After years of entertaining relatives on her 25-acre farm in Fauquier County, Karla Seidita felt confident that the country air, home cooking and laid-back atmosphere that had long rejuvenated her loved ones would appeal to the general public as well.
Seidita opened the Bed, Barn & Breakfast at Cheesecake Farms about a year ago, and now offers the farm-stay experience for a living. She serves up homemade country cuisine made with local ingredients – many of them grown on site.
Visitors can work in the farm’s gardens, visit three horses, take a cooking class taught by Seidita – a retired commercial baker – pan for gold in a lazy stream running through the property, visit nearby Civil War battlefields and wineries, or simply enjoy the peace and quiet.
Guests will not, however, find TVs, Internet connections or even phones in their rooms.
Instead, Seidita says she wants people to “experience the simple elegance of everyday farm life.”
“Guests come here and they’re all wound up and they don’t even realize it,” she says. “It’s just incredible what a couple days of relaxation with good food and fresh air can do for someone.”
Seidita is one of many farm owners who use agricultural tourism – or agritourism – to connect their love of agriculture with a business educating and catering to consumers.
People have long sought out Virginia’s vineyards for a glimpse of grapes growing on the vine and insight into the winemaking process. In recent years, state leaders have made promotion of the wine industry a top priority.
But a variety of other agritourism ventures exist, including farm tours, farm and forestry museums and historical sites, pick-your-own farms and orchards, farmers markets, food festivals, sites for farm weddings, Christmas tree farms, pumpkin patches and microbreweries, according to the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
Patty Leonard and her family found their niche offering group and school tours of their working dairy farm in Midland.
The Leonards began Cows-N-Corn, an educational farm experience, in 2001 on their Al-Mara Farm, which has been in the family since the 1930s and producing dairy products since 1954.
Visitors can take a narrated hayride through the dairy farm, get up-close views of the cows, do hands-on activities such as making butter or planting seeds and try to navigate their way through a corn maze in the fall.
During October, the Leonards open up another of their family farms in Warrenton for haunted hayrides and spooky walks through old, abandoned sites.
Cows-N-Corn also hosts birthday parties, family reunions, company picnics and team-building events.
Many visitors come from the northern Virginia and Washington D.C., areas and want to know more about where their food comes from and how it is grown as the “buy local” movement continues to gain traction nationwide, Leonard says.
“No longer does everyone go home in the summertime to visit grandma and grandpa on the farm,” she says. “They want to come out and actually see for themselves how it works.”