Scottie Jones is co-owner with her husband Greg of Leaping Lamb Farm and Farm Stay and the founder and executive director of Farm Stay USA. Even though she is currently in transition with hiring new farm managers, she made the time to meet with me and tell me a bit about her 20-year journey on a small-scale farm, her passion for farm stays, and tips on how to make it in the farming and farm stay industry.
Before becoming farmers, they lived in the suburbs and worked white collar jobs – Scottie in marketing and Greg with a psychology practice. A near-fatal car accident was the catalyst for rethinking their lives and deciding to move to a farmhouse on 60 acres in Oregon, to be closer to nature and each other. Scottie doesn’t sugar coat the early years of their farm experience. “We were romantically deluded about what we thought the farm could do and what it would pay for, and it didn’t pay for anything!” She wrote a book, which she refers to as a cautionary tale about the first 5 years of their farming life called Country Grit: A Farmoir of Finding Purpose and Love.
While Greg continued to work off the farm as a professor in psychology, Scottie hit on the idea of diversifying their income with a farm stay, a concept she had encountered when living in Europe. Farm vacations are popular around the world but are a relatively new concept for most Americans. However, as more people are working in the technology sector and urbanization is increasing, the desire to reconnect with the land and nature also grows. Scottie says that most of her guests come from Portland, Seattle, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, and many of them work in the tech industry. A chance to get out from behind the screens and pet a donkey, watch new lambs frolic in spring grass, and pull some carrots out of the ground is a refreshing vacation option.
When I asked what sort of qualities a new farmer should have, she said it is important to have a good business mind and to understand the market. Being realistic about the numbers and the lifestyle is critical in getting past the first 1-2 years when most novice farmers throw in the towel. When it comes to farm stays, being friendly, open, and enjoying educating the public about farm life is important. “I love my guests,” Scottie said, “They ask really good questions. It’s a place where their kids can run free, we can introduce them to what we do and to our livestock. They are very interesting people, and very respectful.”
In 2010, Scottie started the first and only farm stay organization in the USA that offers accreditation for farms and an online platform to connect farmers and vacationers. The website now features over 240 working farms with accommodations for visitors, from glamping in wine country on a horse ranch to gathering eggs on a family farm in the Ozark mountains.
Looking back at her own journey and reflecting on new farmers just starting out, Scottie smiled, “You do have to be a little romantically deluded, honestly.”
And perhaps, just perhaps, that is the way all great stories begin.