Everyone’s been talking about Feather Down Farms Days, a farm-stay–style vacation (without the manual labor) not too far from New York City. You stay in “plush-rustic” Dutch-designed tents that sleep up to six, have their own flushing toilets, and have open kitchens where you cook their own meals using whatever the host farm grows or raises. It costs $189-239 per night, depending on the month and day of the week.
New York Magazine glorified it as “a locavore safari, where you’ll drift to sleep beside a gently babbling brook.” Professional foodies and travel writers have begun declaring the CSA-style vacation as the next big lodging concept. And Melisse and Alexia drew straws as to who’d go. Alexia won. Or did she? Turns out Feather Down is not entirely ready for city folk. And not just because there’s no turn-down service.
Feather Down stays are all the rage in Europe. The Holland-based company pitches tents on working farms, which then act as hotel management, provisions provider, and the activities concierge. Currently three farms—two in New York State and one in Illinois—are participating. The incentive for farmers is an additional revenue source and the chance to educate people about farming.
Ambrosia Farms in Bridgewater is near Oneonta (a four-hour drive from NYC), and Stony Creek Farm is in Walton (Delaware County) is a three hour drive. Feather Down’s main office in Texas promised us more spectacular scenery and culinary superiority, if we drove the extra hour to Bridgewater. They were only kinda right.
When our farmer host Gene DeBar pulled back the tent flaps, there was a genuine “Wow!” moment. The two-bedroom aluminum-frame tents are every bit as comfy and whimsical as the marketing pictures here suggest. (And that night’s windy rain storm proved they’re also solid.) The tents have plumbing—the toilet flushes and there’s cold running water—but no electricity. My fantasy of living by Kerosene lamplight quickly dimmed. I found myself squinting for two days straight; the tent was dark even by day. Feather Down provides two Kerosene lamps and a bunch of tea lights, and we brought a Petzl climbing headlamp. Even still I found myself groping for things all weekend. At night mosquitoes and other stinging insects were unfortunate bed mates. Better quality double-size bedding is a necessity. Worn sheets and a somewhat grubby blanket made me glad I couldn’t see everything.
Gene and Nina DeBar, the couple who run Ambrosia Farms, raise goats, cows, chickens, and ducks. They have a garden filled with exotic lettuce and were in the middle of planting 5,000 tomatoes during our visit. The concept behind the Farm Days is that the farmers set up an Honesty Shop where you help yourself to their farm-raised produce, eggs, milk, and meats and then pay at the end of your stay. But during our stay the Honesty Shop was only stocked with packaged foods, not farm-fresh goodies. (That’s supposed to change this weekend.) Our farm-to-table fantasy finds better fodder in Cobble Hill, we quickly discovered. The welcome dinner (an option at Ambrosia Farms, but not at Stony Creek) was a delicious eggplant parmesan. Nina’s a truly fabulous cook, but not a particularly seasonal one. I suggested we have some greens, and I got to snip lettuce and mustard greens. They provided eggs from their henhouse which we cooked in our tent the next morning. The second night the DeBars made a huge Italian feast of flatbread pizzas cooked in their backyard wood-burning oven. Even fans of Franny’s would be impressed. What was missing? Fresh-picked arugula picked in season a few steps away.
The DeBars are eager and obliging hosts, though as hospitality newbies there were some Fawlty Towers moments like scrambling to find working Kerosene lamps at the beginning of our stay. Gene indulged our toddler with multiple tractor-pulled hayrides along the farm’s bridal paths. Because we were traveling with a young child, we definitely relied more on our hosts so there was some of the B&B social awkwardness. Self-sufficient guests able to do all their own cooking and hole up for the weekend will probably have a better back-to-the-land experience than we did.
Who Feather Down’s a fit for:
Couples who want to hibernate for a romantic weekend and can rejoice in the fact that making coffee takes 30 minutes from the time you light your wood-burning stove. Also, families with children old enough to hike, canoe, bike ride, and participate in farm chores will have a blast. All of those activities are easy to do at or near the farm.
Who Feather Down is not a fit for:
Families with toddlers and babies. The tents provide myriad ways for the under 3 set to hurt themselves and require constant parental vigilance.
Feather Down Farm Days, www.featherdown.com.