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This New Mexico Family Experienced A First-Time Farm Stay

Written by Tiphini Axtell (follow @the_axplorers on Instagram)

What exactly is a farm stay?

When my husband and I started planning a two-week road trip through Northern California and Southern Oregon, we’d never heard the term Farm Stay. We knew we wanted to take our four children through one of our most beloved little towns, Ashland, OR, on our way to Crater Lake National Park. The idea of staying on a solar-powered goat farm in the high country thirty minutes outside of the town itself was a bit of a slow evolution. After stumbling upon an article, I learned it was an actual thing for working farms and ranches to offer accommodations on the property. After a quick Google search, I found our new destination outside of Ashland. With various lodging options and promises of views, farm animals, opportunities to assist in actual chores, and access to fresh goat’s milk and meat, Willow-Witt Ranch seemed like the ideal place to introduce our family to life on the farm.

Discovering Willow Witt Ranch

Nestled in a verdant valley of the Southern Oregon Cascades Mountain Range, Willow-Witt is more than just a working ranch: it’s one of Southern Oregon’s premier agritourism destinations. Owners Suzanne Willow and Lanita Witt first stumbled on the farm when looking to relocate to Ashland, OR with their young daughter. They purchased the land in 1985, hoping to restore the over-harvested forests and eroded wetlands. They fenced out the cows who had grazed and damaged the area for over 150 years and set to work.

Their hard work has yielded a complete restoration of the valley and surrounding forests, wetlands, and water sources. These restoration efforts have created an absolute sanctuary for the area’s wildlife, even attracting new species of birds and Western Pond turtles to this little slice of heaven. Over the years, Suzanne and Lanita have realized their dream of sharing the land with others by creating a family-friendly farm-stay and agritourism destination in Southern Oregon.

The revitalized farm is now a thriving, working ranch home to goats, pigs, chickens, geese, and livestock guardian dogs. Based on a belief in organic sustainability, this off-grid ranch operates on solar power and a micro-hydro system. The goat meat and milk they produce from the farm sell at the Ashland farmers market alongside the fresh vegetables they grow on-site. Folks can visit the farm for the day for self-guided tours, or they can do what we did and make reservations for a farm stay.

Arriving at the farm

When we arrived at the gates of Willow-Witt, we weren’t sure what to expect. What does a farm-stay entail? Would we get bored out of nowhere? Would we wish we’d stayed in Ashland? All sorts of questions swirled in my mind.

Any concerns we held quickly dissolved as the large farm dogs greeted us outside the farm studio. Gentle yet curious, they nosed their way under our hands for a pet, then looped back to their work after a quick hello. We could hear the sound of the goats, their barn just yards away from our lodging for the next few nights.

After dropping our bags in the quaint Farm Studio (and discovering a jug of fresh goat milk and some farm-fresh eggs), we followed the kids to the goat pens. The farm hands came over to explain that we were welcome to enter the pen with the young goats anytime, as long as one of us parents accompanied our children. She showed us how best to interact with the curious goats, and seconds after entering their pen, I looked over to find my daughter: both hands out to either side, petting two different goats while another one nibbled the edge of her shirt.

Learning the ins and outs of farm life

Included with our stay were a farm tour and the promise of helping feed animals, collect eggs, and pick veggies in the garden (both of which are available for purchase). On our first morning there, we joined the farm tour, where farm workers promised we would get our hands dirty. Our children delighted in the warm feel of fresh eggs while collecting baskets full in the chicken house.

My husband had a bit of a fail while feeding the pigs when he unwittingly dumped the bucket of slop right onto the back of a sow. None of her counterparts wasted a moment before swarming her and eating their meal right off her back. My oldest son was particularly fond of watching the tractor move grains in the barn, the driver stopping and explaining the process to him.

It was undoubtedly for naught if we were afraid of being bored during our stay. Having traveled to the area primarily to visit Ashland, we surprised ourselves with how little we wanted to leave the property. After visiting friends in town, we quickly beelined back to the ranch and the goat pens, where we spent most of our time laughing with the animals.

Farm stay accommodation options at Willow Witt Ranch

The studio is attached to the owners’ home and features a kitchen, a loft with two queen beds, and a living room downstairs with a double pull-out sofa. Outside our room was a lovely patio table with chairs where we sat every evening to take in the light while eating our dinner. Having picked the Farm Studio for our lodging based on its proximity to the goats and the garden, we also enjoyed venturing out to explore the rest of the property.

Down the road, sitting atop a lovely green knoll, we found the Meadow House. The two-story home, complete with a wrap-around porch, looks out over both meadows and mountains. The Meadow House sleeps ten total bedrooms in 3 bedrooms. This would be great for accommodating large families or for multi-generational travel.

A path leading to the campground brought us face-to-face with most farm-stay visitors. The camping area consisted of a few well-furnished walled platform tents and a forested area for folks who brought their camping gear. At the center of the campground was a communal cookhouse, where we found several families preparing their dinner. We even ran into a family from the same town where we live, back in New Mexico. The campground area also houses a wheel-chair accessible bathroom. The bathhouse has indoor/outdoor showers with hot water on tap.

Things to do at Willow Witt and nearby attractions

Beyond the lodging and farm activities, Willow Witt also offers birdwatching and hiking opportunities. Bordered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land and boasting the meadows and forests Lanita and Suzanne worked so hard to restore, the property was just begging us to hike it. Under the boughs of old-growth forest, we trekked along for several miles until we came to an outlook with vistas that included a glimpse of Grizzly Peak. The ranch could also arrange for a hike with the assistance of the pack mules, who can carry weights anywhere between 30-65lbs. Farmhands told us that the mules once took a barrel of whiskey to the venue for a wedding held on the farm.

For those looking for fishing or water activities, several lakes are nearby, including Emigrant Lake, Lake of the Woods, and Fish Lake. Or, you could do as we did and break up our relaxing time on the farm with a jet boat tour adventure on the Rouge River, approximately an hour away from the ranch. Or, if you’re looking to visit the state’s only National Park, you can make a day trip to Crater Lake National Park, just about two hours away. We chose to make nearby Crater Lake our next destination after leaving the farm. We didn’t want to take away too much of our time enjoying all the grounds Willow-Witt had to offer. 

Our family’s thoughts on doing a farm stay

When our visit ended, we were sad to say goodbye to the farm, the owners, their farmhands, and the animals we had befriended during our stay. It was such a gift to immerse ourselves in the going-ons of a working farm, particularly one so committed to the sustainability and health of the land it occupies. For children and families, the agritourism opportunities afforded by places like Willow-Witt have a lasting effect on how we view and understand where our food comes from and instills in folks the importance of being stewards of the land. The memories we made during our time at Willow-Witt have become a part of our family’s stories. We cannot wait to return!

Since we visited Willow Witt, one of the owners, Lanita, has sadly passed away. Our condolences go out to Suzanne and the farmhands. You are in our thoughts.

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