Oct 15, 2020
Farm stays have become a new, albeit, unconventional growth opportunity for a number of farms up and down the Hudson Valley region.
Farm stays have become a new, albeit, unconventional growth opportunity for a number of farms up and down the Hudson Valley region. At Otter Creek Farm in Johnsonville, New York, the unconventional couple of fifth generation farmer Brad Wiley and free spirited agribusiness professional Elizabeth Collins host Graceful Acres Farmstay.
With help from HVADC’s Incubator Without Walls program Wiley and Collins were able to create sound business plans for the old farm of Otter Creek and the tent-based Graceful Acres Airbnb operation. Now, even through the COVID-19 pandemic, business at Graceful Acres is flourishing. Its two large canvas tents exemplify the best in “glamping.” Each is seated on a raised platform and features a wood stove, and nearby composting toilet and solar shower. The bucolic plots are separated from each other and surrounded by plenty of fresh air, providing the perfect socially distant getaway for vacationers looking to put the worries of the world behind them and get back to nature, even if just for a weekend. Meals and tours of the farm can also be provided to create an experiential stay.
The storied Otter Creek Farm is located on 440 acres near the Tomhannock Reservoir in Rensselaer County. There are 200 tillable, 100 pasture and 140 wooded acres on a mixture of prime and statewide importance soils. The Wiley family has farmed in the town of Pittstown since the early 1790s and has owned Otter Creek Farm since 1882. Brad Wiley grew up on Otter Creek Farm with his grandparents, parents, and sister. The farm operated as a conventional dairy since 1937. In February of 2018, the dairy herd was sold.
The future of the farm was uncertain after the cows were sold, however about that time Wiley and Collins coupled up and then teamed up. “The easiest solution would have been to just rent out the farm to another dairy,” said Collins. “But that would have just been about planning for today and tomorrow, not the future.” Originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, Collins came to New York by way of Lexington, Kentucky. She worked jobs raising and caring for horses and held positions with organizations such as Adirondack Grazers where she first learned about HVADC and other programs that deepened her desire to create a life for herself around farming and food production.
“I took a course in holistic management and that reframed my thinking about farming and life,” Collins said. “I wanted to combine our resources to create the best possible scenario. What’s happening on the farm now has been brewing for a long time and it’s wonderful.”
Collins’ enthusiasm to revitalize the farm was palpable but still required some technical business assistance. HVADC was happy to put the pair in contact with longtime HVADC consultant and financial advisor Brian Zweig, who helped map out a way forward for the old farm and the new farm stay. “The modern economy has created a lot of challenges for farms like Otter Creek’s dairy. But with a little outside the box thinking there are also new opportunities, like creating a farmstay,” said HVADC Deputy Director Mary Ann Johnson. “Elizabeth and Brad now get to give visitors a taste of the life that makes farming in the region so special.”
Currently, the farm raises a variety of pastured animals that include: meat chickens, egg laying chickens, pigs, grass-fed cows and turkeys. There is also an eight acre chestnut tree orchard owned and managed by Russ Wallack of Bread Tree Farm. Collins is happy to provide farm information and interactions with guests as well as farm-fresh meals upon request. The farm stay began with one tent and then expanded in 2020 to two sites. Both were near full occupancy for the 2020 season. It is located an hour south of the Adirondack State Park and within 35 minutes of Saratoga Springs, Albany, Troy, and Bennington, Vermont.
Clearly a farm stay operation may not be suitable for every farm, but for those with an open mind, open land, and a host even half as outgoing as Elizabeth Collins, the option is there and viable. With some hard years now behind them, there’s a lot growing at Otter Creek Farm, thanks to the Graceful Acres Farmstay.
Find out more about the Farmstay at their Airbnb page, and it also appears on Hip Camp. For more information about how HVADC helps farms and food producers through Incubator Without Walls, visit https://www.hvadc.org/incubator-without-walls