Courtesy Sycamore Valley Farm
Sycamore Valley Farm
The sweet smell of hay, the steady drone of tractors, the taste of oven-fresh bread slathered with sweet butter, and the vastness of the sky on star-studded nights. Ah, the country. In an age of Blackberrys and iPhones, many Americans yearn to escape from 24/7 connectedness and frenzied multitasking to return to the simple charms of country living.
Working farms across Missouri are meeting the demand for a rural getaway by opening their homes as bed-and-breakfasts, offering farm stays where visitors can get a glimpse of farm life, pitch in with chores as much or as little as they please, explore the area, and simply sit back and relax in idyllic bliss.
Since 1994, Matt and Tina Reichert, owners of Sycamore Valley Farm located in Brunswick in north-central Missouri, have welcomed visitors to their year-round, on-farm bed-and-breakfast. Visitors can participate in a variety of activities on the 440-acre farm, from fishing to hayrides, crafts, and more.
Matt is a fourth-generation farmer, and guests can help him and his twelve-year-old son, Gabriel, with their intensive grazing operation when they move ninety head of cattle from one pasture to another. The Reicherts also raise row crops on one hundred acres, which means folks can climb aboard the tractor for some real-life John Deere action.
Crisp winter days are perfect for splitting and stacking wood, then warming up around an outdoor fire, made picture-perfect with roasted marshmallows and hot cocoa.
In the kitchen, Tina teaches old-fashioned homemaking skills like churning butter and making soap, and she takes all the help she can get tending the vegetable garden and putting up salsas, jams, and other canned goods. These activities, in combination with comfy private guest lodgings and a hot, gourmet breakfast, add up to an exceptional rural experience.
Children, especially, create life-long memories from a visit to Sycamore Valley Farm. They scramble to play with the Reicherts’ youngest son, Gabriel, who joins his new playmates in some quintessential farm-fun like building hay forts, going on hayrides, and roasting wieners. He gladly leads them to the pond that the Reicherts refer to as “Ye olde swimming hole,” whereupon eyes widen at the sight of a real-life rope swing.
“Our son was enthralled with the farm,” says Bill Barrett of St. Louis, who stayed with his wife and son, Gavin, at Sycamore Valley Farm. Nine-year-old Gavin calls it “better than a hotel.”
Matt and Jocelyn Barnes of University City plan holidays that are “different, exciting, and educational” for their sons, ages nine and five.
The family has rented an RV to trek to the Grand Canyon, vacationed at beaches, and stayed on a dude ranch. They chose to stay at Sycamore Valley Farm because Matt Barnes has fond memories of visiting a family farm in Tennessee as a boy.
When the Barnes family visited Sycamore Valley, they noticed marked differences from their daily life.
“We live in the inner suburbs of St. Louis, which by its very nature, is different. The entire landscape there is rural,” Matt says. “The boys could go outdoors without being monitored by us. And they got to see where food began as opposed to saying, ‘all eggs come from the grocery store.’ ”
Guests at Sycamore Valley can gather eggs from the hens on the farm. In the summer, cow chores are pretty easy since the cows just eat grass, but in the winter, visitors can accompany the Reicherts to feed the cattle hay. Agritourism, the practice of touring agricultural areas to see farms and often participate in farm activities, is a growing trend throughout the United States. According to USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service census data, in 2002, the income from farm-related sources that offered agritourism and recreational services was $174 million.
In 2007, it more than tripled to a whopping $546 million. The unconventional aspect of this type of tourism—gathering eggs, feeding barnyard animals, baking bread—is what makes a farm stay so appealing to adults who want to get back to their roots and share the experience with their children.
Not that long ago, Sycamore Valley Farm was one of the only farms in Missouri that offered overnight accommodations as well as an interpretative agricultural experience.
The state has seen an increase in such venues in the last few years and in agritourism as a whole.
“Four years ago, we only had two places listed. Now there are six,” says Sarah Gehring, member services coordinator for AgriMissouri, a program that works to promote Missouri food manufacturers, farmers, producers, agritourism businesses and farmers’ markets within the Missouri Department of Agriculture.
Tina says that her family has experienced some economic gain by supplementing their farm business with the bed-and-breakfast enterprise. “It does meet the needs of maintaining the house. There are some things we were able to do for our farm and our home that we would not have been able to do otherwise.”
The Reicherts didn’t set out to be a rural alternative to commercial lodging. They remodeled their two-story centennial home to accommodate Matt’s ailing mother, adding a two-bedroom handicapped accessible suite in the basement, complete with full kitchen, living room, and a laundry room. Then came the Flood of ‘93, and Tina and Matt, along with their five children, opened their home to two families who fell victim to the Missouri River flood.
Afterward, they decided to continue hosting overnight guests by going into business as working farm innkeepers. The Reicherts have hosted hundreds of visitors from throughout the United States and abroad—Egypt, France, Korea, Saudi Arabia, Spain, and Thailand— and have yet to be disappointed.
“We just love everybody we’ve had. We’ve had no bad experiences,” Tina says. Neither have their guests. Boon Ping, Vernon Loke, and their two sons Jonathan and Benjamin, ages nine and six, from St. Louis relished their getaway from urbanity to partake in some old-fashioned fun on the farm. Highlights ranged “from digging for potatoes and a worm or two to going on a hayride and getting ‘chased’ by cows—they were hot on our heels, being moved to greener pastures to graze—to a walk-through of the peach preserving process and participating in the ‘butter-shaking’ dance,” to get the cream to separate from raw milk, Boon Ping says.
Sycamore Valley Farm is tucked away among rolling hills, a few miles outside of downtown Brunswick and the confluence of the Grand and Missouri rivers. Brunswick has a population of less than one thousand and not a single stoplight. Despite its remote location, the Reichert farm sees a steady stream of guests.
Brunswick is known as “The Pecan Capital of Missouri,” hosting the annual Pecan Festival in October, and history buffs stop at the local Lewis and Clark campsite and the General Sterling Price Museum in nearby Keytesville, where military artifacts and period furnishings are on display.
Mainly, though, people come to Sycamore Valley to get away. The Reicherts’ guest book is filled with handwritten comments thanking them for their hospitality and country charm.
“We appreciate your opening your home and your lives to us so that we could experience a little of what it’s like to live away from the crowded city. Your gourmet breakfasts will be long-remembered too,” wrote Liz and Brady Myers from Linena, Kansas, reminiscent for Tina’s asparagus quiche, fresh homemade sweet bread, and local pork sausage.
Matt thinks that guests opt to stay with them because people want to make relationships.
“People are looking for social connections,” he says. “We get to meet a lot of different people, and everyone has a story,” adds the Reichert’s nineteen-year-old daughter, Kaitlynn.
Among the more memorable guests have been those who just showed up at the door. “A couple drove down from Iowa. They came unannounced; they wanted an agricultural experience,” Tina says. They were gladly housed for the night.
Visit www.sycamorevalleyfarm.com or call 660-548-3283 for more information. Visit www.agrimissouri.com for more information on agritourism.