays are another way that farmers can create income with their land and still maintain a farm.
For Scottie, farm stays are also a part of a larger picture of advocacy for rural communities. Many of her guests come from cities and work in technology, law or medicine, who are far removed from the politics of rural communities. However, by staying with farmers and learning about the business and challenges involved in farming, they can more easily empathize with the plight of rural economies. Her guests, she tells us, are more likely to shop at a farmers’ market, understand the true price of food, and be more thoughtful about legislation that will affect farmers. Scottie also employs several of the local teens in Alsea, who not only help with maintenance, they learn computer skills (like Quikbooks).
The Cycling Connection
We first learned of FarmStayUS through Laura’s mom, who met Scottie through a local entrepreneur group in Corvallis. Farm stays and bicycle touring are a natural fit. Farms are generally located in rural areas with quiet country roads that are perfect for riding. Bike tourists generally have a tough time bridging lodging gaps in remote areas. By combining the two, farmers could make some extra income and bike tourists could more easily find accommodations or resources on their travels in remote areas. 30 years ago, Scottie did a bicycle tour in Europe with two friends, and they often asked farmers if they could sleep in the barn. Ironically, it didn’t dawn on her that the same thing could happen in the US until we contacted her through Facebook (and you readers left comments!). We’re happy to say that Scottie is very open to reaching out to bike tourists and hopes to work with Adventure Cycling in the future!
We’re excited about making this connection, because it could potentially open up a whole new network for bike tourists. We also hope that interactions like this will positively affect how rural communities view bicycling. We’ve seen how organizations like CycleOregon and TravelOregon have begun to create this change within the state. A nationwide network like FarmStayUS could be one of the many tools that help bridge the gap between bicycles and rural communities.
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