Lisa Meyers McClintick, travel writer & photographer

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Take the kids on a farm stay vacation

Mary Veraguth helps our girls collect fresh eggs for breakfast.
Story & Photos by Lisa Meyers McClintick

Join in with farm chores and fun at Wisconsin's Room to Roam
Want to hear your kids shriek with joy? Let them run loose at Room to Roam, a working farm perched along the picturesque Mississippi River bluffs near Fountain City, Wis. 

Katie and her favorite kitty.
You can wear them out the old-fashioned way: chasing chickens, scampering after farm cats and dogs, weeding and raiding the garden, picking berries and giving goats a fresh green stalk of corn.
We enjoyed their down-home hospitality on our son's 8th birthday a few years ago. It was one of our most memorable trips ever. In an era of waterparks and fancy resorts, it's easy to forget the freedom and magic of a simple place in the country.

Farm expands to haycation fun
Guests are free to do what they want, but some are up at 5 a.m. when farm kitchen’s bird clock chirps and announces the day’s first milking. They can head down the dirt road to owner Jess and Mary Veraguth’s farm, where they milk about 50 cows, four at a time for two to three hours. 
Jess shows us how to feed calves.
Veraguths have farmed on this land above the Mississippi River Valley for four generations. When they expanded to 300 acres about 15 years ago, they opened the adjacent farmhouse to guests. It became the Room to Roam experience, which bales together a field trip, farmer’s market and country vacation.
Step back in time
The guest house feels like a time warp with crocheted knick-knacks and bright flowered wallpaper in the kitchen. And it wasn't just the farm-inspired fun that made them shriek. The house's crickets did, too--the one part of country life that rattled our city kids. They wouldn't sleep on the floor, so they passed out in a pile of three on the bed.
Piled together, safe from crickets.
After morning chores and a break for breakfast, Jess Veraguth takes guests on a hayride, bumping through the fields past lush stalks of corn to the edge of the bluff and a breathtaking view of the river valley. It’s only a few minute’s drive to Winona, Minn., or the small town of Fountain City where you can grab an ice cream cone and enjoy meandering along the Mississippi.


Feed calves, collect freshly laid eggs
When evening rolls around, families hold on to two-quart bottles of milk that hungry calves greedily empty in minutes. Then it’s time to collect a bucket of eggs from Black Star hens. 
We loved the brilliant yellow eggs for breakfast.

Guests are welcome to raid the garden, too. Our girls would eat the sun-warmed tomatoes like apples while our son climbed the super-sized round bales of hay.

The peaceful country setting and heavy dose of nostalgia keeps several families coming back regularly. For others, the farm offers a rare chance for kids to roam free, feel connected to the land and to learn about farming in an era when the county’s number of dairy farms has dwindled from 50 to a handful.
“I do this for the kids,” says Jess Veraguth. “The things we’re doing now are almost part of the past. This is like a trip back in time.”

Room to Roam's guest house.
Read more about it
 For more information, you can call Jess and Mary at 608-687-8575. No e-mail. Remember, they do things the old-fashioned way.
You can also watch KARE-11's recent Gopher Getaway on the farm or go to Farmstays.us.com for more information. If you want a farm experience for your family, read the entries at Farmstays.us.com carefully. Many places run more like a B&B and do not allow kids under 12.

Ingalls Homestead in DeSmet, SD, has onsite camping
More farm vacation experiences for families
South Dakota also has two excellent farm experiences for families. The bonus? They let kids follow in the footsteps of Laura Ingalls Wilder.
You'll need to be a camping family or game for sleeping in converted sheep wagons at the Ingalls Homestead in DeSmet, S.D. Sleeping in the wagons are on my wish list, especially with the gorgeous wide-open prairie views. You could see a storm roll in for miles or watch a fabulous sunset. 

Sisters get in the spirit of DeSmet's Wilder Pageant.
Little House on the Prairie
Of course, you don't have to spend the night to enjoy this magical place. It's open all day to visitors who come to see the horses and colts, ride in a horse-drawn buggy, see a sod house, play with kittens and visit a one-room schoolhouse. There are more Laura Ingalls Wilder sites in town, along with two B&Bs. Prairie House Manor B&B does a delightful job with children, even making special pancakes from "Little House in the Big Woods."

Camp in a wagon at the Homestead.
For a non-camping farm experience, it's about 25 miles to Possibility Farm B&B in Carpenter, South Dakota. It has many of the same experiences as Room to Roam, but it's more of a ranch atmosphere. 

If you're looking for more inspiration for hands-on, unique "Trips You'll Talk About," check out the feature in Midwest Living.

2 comments:

  1. This was like watching the TV show "House on the Prairie" again and the pictures are so cute. Looks like a great history and fun lesson for the kids, thanks for sharing. Janet in Wisconsin

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  2. Not sure how we missed this wonderful description of a farm stay, from the milking to the crickets! Thanks for creating such a visual story-log of your experience, and thanks for including Farm Stay U.S. as a resource for farm and ranch stays in all 50 states. We farm stay operators rely on people like you to talk about the experience from a guest perspective. Thank you!

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