Awakeri farmer Viv Barr runs a farm stay on her runoff, and is encouraging others to do the same.
Viv says her farm stay allows guests to see what life on a New Zealand farm is like, which may help bust public misconceptions about the sector.
“So few New Zealanders have a direct link to a farm these days, so have little idea what actually happens,” says Viv.
“Providing accommodation on the farm gives people a taste of something they may not have experienced before, and offers people a different perspective.
“There has been a lot of negativity towards the farming industry. The only reprieve we got was during the first Covid-19 lockdown, when people saw us as an essential service – but that seems to have worn off.”
The big topics
The accommodation, called Secret Lake Farm Stay, is a self-contained apartment that is separate from the main part of Viv’s home, and sleeps one-to-three people.
As well as running the farm stay, Viv also moves stock every day and teaches part-time at Awakeri School.
Viv invites her guests into her own home for a wine and a chat, and the opportunity to go onto the farm to work alongside her.
“Some are just happy to hang out with the farm dog, but anyone keen enough can be given gumboots and a jacket to come out and help me move stock in the morning.
“I’ve found that by having people on the farm with me, they become comfortable enough to ask about some of the more contentious issues covered in the news. I’ve had conversations about live exports, bobby calves, fencing waterways, greenhouse gas emissions and many other topics.
“I’m really happy to have those discussions openly and allow people to make up their own minds.
“Those who come onto the farm take photos, ask questions, close gates for me and have close contact with the animals. They witness how they are cared for, valued and respected.
“Guests then go away and share this experience with others – it’s just what the primary industry needs.”
Fourth generation farmers
The runoff coincides with an 115ha and 400 cow dairy farm, run by Viv’s son, Matthew Barr.
“My son and daughter-in-law bought the dairy platform last month and he’s the fourth generation from our family to work on this land. He has a daughter now – we would love to be a five-generation farming family. Being in the one family for more than 100 years, it is registered as a Century Farm.
“We look after the environment and our stock and we have a long-term plan for it.”
Viv was introduced to farming at age 27 when she married her late husband – the land’s third generation farmer. She says she understands how people without a farming background may not see the full picture.
“I remember being taken aback by the level of commitment required – it really is something you have to do every day,” says Viv. “My husband was born to be a farmer. I see that his son is the same.
“My family considers themselves really lucky to have grown up on a farm; when the kids moved to Christchurch for university they began reflecting on their unique experiences growing up, compared to their peers. In particular, I remember my son’s surprise that you couldn’t just leave mail in the letterbox and expect it to be picked up and delivered!”
Viv Barr with her 9.9/10 Booking.com rating award.
Top rated experience
Viv’s accommodation experience strikes a chord with her guests – her farm stay has been awarded a 9.9 rating from Booking.com this year. The rating comes from client feedback, and took Viv five years to achieve.
Only one other accommodation provider in the wider Bay of Plenty shares this rating, and only five other accommodations in New Zealand – motels, hotels, bed and breakfasts and lodges included – are rated higher.
“The most important thing to achieve a good rating is to provide exactly what you promise. My farm stay is advertised as ‘peace and tranquillity on the top of a hill overlooking farmland, a lake with a backdrop of geothermal activity and Mount Putuaki’, and that’s what they get.
“I’m only aware of a few other farm stays in our area.
“You don’t need to have a separate apartment – it can be a room in your house, or even a glamping set-up. Once you have an internet presence organised, it’s easy to make a farm stay work with your day-to-day life.
“I highly encourage farmers to consider it.”
Anyone seeking advice on operating a farm stay can email Viv via: email@example.com
Views from Secret Lake Farm Stay feature curious cows and Mount Putauaki/ Edgecumbe. Photo: Viv Barr.