Paul Harper has been involved in agritourism since before it was cool. This August marks the 9th year of the bed and breakfast at Woodland Ridge Farm and Learning Center. Over those 9 years, Paul Harper has gathered numerous stories, most of them positive and some less-than-positive. The guest house is solar powered with a hot tub and a gorgeous view from the top of a ridge. The farm is also home to pigs, cows, goats, and chickens, all of whom enjoy foraging and grazing in the forests and pastures (and some eventually become the delicious farm raised local meat products that are sold and served on the farm).
When guests visit Woodland Ridge, Paul hopes they will experience and learn about the three legs of the stool that holds up his lifestyle: farm to table food, regenerative agriculture, and farm inspiration.
The first leg, and perhaps the component that city-dwellers are most familiar with, rests on Paul’s belief that people need to be more connected with their food and the farmers that produce it. Whether it’s sitting down for a home-cooked lunch on the farm, harvesting your own salad from the greenhouse or even participating in a “nose-to-tail” workshop where you learn to butcher, process, prepare, and ultimately consume meat from a forest-dwelling heritage pig, there are numerous ways that visitors at Woodland Ridge build a unique connection with their food.
The second leg, regenerative agriculture, focuses on the idea that we should try to imitate nature (or “Mama Nay,” as Paul affectionately calls her). When Paul first bought the land for Woodland Ridge in 1995, it was a junkyard – literally. There were broken down cars filling the field where cattle, pigs, and goats now graze. Additionally, parts of the land had been farmed intensively with corn, draining the soil of nutrients. But, over nearly 30 years, nature’s way has helped regenerate the land and put nutrients back into the soil. As the animals graze, trample, and poop on the land, they transfer carbon into the soil. This process not only improves the quality of the soil, but also helps reduce the amount of carbon in the air, an important piece of the puzzle in reducing the effects of climate change.
The third leg of the stool is what Paul calls “farm inspiration.” Farm inspiration is best explained through Paul’s anecdotes about the guests that come to the farm. Many families come every year and have their own routines on the farm, whether it’s caring for the animals, hunting, or just reflecting and relaxing. Particularly during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when many other businesses were struggling with social distancing and quarantine restrictions, the bed and breakfast at Woodland Ridge had its most successful year ever. People were anxious to get out of the city, but were also limited by travel restrictions and social distancing requirements. What better place to visit than a farm surrounded by natural beauty?
Visiting the farm also allows people to get offline in a time when Zoom is the new way of being. Paul told me about a boy who visited the farm with his family shortly after starting middle school online during the pandemic. He was going through a challenging transition, made all the more difficult by isolation and a subpar learning environment. But at Woodland Ridge, he found satisfaction by taking care of the goats. Every day, he would feed the goats and walk each of them, one by one. That’s the crux of farm inspiration. Paul extends this invitation to anyone with a craving for rural life: “If you don’t have a farm but you want one, adopt us and we’ll be your farm.”
Community Update by ACEnet Fresh and Healthy Foods VISTA, Rachel Brunot.