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"I want the family farm - the backbone of our country's heritage - to thrive and survive for future generations."

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Farm Stays are Popular in New Zealand

By Jane Eckert

We just returned from our Agritour to New Zealand and highlights of the trip included the nights we stayed in farm homes and ate at the family table.  New Zealand is geographically divided, with a North Island and a South Island, and our group spent one night with a farm family on each island. If you are planning a trip to New Zealand on your own, I’d suggest you do the same thing.

Farm stays give you the opportunity to not just drive past farms, but to see them, smell them and experience the culture and foods of the country you are visiting.  We found our New Zealand host families to be just as interested in us as we were with them. The logistics were made quite easy by the local rural reservation service.  Our motorcoach arrived at a designated time in the cities of Ashburton and Cambridge and our farm hosts were there to meet us and to take us to their homes. We divided into small groups to take a personalized farm tour, and then to share a unique evening, lively conversation, great food and a comfortable bed breathing in good ole country air!

The dinner was served at the family dining room table with plenty of summer vegetables, fresh bread, local meats and homemade dessert.  At the dinner table our conversation went from describing our properties, talking about our families and how to get our kids involved in farming.  Several of the hosts wanted to have real political discussions and want to know what we think of our current government policies.  There were no off-limits conversation topics because we all wanted to learn from each other about the culture and way of life that we each enjoy.

The next morning, after a hearty breakfast, our host families returned us to the pick-up point to rejoin our motorcoach. Back on the motorcoach, everyone had an opportunity to share their family experience and we all got some pretty good laughs over hearing one of our spouses (a dentist) explain how he had milked a cow that morning. He wanted to be quite precise in his movements and the farmer explained he needed to pick up the pace. The farms we visited included large sheep herds, dairy, fruit growers and beef cattle.

The farmers in New Zealand experience many of the same things that we do from government regulations, pest control, humane animal treatment groups, shortage of labor, product distribution channels etc. Yet, no one wanted to trade in their job for the city.

Most of these farms belong to several New Zealand farm networks that handle the bookings, the money and logistics of reservations.  The farm family receives about 50% of the actual overnight fee and they seem to feel that is fair for not having to handle the booking side of the business. The farms are called when there are guest bookings and they can confirm or decline the reservation if they are not available.  Many times, there are international travelers that don’t speak English and we learned that several farms are better prepared to cater to those guests, while others prefer not to attempt the language barrier. In all cases, the farm has the right to choose their guests.

There are also student groups that use farm stays as a way for their young people to see and learn firsthand about farming.

Farm stays are also very popular in England and Europe and are often the main source of overnight lodging in very rural communities. For instance in Italy, they report to have almost 20,000 farms licensed to offer farm stays.

We have farms involved in this type of agritourism venture in the U.S., and while it is growing, it is growing rather slowly. If you are thinking that this might be the type of thing that you would enjoy, here are a few things to consider. Are you a people person?  Do you enjoy making conversation with strangers? Does it interest you to meet new people and hear about other cultures and share yours? Do you have private bedroom and bathroom facilities for guests in your home or perhaps a separate farmhouse for overnight stays? Is sharing your farm life with others rewarding to you?

New Zealanders, or Kiwis (as they call themselves), are pretty isolated from the rest of the world and the interaction they have with their overnight guests provide them a first-hand view of other places and cultures which often does not compare to the coverage they see on television. Being a Farm Stay host can be personally fulfilling and provides a means to supplement the farm income.  Most all of these farms where we stayed were empty nesters and had plenty of extra bedrooms to share.

If you want to know more about farms stays here in the United States, I would suggest you go to two websites to see what folks are offering and if some are available in your state: www.farmstayusa.com and www.ruralbounty.com.

Offering farms stays may not be suitable for you to host but I encourage you to think about them when you are traveling.  I can tell you first-hand that the highlight of our trip to New Zealand was staying on working farms and sharing bread with the farm families.

Jane Eckert is the founder of Eckert AgriMarketing (www.eckertagrimarketing.com), a full-service marketing and public relations firm that helps farmers to sell directly to consumers, diversify operations and become tourist destinations. She is also CEO of www.RuralBounty.com, a search directory for agritourism farms and ranches in North America. Jane can be reached at 314-862-6288 or you may email her directly.