Seeing fresh, local ingredients listed on a menu is wonderful; knowing they’re that way because you picked them yourself is even better. Taking farm-to-table to another level, hotels around the world are offering guests the chance to get up close and personal with their food, through experiences that let them visit area farms, help pick ingredients, and talk to producers.
The general concept of agritourism, of course, is nothing new. Visitors have long been able to tour farms, vineyards, and ranches, sample fresh products, and watch aseverything from cheese to chocolate gets made. In Italy in particular, agriturismo has grown into its own industry, with visitors able to stay at working farms (or vineyards, olive oil producers, or cheesemakers) and help with daily activities, for anywhere from one night to a whole season.
What’s notable about some of these new experiences is that they are tailored to the short-term guest, as well as those that might not have previous experience with these type of activities. From Atlanta to Bali, here are three diverse experiences to whet your appetite.
Italy: Olives and Animals
This isn’t your mother’s timeshare: Founded in 2006, Tribewanted is a eco- and socially-minded group of properties that function as both vacation spots and sustainable communities. Members join online and pay a set (nominal) fee each month, which goes toward their future stays and also helps fund projects at the properties and address needs in the local communities, including health and education.
When guests arrive, they can either treat the place like a hotel—and just relax and explore the region—or join the on-site residents in activities that benefit the community. Activities vary depending on the season, but at Monestevole—Tribewanted’s newest opening, set in a restored village in Umbria, Italy—they might include pruning olives with local farmers, working in the greenhouse or seedbed, helping prepare traditional meals, or tending to the animals (including horses, sheep, pigs, and chickens).
Accommodations range from shared rooms with bunk-beds to family apartments, and there is a pool on-site. Guests and residents come together twice a day to share farm-to-table meals, music, and the good (and very sustainable) life. tribewanted.com
Organic Around the Globe
If your interest in organic farming runs deeper, it may be time to WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms). WWOOF’s roots go back to 1971, when a secretary living in London, England, had the idea to help connect city people like herself with country farms and the burgeoning organic movement.
What began as a series of weekend events along the English countryside—where people would help out on farms in exchange for a couple days’ room and board—soon went global. Today, there are over 50 WWOOF groups worldwide.
Participating host locations include everything from farms and vineyards to gardens and woodlands; all must follow organic and sustainable principles to be included. WWOOF volunteers work out the details directly with the host, but stays can range from a few days to six months (one or two weeks is the norm), and volunteers typically work 4 to 6 hours a day in exchange for accommodations and food. Activities can range from composting, harvesting, sowing seeds and weeding, to milking and feeding animals, or helping to make wine, bread, or cheese. wwoofinternational.org
Bali: Rice Harvest
Volcanic black sand beaches, glistening Indian Ocean waters, and electric green rice terraces set the scene for serenity at one of Bali’s most beloved resorts, Alila Villas Soori Resort, located on the southwestern part of the island. Dedicated to sustainability and wellness (their award-winning spa features elements of organic nutrition, health and meditation along with excellent services), Alila also encourages guests to delve into Bali’s rich culture and heritage through one of the “Journeys by Alila” experiences.
The full-day All About Rice begins with a visit to the Subak museum for an introduction to traditional Balinese irrigation systems and agricultural tools. Next, you’ll head to Taman Buwana Farm to participate in rice harvesting activities, followed by lunch in a traditional Balinese compound.
In the afternoon, you can stroll along the paddy fields, and visit a nearby temple to enjoy a blessing ritual. Another Alila Journey, the half-day Kopi Luwak Journey, takes you to a cocoa plantation to learn about the coffee-making process, get insight into local spices, and sample a fresh cup of brew and coffee-infused treats. alilahotels.com/soori
Braised Pork in Ginger Soy Sauce
Alila Villas Soori Resort
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/2 tablespoons shallot, sliced
2 teaspoons garlic, sliced
1/2 pound pork, diced
1 tablespoon ginger, sliced
1 1/2 tablespoons spring onions
2 teaspoons fried shallots
1/5 cup sweet soy sauce
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 piece lemon grass, crushed
1 piece salam leaf
1 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 teaspoon red chili, deseeded and cut in half, lengthwise
Salt to taste
Heat cooking oil in a heavy saucepan. Sauté shallots and garlic until aromatic. Season the pork with a dash of salt and pepper, and caramelize in the pan with the sautéed shallots and garlic. Add the ginger, chili, pepper and bay leaf, and chicken stock.
Cover and let cook gently for 75 minutes until tender. Add sweet soy and soy sauce, then simmer for 15 minutes until nicely glazed and brown.
Toss in most of the spring onions and portion onto a serving dish; garnish with a few more spring onions and fried shallots on top. Serve with steamed rice.
Atlanta: Organic Orchards
Since re-opening as a Mandarin Oriental in 2012, this 42-story, residential-style hotel has launched a series of new offerings, including locally-themed treatments—like a Peaches and Cream Journey—at their 13-room spa. They’ve also partnered with Daron “Farmer D” Joffe, a noted organic and biodynamic farming advocate, for an Experience Farming package that connects guests directly to the hotel’s menu.
The farm field day begins with breakfast at the Cafe & Bar restaurant, where you’ll sample ingredients from Burge Organic Farm (located about an hour from the hotel) and chat with Farmer D about his experiences in sustainable food and agriculture. Then it’s off to Burge, where guests will help with on-site activities like picking fruit and tending to veggie gardens. Depending on the season, you might be working with strawberries, kale or planted sweet corn.
After a box lunch containing more farm-fresh goodies, it’s back to the hotel—where you’ll find a gift of gardening tools in your room. Dishes at breakfast might include organic eggs with Burge Farm asparagus, garlic leeks and turnips, while lunch might feature kale Caesar salads with house-made dressing. mandarinoriental.com