Sure, you and your kids plan to conquer the theme parks, the all-inclusive resorts, the essential cities. In the meantime, why not make a little hay?Farm stays, long the European answer to the country getaway, are fast becoming the great American alternative to the pre-packaged vacation. Here, seven spots where you can feed baby animals or hike the back 40. Either way, pack your overalls.
LIBERTY HILL FARM
Rochester, Vt.; 802/767-3926; www.libertyhillfarm.com. Adults $75, teens $50, kids 12 and under $35, including breakfast and dinner; shared baths.
Beth and Bob Kennett run a farm straight out of a storybook: there's a big white farmhouse, an old red barn with a hayloft, and 100 Holsteins, all in the Green Mountains of Vermont. You'll find Beth in the kitchen, rolling out dough for a pie. Bob's busy with other chores that go into maintaining a 200-acre dairy operation. Guests sleep in seven sunny bedrooms right in the farmhouse and can participate in any of the farm jobs. Maybe you and the kids won't be up at 6 a.m. to meet the milk truck, an 18-wheel stainless-steel tanker, that stops here on its way to the Cabot cheese factory, but you can help with the milking twice a day, collect eggs, and pick sweet corn and wild blackberries in season. Fill up more baskets at the local apple orchard. Then again, you could skip work altogether and tube down the White River—or, in winter, ski at Killington or Sugarbush, or cross-country in the Green Mountain National Forest next door. There's a nearby farm museum that offers hands-on butter churning. Just make it back in time for the big, farm-style suppers.
HULL-O FARMS FAMILY FARM VACATIONS
Durham, N.Y.;518/239-6950; www.hull-o.com; Adults $110, kids 10—14 $60, 5—9 $50, 2—4 $35, under 2 free, including breakfast and dinner; private baths.
It started in 1993 as a way to bring in some extra money at a time of falling milk prices. But soon after Frank and Sherry Hull opened their Catskill Mountains dairy farm to overnight visitors, they discovered they loved it. Why else would they cut a crowd-pleasing maze through their cornfield every fall?Or set up a 3,000-pheasant preserve?The 350-acre property has a main farmhouse with one guest room, as well as three other houses that guests can take over. As you drive up, Sherry greets you on the porch of the 1825 farmhouse with a cow-shaped cookie jar. Before long your kids are palling around with the cows, sheep, ducks, goats, and geese and getting ready for a hayride. If they experience any separation anxiety when it's time to say good-bye to a certain baby rabbit, the Hulls can help: they'll snap Polaroids of favorite animals, and promise to send progress reports.
MERAMEC FARM CABINS
Bourbon, Mo.; 573/732-4765; http://www.wine-mo.com. Doubles with private bath $75, $10 per additional person. Trail and riding fees extra.
Oh, give me a home where the Herefords and Angus roam. That would be Carol Springer and Dave Curtis's 470-acre cattle ranch, crisscrossed with hiking and mountain-biking trails, in the heart of the Ozark Mountains. Climb onto the back of the Ford pickup and catch up with the herd. One gentle cow named Cricket will even let the kids sit on her back. At the barn, Carol will introduce you to the horses—15 Missouri Fox Trotters—and lead you on a trail ride over the hills and down along the spring-fed Meramec River, where everyone, including the resident llamas, swims. Grab a fishing pole and head back to the river or to one of the farm's stocked ponds or nearby trout streams. Guests stay in two cabins—one that holds up to eight, built from the farm's own cedar; another that sleeps four—and fend for themselves at mealtimes, packing a picnic for an afternoon of spelunking along Vilander Bluffs, and using the barbecue to grill burgers or the fish they've caught. When you've had your fill of the wild, try Carol and Dave's favorite restaurants or wineries, within 20 miles of the farm.
Alas, there's no up-to-date, centralized source for farm vacations across the country, though many B&B groups and states list farms on their Web sites: for a sampling, check out www.mainefarmvacation.com, www.pafarmstay.com, www.visitnewyorkstate.net, and www.cabbi.com. You'll also be happy to escape to these four spots:
MAPLE HILL FARM BED & BREAKFAST INN
Hallowell, Maine; 800/622-2708; www.maplebb.com; doubles from $90, including breakfast; private baths.
An eight-guest-room Victorian farmhouse just outside town, with goats, sheep, llamas, a pony, and a dwarf cow named Lumpy. Restaurants, antiques shops, and a 1,755-acre wildlife preserve nearby.
Avella, Pa.; 877/248-3763 or 724/587-3763, fax 724/587-0125; www.weatherburyfarm.com; doubles $85, kids $10, including breakfast; private baths.
The full barnyard—plus a heated swimming pool, located in a county with 23 covered bridges.
Inn at Celebrity Dairy
Siler City, N.C.; 877/742-5176; www.celebritydairy.com; doubles from $60, suite $120, kids $15, including breakfast; private or shared bath.
A 200-acre goat farm that produces award-winning cheese. Easy to get to from Chapel Hill, Greensboro, or Charlotte.
HIDE AWAY Bed & Breakfast INN
Bucyrus, Ohio; 800/570-8233, fax 419/562-3003; www.hideawayinn.com; doubles from $97, suites from $197, kids $10 (under 7 free), including breakfast; private baths.
Wake up and tend to the pigs, plant corn or soybeans, or make some hay on this 2,300-acre farm, 90 miles southwest of Cleveland.
FARM STAYS ABROAD
An inexpensive, insider's way to see Europe.
The Austrian Farm Holidays Association lists thousands of farm holidays on its Web site, www3.tiscover.com/uab/e/index.html. Call 43-662/880-202, fax 43-662/880-2023, or e-mail email@example.com.
The French Chamber of Agriculture publishes an annual directory, Bienvenue à la Ferme, with farm holidays by region. Available for $14 plus shipping from its Paris office. Fax requests to 33-1/53-57-11-94.
The German Agricultural Society's Web site for tourists, www.landtourismus.de, lists hundreds of farms by region. To contact them, call 49-69/2478-8451, fax 49-69/2478-8480, or e-mail DLGfirstname.lastname@example.org.
The Farm Holiday Bureau features 1,000 farms in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland at www.stayonafarm.co.uk. For a directory, call 44-127/133-6141.
The Irish Farmhouse Holidays Association showcases hundreds of lodgings arranged by county. Order a brochure or make online reservations at www.irishfarmholidays.com, or call 353-61/400-700.
Hundreds of farms are organized by region at www.agriturismo.net.
For a directory of 270 farms, e-mail the Association of Swiss Holiday Farms/Bern at email@example.com, visit its Web site, www.bauernhof-ferien.ch/englisch/index.html, or call 41-31/329-6633.