Feed the pigs, then hit the spa at these luxurious farm resorts

February 11, 2023, 4:00 PM UTC
A guest feeds the chickens at Beach Plum Farm.
A guest visits the heritage chickens at Beach Plum Farm. The eggs they produce are used in the farm’s restaurants.
Courtesy of Cape Resorts

Curtis Bashaw had never used a machete before.

In 2007, he and Will Riccio, his husband and business partner, bought 62 briar-choked acres of farmland in West Cape May, N.J. Four decades of neglect stood between them and their dream: to live in a farmhouse, with gardens to supply Bashaw’s Cape Resorts hotels. There were no roads. Mercurial marshes swelled and vanished. Foxes and coyotes prowled the woods and brambles.

“It felt like one of those sad movies in the Dust Bowl where this family’s staking their claim and the wind just blows everything away,” Bashaw says. But like the salt-water-tolerant fruit for which it’s named, Beach Plum Farm eventually flourished in these inhospitable conditions. Instead of building their home, the couple built a destination. They slashed back the overgrowth, planted crops, layered in livestock, added a café and market, and in 2018 introduced their first two rental cottages. Bashaw was sure that guests would want to do farm labor, even if the number crunchers were doubtful. 

“People want mud on their boots,” Bashaw says.

He was right. The Beach Plum cottage collection (from $476 a night) has grown to six, with two more underway. The newest boasts four bedrooms with en suite bathrooms, two porches, and a bird-watching tower overlooking the apple-tree-lined pool. Beyond the Marshall Bluetooth speakers, Nespresso milk frothers, and Matisse prints, there’s a real blood-and-bones farm where roosters scream at sunrise.

The farm market, hoop house, and herb garden at Beach Plum Farm.
Courtesy of Cape Resorts

Beach Plum’s juxtaposition of labor and luxury puts it in a trending hotel category: the farm-first resort. We’re not talking hotels with a beehive and an herb garden. These are working agricultural enterprises that also offer top-tier accommodations and amenities. They invite guests to get dirty and then clean up in king-size soaking tubs.

The global agritourism market is expected to grow more than 7% a year, to $117 billion by 2027, according to Fortune Business Insights (no relation to Fortune). The U.S. represents about a third of this projected growth. Even as smaller farms have given way to Big Agriculture, agritourism taps into a resurgence of interest in farm-to-table eating, says David Rust, CEO and cofounder of Sagra Farms, a startup that develops and manages hospitality for working farms. “People know the food we eat has a major impact on health, the environment, and ties into broader social issues. The demand is so there.”

One of Rust’s clients, Hill Farm (from $199 a night), is an 18th-century former dairy nestled in Vermont’s Equinox Valley. Originally deeded by King George III, the farm’s inn has hosted travelers since the 1700s, but now guests are welcomed with house-brewed kombucha, a seed packet, and an overview of regenerative agriculture. Some guests arrive ready for DIY root cellaring and fiddlehead hunts along the Battenkill River. Others, Rust says, have “never pulled a carrot out of the ground.”

Picking wildflowers at Southall.
Courtesy of Heather Durham/Southall

Outside Nashville, Southall (from $839 a night) debuted its 62-key inn and 16 hillside cabins in December, after spending seven years setting up five acres of fields, traditional and hydroponics greenhouses, 175 chickens, 4 million bees, an orangerie, and a stately apple orchard marching down to a man-made lake dug out from wrecked old cattle pasture. 

“If you want to work with our farmers, get your hands dirty, and understand how true North American agriculture works, great,” says sales and marketing director Graham Stanley. “If you want to pick a potato and say you farmed, I’m good with that too.”

On the plate at Sojourner, the farm’s fauna-wallpapered restaurant, those potatoes are really something: caramelized fingerlings served with glossy short ribs braised in sorghum molasses. Guests see Southall’s bounty everywhere, in the ornamental flowers, the teensy potted succulents, and even the loofahs at the impeccable spa.

Interior view of Southall's Hillside two bedroom cottage with fireplace and cozy couch.
Southall’s Hillside two bedroom cottage.
Courtesy of Heather Durham/Southall

In Patagonia overalls, head farmer Peyton Cypress pulls me down the rabbit hole of seed-saving and the reproductive habits of nasturtiums in the production barn. “Being around real people who go through blood, sweat, and tears work but are still happy—it’s invigorating [for guests] to see,” he says. “Maybe they want to incorporate some of that into their life.”

Or maybe they’re trying to recapture something lost. Bashaw opened Beach Plum, he says, “because I was nostalgic about my grandfather,” who tended 15 South Jersey acres as suburbanization swallowed surrounding farms.

Beach Plum’s head farmer, Christina Albert, says many older guests reminisce about ancestral farms or the tomatoes they ate as children. As for younger visitors, she says, they “want to know where their food comes from, that our animals are treated humanely.” The farm’s Rooted weekend sessions package nostalgia with knowledge: Albert and I pluck tangerine and purple violas, weed beets, and seed bok choy. Poultry farmer Andrew Halbruner and I feed chickens and hogs; collect, wash, and pack eggs; and break down a turkey in the on-site meat processing facility.

“To see the guests riding out in the morning to the chickens, to cut fresh lavender, or participate in a sweet potato harvest, it’s very gratifying for me.”

Curtis Bashaw, Beach Plum Farm

I return to my cottage with mud (and other substances) on my boots (Nike Airs). A long drench under a brass rainfall showerhead with lemon-verbena-scented toiletries follows lunch laid out on the dining room table: pulled pork sandwiches, fuchsia watermelon radishes, everything-spice-speckled ricotta, and crispy potatoes with tangy pepper relish. For dinner, a handsome picnic basket packed with corn bread, salad, and s’mores fixings appears on the patio with a casserole of smoky chili to be warmed over the firepit. If it were summer, I could harvest a garnish from the cilantro patch—as Bashaw and Riccio intended.

“To see the guests riding out in the morning to the chickens, to cut fresh lavender, or participate in a sweet potato harvest, it’s very gratifying for me,” Bashaw says. 

They’ll finally break ground on their own farmhouse later this year.

This article appears in the February/March 2023 issue of Fortune with the headline, “Hitting pay dirt.”

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