“The RV and van life industry has been growing every year, with more than 1 million people living in RVs; the lifestyle has become more popular than ever,” according to a late 2020 blog on Explore.com.
A March 17 Washington Post article states: “As more people are planning trips again and getting vaccines to do so safely, ‘normal travel’ may resume later this year. But travel industry insiders are still predicting road trips to be popular, and not just for their utility. People are looking forward to the Great American Road Trip, even as the masses return to flying.”
What does this have to do with agriculture? All these travelers are looking for unique places to stay, and farms have now landed at the top of the lodging list.
There are now 1,885-plus locations in the lower 48, Canada, Alaska and Baja California that belong to a network of wineries, breweries, distilleries and farms called Harvest Hosts that invites road trippers to stay at their on-farm camping sites.
The popular website Hipcamp has 491,510 rural campsites across the country, many of them on farms.
But what’s it like for farmers who sign up to be a farm-stay host?
Crow Vineyard & Winery located in Kennedyville, Md., has 100 head of grass-fed Angus beef, a vineyard and winery, and a farm stay. Six years ago, the Crows joined Harvest Hosts and welcomed campers onto the property. Farmer Judy Crow says, “We get a lot of guests from urban areas that come to enjoy the peace and beauty of a working farm.”
Farmers who work with Harvest Hosts sign up to offer parking sites for RVs on the farm. Joining the site is free, but farmers must consider how many RVs they can park, where that parking will be located, and also how to maximize the guest experience for travelers and themselves since farmers don’t get paid to host. Instead, guests are asked to “kindly support their hosts by purchasing one of their local products with each stay!”
Guests who sign up for Harvest Hosts pay a $99 yearly membership that gives them unlimited access to stay overnight at any of Harvest Hosts' locations. There are requirements and rules that must be met, including the fact that RVs must be totally self-contained when it comes to water, electricity and toilets.
Crow says that hosting guests has been a great experience, and she’s enjoyed some of the families that come by “because some parents are home-schooling children in their RVs now, traveling around learning about geography, science, farming and life. My fondest memories are the children as they are thirsty to know about the animals and the farm operations. It’s also fun for my husband and I to engage with travelers who are so appreciative of our hard work and efforts to sustain the farm. Our energy is restored knowing we are appreciated.”
While Harvest Hosts caters to the RV-only crowd, Hipcamp is the go-to site for tent campers. Hipcamp was started in 2013.
One Hipcamp listing, Hawkwood Farm, sits on 90 acres in the Appalachian Mountains of Maryland. The property, owned by Erin and Angela Aylor, contains a small orchard and vineyard, as well as two separate Hipcamp sites: “Meadowland,” which is in the center of a field with an unobstructed view of the sky, and “Rainbow’s End,” which is alongside a stream next to a quarter-acre spring-fed pond.
“We named that site Rainbow’s End because rainbows actually land there regularly,” Erin Aylor says.
When they first heard of Hipcamp, they decided to give it a try “because the sites were basically already created and maintained.” Erin Aylor adds that “it was easy because Hipcamp carries a hefty insurance policy and manages the communication and scheduling, so it was just a matter of creating the profiles and uploading a few pictures.”
Part of Hipcamp’s appeal to farmers is its user-friendly website for hosts. Creating a host profile page takes minutes to set up. Hosts set their own schedule and block out any dates that they choose, and when guests book, they keep 90% of their earnings from bookings and receive their payments each week through direct deposit.
Hipcamp keeps the remaining 10% of the booking fee, but they also provide support team access to hosts through their website and insurance with a $1 million insurance policy that protects hosts in the event of an accident.
Erin Aylor says the experience thus far has been positive. “People have come from near and far to stay on our property,” she says. “We have had people stay for as little as one night and for as long as two weeks. Bookings have been pretty steady, and it's turned out to be a great source of passive income; we’ve generated more income hosting folks through Hipcamp than we ever did making hay in that field.”
Maryland Farm Bureau recently partnered with Hipcamp to encourage farmers to consider it as a possible source of agritourism income. About half of Hipcamp hosts characterize their land as a farm or ranch. Another third describe their land as a homestead or undeveloped.
Hipcamp and Harvest Hosts are essentially following in the footsteps of international juggernaut Airbnb, which started the home-based host craze back in 2008. The only difference is that Airbnb requires lodging provided by the host.
Searching the options on the Airbnb site can be enlightening. Farmers have gotten creative with their overnight accommodations, including yurts, teepees, renovated Airstreams, barns and other unique structures, along with traditional farmhouses, cabins and tiny homes.
So, if reading this article has sparked your interest in possibly becoming a farm-stay host, here’s some things to consider in your research:
- Does your local zoning or permitting ordinances allow you to have guests overnight on your property?
- What is your site best suited for? Tent camping, RVs or permanent structures?
- Do you enjoy interacting with people?
- Do you have the proper insurance? Some of these host companies cover that, but check just in case.
When asked what advice she would give to a farmer who’s looking to add a farm stay to their property, Judy Crow says, “Having guests on your home property can be invigorating as well as stressful. Clearly defined rules and guidelines about where folks are staying, what they’re allowed to do on the farm and where they are allowed to roam is really important.”
Watson-Hampton farms with her family on their fourth-generation family farm in Brandywine, Md.