A group of us wandered the rows of fruit trees, feasting on the beauty of the crisp green land under our feet and the deep blues of Mount Hood and surrounding vistas standing strong in the distance. Surrounded by the land’s bounty, with the everyday sounds of traffic and town in the distance, there was a collective feeling of presence and tranquility. When Katrina McAlexander, owner and operator of Mt. View Orchards welcomed us to her family property, she did so with pride. For more than 100 years, McAlexander’s family has been farming this area, located north of Mount Hood in Parkdale, Oregon.
A multi-generational farmer, McAlexander has found a way to seamlessly weave sustainable farming and hospitality into her businesses—a practice called agritourism that farmers are adopting as small family farms decline and people become more detached from their food source. “We’re so small, so we thought, ‘We could grow crops at a loss every year, and lose our farm, or we could use this opportunity to try something else and be creative,’” said McAlexander. She and her family decided to go all in.
The agritourism concept has ramped up in popularity over the past decade, offering visitors a unique way to hear the stories of farmers, growers, and ranchers from a perspective most don’t know, even though many are only a few generations removed from their own agricultural heritage. The immersive experience of visiting a farm or ranch offers valuable insight into food cultivation, ideas on how to contribute to protecting the land that produces food, and fosters a deep appreciation for the hard work required to run and maintain a farm. Plus, it’s almost guaranteed to end with a sampling of delicious food and spirits. The agritourism movement is opening the door to a variety of ways to connect to and support local farms, ranches and the dedicated people working the land.
Tasting Rooms Drinking and dining on a farm offers a chance for guests to connect to the places where their food comes from. “People feel a real connection to our land. Our farm is kind of their farm,” said McAlexander. On-site tasting rooms offer farmers the chance to tell guests about the meal or libation they are enjoying. “People can follow along with the farm story,” she said. “I share a lot about our story, including the ups and downs—we try not to sugarcoat the challenges.”
Like many tasting rooms, Grateful Vineyard, Golden Row Cider, and Mt. View Brewing, all located on Mt. View Orchards’ property, are available for guests to experience year-round. While sipping on the farm-to-glass wine, cider or beer, guests can also indulge in hand-made pizza with seasonal toppings, such as the orchard’s pears. “We’re trying to grow food and create these gathering spaces on our farm for the community to come and be restored and catch their breath from the busyness of life.” See mtvieworchards.com.
Farm Loops & Food Trails
Maps labeled with farms, markets, eateries, wineries and breweries along easy-to-follow routes allow visitors to explore the many regional producers on a self-guided tour. Stays along the way allow guests the ability to enjoy the self-guided tour at any pace.
With its wide open topography, Eastern Oregon offers six food trails to explore, including the River to Hills Farm Trail and Whisky & Rocks Loop Trail. Tasting rooms, botanical gardens, farm stores and the SAGE (Sustainable Agriculture and Energy) Center are some of the stops to experience along the way. Karie Walchli, Umatilla and Morrow Counties tourism coordinator, said many businesses along the trail have added an educational component to the tour to help guests learn about where their food comes from. “By inquiring about the farm, produce, and operations, guests learn the efforts our farmers put into the land and about the sustainability practices we are passionate about implementing, because a lot of us have children who will be working the farms one day,” said Walchli. “You get to see firsthand the farmer’s love of the land.” See visiteasternoregon.com.
photo by: Mt. View Orchards
Farm and Ranch Stays
One way to truly be immersed in the rural lifestyle of a farmer or rancher is by staying overnight on the land. Guests are invited to unwind or participate in the daily activities of farm life, such as milking cows, harvesting fruit and driving cattle. For example, at the Inn at Wild Rabbit Farms, owner and operator Allison Newhouse said guests can’t get enough of bottle-feeding their baby goats. The private guest house is set among farmland and orchards in Milton-Freewater, Oregon. It offers a pastoral place to view the Blue Mountains and find respite and serves as a convenient launching point for activities in the renowned Walla Walla wine country.
“It’s so nice meeting people and learning their background and why the farm is so special to them,” said Newhouse. “It usually brings up a nostalgia for someone who had a farm in their past.” Farm stays, which range from rustic tents to luxury lodging, give time for guests to learn the history and story of farmers and ranchers in an unhurried and natural setting. The extra time allows guests and farmers to build connections and understand one another. See visiteasternoregon.com/poi/the-inn-at-wild-rabbit-farms.
On a shorter trip, travelers can experience all the bounty of a region by visiting a farmers market. Markets are a hub to find many local farmers in one place, said Jaimie Griffin, executive director of Rogue Valley Makers and Crafters Market in southern Oregon. “It’s easy to learn more about what the valley has to offer and support local businesses when you can come to a place and find multiple vendors.”
The Rogue Valley farms produce a wide array of lettuces, squashes, fruits and berries; experience them year-round at the numerous seasonal markets held in Ashland and Medford. Visitors can also taste the fresh produce at the market, where food trucks source ingredients straight from the vendors. In addition to produce, “You’ll see quite an array of crafting items, but they’re all locally sourced and made,” said Griffin. “Jewelry vendors will source local stones and materials; our pottery vendors will source local clay; our body care vendors will often forage for their materials that go into the care items.” Farmers markets are also a great place to inquire farmers about what agritourism experiences they offer on their land. See rvgrowersmarket.com.
The list of agritourism opportunities doesn’t stop here. U-picks, farm stands, pumpkin patches and dude ranches are just a few more opportunities for travelers seeking connection to the land.
Katryna Vecella is associate publisher at Oregon Media. Her work as a journalist has appeared in travel magazines and while originally from Missouri, she currently enjoys writing about her experiences in the Pacific Northwest.
Photo By: Smith Rock Ranch
Photo by: Natalia Duryagina