Recently, the folks at Fair Oaks Dairy announced a $230 million project in Newton County. It involves a cheese processing plan and a “dairy-themed” hotel. The purpose of this hotel is to help educate people about the dairy industry. While I am sure this project will be top notch and very well done, it did get me wondering what an agricultural-themed hotel might be like.
Urban folks have a strong curiosity about life on the farm. Walk into the children’s section of any large bookstore and you will find lots of books about a day on the farm. Almost half of the movies that air on the Hallmark Channel involve a troubled city dweller going back to the country or the family farm. There they usually fall in love and live happily ever after. But are these folks really ready for the reality of farm life?
The majority of Americans have never been to a farm and have no idea what farm or rural life is like. This is part of the problem which leads to the misconceptions they have about food production and livestock care. So, creating a hotel that would give them a “real” taste of farm life would be a good idea — although it may not be the experience they would expect. Most people today have an antiquated, overly romantic, sanitized concept of what life is like on the farm. A little reality might be more than they bargained for.
First, this hotel would not be located on the interstate or near any tourist or recreation destination. It would be at least 10 miles out of town down a 2 lane blacktop. Directions would read, “take old Rt 450 to where Ed Wilson used to keep his cows, then take a left until you see the sign.” The sign would be hand-lettered on plywood. The parking lot would be gravel with an old truck with a For Sale sign on it parked by the door.
You would enter the lobby via a wooden screen door that squeaked when you opened it and slammed with a bang when you entered. The lobby would have deer heads and fish mounted on the walls and a shotgun above the fireplace. After you check-in, you will not be given a room key because none of the rooms have locks, and you will be given a dial-up internet number because there is no high speed broadband here in the country.
Your bed will resemble a gestation crate and your room will be decorated with posters showing different breeds of livestock giving birth or photos of the insects that attack corn plants. While there would be indoor plumbing, the bathtub would be a metal livestock tank and the sink would have iron stains because the hotel would be on a well.
All the phones in the hotel would be on the same line and each room would have different ring, which guests would have to learn. Every room would get a 5am wakeup call (whether they wanted it or not) with the recorded sound of dairy cows mooing. Every evening about 10pm the grain dryer at the back of the hotel would be fired up and would run all night. Rooster crowing would be piped through the PA system about 6am. Just before breakfast was served at 7am, the smell of hog manure would be piped through the ventilation system. The electricity in rooms would randomly go off from time to time to simulate REMC power.
There would be special tours offered to guests. These would include a visit to the local implement dealer to learn how capital intensive farming is today, a day with a veterinarian to learn how producers really use antibiotics, and a visit to a grass filter strip to see how farmers are controlling farm field runoff. Also included are a day with an FFA class studying plant breeding and micro biology, a 50-mile drive to the next county to visit the closest medical clinic to learn about the state of rural health care, and visit to the FSA county office to learn those farm subsidy programs aren’t quite what the media makes them out to be. For the truly adventurous, there would be the chance to help local police clean up a meth lab discovery, to show that rural America has just as big a drug problem as the cities do.
From this experience, the urban dweller might actually learn that rural life is not the idyllic lifestyle portrayed in those back to the land magazines, that farm folks are technically and financially sophisticated and genuinely concerned about the environment and their animals, and that rural young people are not the beer drinking rednecks portrayed in country music today.
By Gary Truitt