Early to Bed, & Breakfast

By Matt McMillen
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, July 3, 2002

Barbara Baroody, owner of Creek Crossing Farm in Lincoln, doesn't like to be bothered while making breakfast. "If a loquacious guest comes down and tries to talk to me while I'm cooking," she says, "I'll hand him a basket and tell him to go collect the eggs."

She's not kidding, and the guest invariably does as he's told: "He'll go out bewildered, like it's a big joke, but he'll come back beaming over what he finds."

What he finds are the soft-hued brown eggs laid by Baroody's 17 chickens -- chickens that spend their day roaming the land surrounding her farm, which is also a bed-and-breakfast.

"The chickens follow me all over the place -- they spend their day circling the house, trying to get in."

Who can blame them? Set on 20 acres of farmland on which Baroody grows organic blueberries and raspberries, the house surrounds you with a laid-back, lived-in aura that never once betrays the hard work and, increasingly, heartache that go into maintaining a farm-based business in the rapidly changing landscape of Loudoun County.

Baroody opened her B&B, one of the few in Loudoun set on a working farm, in 1990 so she could afford to maintain her farm. And Baroody can't hide the fun she has in watching city folk adapt to the farm.

"What's really funny is kids who've always lived in town or in the city. They have to be here two or three days before they figure out they can run," she says. "It's like a revelation."

It's harder than you might think to get some quality ag time around Washington. Unlike Europe, Australia and, closer to home, New England -- where farm stays are a common vacation option -- Virginia's fields are relatively tourist-free. Only two other Loudoun B&Bs offer the experience, and even these won't let visitors go hog-wild with the chores. The reason, of course, is liability. Chores can be dangerous, Baroody says. Gathering eggs is one thing, but one kick from a milk cow and, "I get sued and I lose my farm."

But even if you aren't likely to be turned loose on Daisy in the barn, city slickers might soon have more chances to at least sleep in the farmhouse or pick apples from the orchard. Virginia is encouraging more farmers to look at tourism -- from farm B&Bs to "pick-your-own" operations -- as a way to keep their fields economically viable.

"Farmers are in a difficult situation," says Warren Howell, agricultural marketing manager in the Loudoun County Office of Rural Economic Development. "They don't have kids who want to take over, so farmers don't feel they have an alternative to selling."

To help, Howell's office is pushing agri-tourism and encouraging more farmers to diversify toward more retail-oriented crops like fruits and flowers. "Tourists come ready to spend money, but they can't buy a sheep or a cow," he says.

On Baroody's spread, the open fields, barn and chicken coop offer city dwellers plenty to explore. But she says it's coming face to face with critters -- chickens, ducks and rabbits, mainly -- that really gets them.

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