AVELLA, Pa. – It’s shortly after 8:30 a.m. on a Friday morning. Dale, Marcy and Nigel Tudor are up and at ’em on their Washington County, Pa., farm.
The sunshine slices through a lattice porch canopy and shadows dance on brick floors inside the farm’s livery.
It will be a great day to make hay, Farmer Dale says.
Yet the family is still in the kitchen. Chores aren’t done. Breakfast hasn’t even been served.
No worries. Their guests are just now streaming in, refreshed by the country air and hungry for some Pennsylvania Dutch breakfast treats.
Ten adults and 11 children – parents, grandparents, children – rush for the buffet, loading Fiestaware with eggs and potatoes, banana pancakes, cereal, toast.
Back at their tables – family sized, to encourage families to sit together or make new friends – they pour milk and orange juice into jelly jars.
Silverware clinks against bowls and plates. Maple-syruped lips voice compliments on the pancakes.
The Tudors settle in with one family, chatting about their farm, its history, their breakfast.
It’s a typical morning at the family’s Weatherbury Farm Vacation.
Farm stays. Faced with rising gasoline prices and ever-growing demands on their time, more families are considering a farm stay vacation, according to the Tudors.
They’re the perfect opportunity to get away from it all while still enjoying time together and experiencing something new, says Marcy Tudor, president of the Pennsylvania Farm Vacation Association.
Family memories of visiting someone’s farm, fresh country air and the chance to spend time without distractions draw city dwellers to their farm.
“It used to be that everybody had a farm somewhere in the family where they could visit,” Marcy Tudor said. “People miss that connection to the land, and they want to give that experience to their children.”
Finishing up. The youngest children whinny, oink and moo as they dance plastic farm animals across the brick floor in the breakfast room. The older kids line up Chinese checkers while their parents take in the rest of the pancakes and eggs.
Farmer Dale – that’s what the guests call him – announces he’ll be back in five or 10 minutes. Everyone should finish eating and then chores will start, he says.
It’s all the adults can do to keep the children indoors long enough for Dale to return with bottles of milk for the young goats and the egg basket.
“Everyone coming”? Dale asks as he leads the group outdoors.
A new start. Dale Tudor is a fourth generation farmer, but he’s not carrying on the tradition on the home farm.
His great-grandfather was a lumberman in Williamsport, Pa., in the north central part of the state. The man cleared land for a farm there, where Tudor grew up.
But the young man went off to work in corporate America for a pharmaceutical company, leaving the crops and country air behind him. He yearned to have that lifestyle back.
In the early 1980s, Dale’s employer transferred him to Germany. The Tudors traveled Europe and stayed at bed and breakfasts during Dale’s six-week work holidays.
They fell in love with the home stay idea; Marcy vowed they’d someday have one of their own.
Fast forward to 1983, when the Tudors came back stateside. They began the hunt to make the dream come true. All they wanted was 10 acres and a farmhouse.
In 1985, they found their 107-acre Washington County farm for sale. It was bigger, more than they expected, but perfect, they said. Soon it was theirs and renovations started.
Ask him anything. There are no stupid questions at Weatherbury Farm, Farmer Dale says. Ask him anything at any time, he suggests.
The group barely gets out the breakfast room door before the children start in. What’s that rusty thing over there, one asks.
Farmer Dale sees a great teaching opportunity. He tells the families about the farm’s history, about each of the three farm families who lived there before he, his wife, and his son settled there.
He walks them through a bit of farming history, from oxen and horses to sulky cultivators and excavating pans. It seems the children had little idea of how things were done before modern tractors.
The morning chore crew heads toward the barn, children racing to get to the sheep and goats and bunnies before their parents. On the way, Farmer Dale points out his 1948 Chevy dump truck, the old summer kitchen that’s now a guest room, the springhouse, his Tudor turkeys.
“Isn’t that funny? They have the same name as I do!” he says. His guests laugh. It’s a good day on the farm.
A delicate balance. Children and adults alike enjoy the farm vacation experience, the Tudors say. It’s a bonding experience, one that lets each generation teach and learn about farm life, learn about themselves.
In fact, their operation is so successful there’s little vacancy from May through October, even with three rooms and three suites.
Today there’s a Chevy Suburban with Virginia plates in the parking field. Beside it are a Nissan sedan and minivan from Georgia, a Saab and a minivan from the Keystone State. It’s clear this isn’t just a local attraction.
But combining guests with a working farm isn’t all profit and smiles.
The day before, Farmer Dale was showing new guests to their rooms when more pressing matters hit. Through a window, he could see his herd of Scotch Highland cows romping in his hayfield. The guests waited while Dale showed the herd back to the proper paddock and fixed fence.
“It’s this balance you have to work on. This is still a real farm,” Dale Tudor said.
Filling up. The guests finish morning chores, collecting a wire basket full of eggs from the hen house and minds full of farm facts.
The youngsters, each with the goal of being an official Weatherbury Farm kid, take notes on what Farmer Dale says. They now know about safety around the animals, what a pullet is, the difference between a heifer and a cow.
But it’s not all about the children learning, the adults catching every cute moment on film for posterity. The adults are learning, too, as the farmer explains where veal comes from, about hens molting.
“They are all very real and necessary parts of farm production. Veal gets a bad connotation, and I explain that to the adults,” Farmer Dale says.
Adult visitors, some of whom have never seen or pet a hen or calf in real life, shake their heads as if they finally understand some small part of agriculture.
New friends. The Tudors are only one of the 25 members of the Pennsylvania Farm Vacation Association, each opening their farm doors to countless visitors from their backyards and around the world each year.
Guests come from urban, suburban, rural homes, from New York City, the Bronx, Philadelphia, Japan and Wales.
The opportunity ranges from small animal operations like the Tudors’, to exotic animals, dairies, horse farms and dude ranches. Each are down-home, working farms, and each lets guests get in on the daily farm activities.
But make no mistake: this isn’t your typical bed and breakfast.
Children are welcomed, not shunned. There are no extravagant decorations, no Jacuzzis, no posh suites. Instead you get country water, bugs, the smell of hay.
“The farm is a great place to raise a family, and that’s how we treat every guest, as part of our extended family,” Marcy Tudor said.
“Everybody here gets the chance to do a little work and make a new friend.”
Ironic. There’s real irony in Weatherbury Farm’s ownership, Marcy Tudor says.
Her father, a chicken farmer turned banker, left his family’s farm before Marcy was born. She never knew the farm life she now shares with new friends.
“Dad studied animal husbandry and became a banker. I went to school for accounting and now what am I doing? I’m a farmer,” she laughs.
(Reporter Andrea Myers welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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* Weatherbury Farm Vacation
1061 Sugar Run Road
Avella, PA 15312
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