When I was 22, I did what’s called “wwoofing”, which means Willing Workers On Organic Farms. This program allows you to work for lodging and meals, without earning an income, which basically is a loophole that allows you to travel to foreign countries long-term without needing a work visa, since you’re not technically being paid.
For me, it was a wonderful experience. I helped maintain an abandoned lodge in the Northwest Territories and spent my days catching fish and growing vegetables, and spent my nights watching the northern lights dance in the night sky.
At 22, this was a phenomenal experience. However, I imagine that when I’m 42, this might sound like an absolute nightmare. If you’re someone looking to experience a pastoral lifestyle, but in a more relaxing way than what wwoofing can allow, you may want to check out farm stays. According to Scottie Jones of Farm Stay USA, “A farm stay is an experiential vacation on a working farm or ranch. Lodging is provided, be it a room in the farmhouse, a private cabin or cottage, an Airstream, a yurt, or even just a campsite down by the creek. You’re surrounded by active farming or ranching, and participation in the activities is optional, but highly rewarding and enjoyable.
In essence, a farm stay is a wonderful way to experience the outdoors and a simpler lifestyle. You have the option to either partake in farm duties, or to relax. And best of all, farm-to-table dining is a daily activity.
Even better is that there are many LGBTQ-owned farm stays and many more that are run by allies to the community. One gay-owned farm stay is Netherfield Natural Farm in Kansas, owned and operated by Scott Shappell and his partner. On the property sits a stunning victorian farmhouse that welcomes visitors from around the nation. There’s also a pool, hot tub, walking trails, fish-filled ponds, and lots of benches and lounge chairs to help encourage guests to sit back and relax.
The farm itself has chickens and cows, and guests are welcomed to partake in the daily chores of picking eggs and feeding the animals. Scott also grows tons of vegetables like asparagus, lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, and more. These can all be found in freshly made meals at Netherfield. “For lunch,” Scott said, “We do a bread, biscuit, and pasta-making class. The class begins at 11 am, and by about 12:30, we’re ready to eat. We prepare a fabulous meat and cheese tray to go along with the bread we just made. The guests love it because, not only is the bread still warm from the oven, but they got to make it. It helps make the meal feel really special. Then for dinner, I prepare a more formal meal where we set the tables, provide drinks, and use many of our farm-fresh ingredients. For anything not grown on the farm, we try to get as much as possible from the other local farms in the area.”
Scott also says a big draw to the region is the numerous wineries and cider houses in Miami County. This creates an excellent way for guests to have breakfast at the farmhouse, head to a winery for lunch, and then return to the house for dinner. “We also have a fire pit, which tends to be where everyone congregates in the evenings,” Scott said. “It’s beautiful out here. There are so many stars, and you can see the milky way almost every single night. So it’s easy to see why it becomes a gathering spot for everyone.”
My biggest question was how do two gay men end up owning a rural victorian farmhouse in Kansas. “I’m actually from Kansas,” Scott replied. “I lived in DC for many years, but I got to a point where I just wanted a change of pace. I asked my partner if he’d be ok leaving city life behind…then we found this place, and the rest is history!”
Netherfield is just one of many examples of farm stays, And some, like newcomer Hideaway Co. in Maryland, are even shaking up the industry with a more glamping approach. Hideaway’s founder, Anna Baird, got an idea for a pop-up glamping destination that would take over a farm, winery, or cidery every summer, each time being in a new location. The idea came to her during the COVID lockdown when she noticed many big-name resort brands in Europe were opening summer glamping destinations to help get people away from the crowded cities.
This summer’s location for Hideway is Cove Pastures Flower Farm & Branch Bender Cidery, located in western Maryland. When describing the locale, Anna simply called it an escape. “It’s a place to get away,” she said, “to get away from your computer, away from the city, away from the stress, and to truly escape into the great outdoors surrounded by a wonderful sense of community.”
The pop-up features luxurious yurts complete with queen size beds, lanterns, rugs, and more. It’s far from roughing it. In fact, Hideaway will even have a resident chef preparing decadent meals for guests. As for the cidery, Anna says it will play a big part in the experience. “Guests at Hideaway have the option to partake in tastings at the cidery, and our bar will feature many of the cidery’s products,” Anna said. “We even do a special cider pairing, where the cidery teams up with a local dairy farm, FireFly Farms, to do a delicious multi-course cider and cheese pairing.”
One of the best parts of Hideaway’s location, which is in the town of Accident, Maryland, is that the region offers lots for guests to do. “People might be surprised to hear this,” Anna said, “but this area actually has tons to do. it’s known for excellent whitewater rafting, there’s some wineries and breweries, and tons of stunning lakes.”
There’s even a ski resort nearby called Wisp that offers golfing, hiking, and biking in the summer months, not to mention their Mountain Coaster, where you can race down the side of a mountain on individual carts.
Anna also stated that she’s a huge ally to the LGBTQ community and that she, along with everyone else at Hideaway Co., would be absolutely thrilled to welcome LGBTQ travelers and show them the beauty of western Maryland.
For anyone looking to escape the city, to meet new people, or to experience some new activities, a farm stay might be the perfect way to shake up your vacation. And with great food, fresh air, and a sense of community on the farm, it’s sure be a rejuvinating experience.
Here’s a list of farm stays around the country that are LGBTQ-owned or run by allies that have explicitly told Passport they’re welcoming of all queer visitors:
Hideaway Co., pop-up/various
Serenity Sheep Farm, Montana
Scurlock Farms, Texas
Willow-Witt Ranch, Oregon
Leaping Lamb Farm, Oregon
Splendor Farms, Louisiana