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ASHLAND, Ohio — Green Acres is the place to be … farm livin’ is the life for me … land spreadin’ out so far ‘n’ wide … keep Manhattan, just give me that countryside!
Ah, Green Acres. The 1960s TV series that featured a well-to-do couple from New York City, who gave it all up to move to a farm out in the country.
A fictitious story based on the couple’s inexperience outside the big city — unfamiliar with livestock, crops, tractors and farming.
Fast-forward 50 years, however, and the story of this glamorous city-couple-turned-farmer is partly true, at least for one Ohio couple.
The real deal
Dan and Annette Morgan, formerly of Manhattan, may be as close to the real Green Acres as you can get.
Just five years ago, both were living in their 28th floor Manhattan apartment when they made an offer on a farmstead that would change their life.
They had never visited the property, a 10-acre farm in rural Ashland County. But they made an offer over the Internet, and it was accepted.
A new venture. The next day, the Morgans drove to Ohio to view what they had bought. Technically, there was still time to terminate the offer. But Dan Morgan, a professional photographer, fell in love with the views from the windows — the gently rolling hills and cropland, an historical 1866 house and barn, old-growth trees — and the property became theirs.
Its rural appeal was a veil to much of the work that needed done to a property that had been lived in by non-electric Amish for several years. It lacked modern English improvements, as well as basic upkeep.
Where to start?
The roof was one of the first replacements, but getting to it was a challenge of its own.
“In order for the roofer to get to the roof, we had to have the trees cut back,” Dan Morgan recalled.
And that was just the beginning. At least two big plastic garbage bags full of honeycomb were removed from inside the walls.
The first couple years, the Morgans lived in the house on their own, driving back and forth to work in Cleveland. But they soon discovered they were spending too much on gas — more than they now spend a month for their condominium in Lakewood, Ohio.
“We came out here because we wanted to get away from the city, and, boy, did we ever,” Dan Morgan said. “It actually was a little bit too far of a swing for us, because we both work in the city.”
That’s when they got creative and decided to rent the farm to others like themselves — mostly city people, who wanted to spend some time in a quiet, rural place — without moving.
Today, Morgan Farm Stay is that — a place where people come to get away from the rush and noise of city life — to kick back and enjoy a board game, some farm animals — walk alongside cornfields or follow a country road.
Visitors can bathe in an old-fashioned bathtub, enjoy baked goods and fresh produce from local farmers’ markets. The really “outgoing” can go out, literally, into the double-seater outhouse — a feature Dan Morgan said some families actually enjoy.
Across the road, and at nearby farms are the Amish.
“They’ve been an influence on us as far as the ways we’ve been thinking about sustainability,” he said. “In today’s economy, even from an economical standpoint, sustainability is important.”
Part of the Morgans’ goal is to show their visitors what it means to be sustainable, and a bit unconventional. Many of their furnishings were bought second-hand, and they refrain from using pesticides and synthetic fertilizers in their produce garden.
They raise niche market livestock, including Berkshire hogs raised to order. The Morgans have built many relationships with chefs in Cleveland, who instruct them what they want, and how to raise it.
Dan Morgan said the farm’s animals, which also include goats, are “primarily for the entertainment of our guests.” However, they’re also raised for a return, which comes from the meat they produce.
The farming done at Morgan Farm Stay is not exactly mainstream. It’s considerably smaller than any of the farms in the area. But Dan Morgan thinks there’s value in doing something different — in filling a niche market.
“It really has a lot to do with farming in a smart way,” he said.
In some cases, he can make more money from parts of his farm stay than if he had a whole field of corn, he said. He admits to being a “newbie” farmer, but one who has learned an important concept: Find a demand and fill it.
He gets $300 per weekend night from those who stay, and $1,400 a week. Of course, it’s not all profit, but pretty good for an old farmhouse on a small acreage.
“A lot of people thought we were nuts, didn’t think we could get that kind of money for a place … a stay in the country like this,” he said.
In July, the Morgans booked their farm for 29 of 31 days. They estimate bookings have doubled each year, over the three years they’ve operated the stay.
“There’s some extra money to be made, and we’re proving it,” he said. “It’s been lucrative for us.”
The money is important, but so is sharing the values of country living — the same things that convinced the Morgans to move from Manhattan to Ashland County.
“Every single guest that comes out of here, they have a tremendous experience of better quality time with their family,” he said.