BUTLER, Pa. — What do a gray goose, 100 Black Angus cattle, a bride and pancakes have in common?
All of them have a place at Butler County’s Armstrong Farms, which is owned by John and Kathy Allen.
Best of both
The Allens have woven together agriculture and tourism — the county’s top two industries — to run a bed and breakfast and host weddings on their beef cattle farm.
Stella, the goose, is a permanent resident. When the Allen’s youngest son, Andrew, went to college, Kathy said she suffered from an “empty-nest syndrome” that Stella the goose couldn’t fill.
Within 10 days, she decided she would start a bed and breakfast and turned her son’s empty bedroom into “The Andrew Room” and began welcoming guests.
“I wish I could say that I had a well-designed business plan in mind when I started this business, but I really didn’t,” Kathy said. “Things just sort of evolved.”
But being a good business manager was already part of Kathy’s skills.
Plenty of resources
“We never really thought of ourselves as innkeepers,” she said. “But we had all of these resources with the land, farm and ponds, so we had to take advantage of them; a farm has to be self-perpetuating and self-sufficient.”
John’s family established Armstrong Farms in 1816, which qualifies it to be a Century Farm because it has been a productive farm in the same family for more than 100 years. John and Kathy’s grandchildren are the seventh generation to live there.
With their two sons, John III and Andrew, the Allens grew their registered Angus herd, which was once part of a 500-head cow/calf operation. Even after a sale in 2005, they still have 100 head of cattle and are in the process of growing the herd again.
They also raised and sold 180 feeder steers this year. In total, they farm 1,000 acres, much of which is used in a rotational grazing pasture system for the cattle, and they have been recognized for their conservation efforts.
John III also started a hay brokerage business, growing, buying and selling hay to other farmers in Pennsylvania and as far as Florida. In addition, he and Andrew started a landscape supply company selling mulch, stone, soil and compost.
The Allens sold the development rights on two of their properties, preserving more than 200 acres through the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture’s farmland preservation program.
One preserved property, called the Westminster Preserve, is home to The Bonnie House, the main B&B. Kathy serves breakfast there every morning for the guests who stay in the four rental units.
“With a B&B, you really have to enjoy people,” Kathy said. “You have to give of yourself to offer your guests an enjoyable experience.”
Next to The Bonnie House is the Westminster Barn, where Kathy began hosting weddings and receptions eight years ago. Last year, they prepared another barn on the farm to also hold weddings, called the Alyson Anne.
Both locations have small, picturesque ponds with gazebos where the ceremonies are held.
“The weddings have become the bread and butter of our business,” Kathy said.
Reservations are almost full for next year’s wedding season, which runs from May until November.
While most of the Allen’s guests come from out of the area, most of their business is supported by local industries.
As a member of the Butler County Tourism and Convention Bureau board, Kathy is a strong proponent of promoting businesses within the county.
For example, she uses Marburger Dairy milk products and wine from Winfield Winery and Rustic Acres Winery, is a member of the Harvest Valley Farms’ Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program where she buys fresh fruit and vegetables, and she purchases meat from the Thoma Meat Market.
“We try to use local businesses for most of our needs, and we encourage the wedding caterers to use them as well,” Kathy said.
In fact, she even has established relationships with a local salon in Saxonburg to do hair and nails for wedding parties, a seamstress for emergency repairs, and a nearby golf course for those who want to play a round of golf.
“We call it ‘focused capitalism’ because we believe the roots of companies are in the local communities,” she said.
The Allens also take advantage of marketing programs like PA Preferred, the Department of Agriculture’s program that assures consumers they are purchasing and using Pennsylvania products and promoting local businesses.
Armstrong Farms is also a member of the Pennsylvania Farm Vacation Association that encourages visitors to enjoy life on a farm.