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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Off the Beaten Path - Willow-Witt Ranch

Off the Beaten Path

Willow-Witt Ranch—a Southern Oregon farm stay

Story by Nicole Meier

Perched along Southern Oregon’s wild high country is a hidden gem rich with natural beauty. Willow-Witt Ranch is a 440-acre working farm that serves as a unique destination for travelers seeking to get off the beaten path.

Offering what’s known as a ‘farm stay,’ Willow-Witt is a rustic retreat set amongst green pastures dotted with bright wildflowers and herds of creamy-white goats. The accommodations come in the form of farm-style guesthouses and a well-equipped summer campground. Guests come year-round for the “local beauty, peace and quiet,” says owner Lanita Witt. “We are eleven miles from Ashland but a world away.”

Purchased in 1985 by Suzanne Willow, a retired physician’s assistant, and Lanita Witt, a practicing OBGYN, the former 1920s Swiss dairy farm has been transformed into a ranch that focuses on land preservation and sustainable agriculture. It’s home to French Alpine dairy goats, organic raised Berkshire pigs, chickens, dogs, ducks and a myriad of wildlife. Given its picturesque locale and serene atmosphere, the owners have always had the goal of sharing it with others.

“When we first came we thought, it’s so beautiful we need to have people up here,” recalls Willow. Excited by the prospect of running a farm and vacation retreat, the women went to work developing the property and bringing in livestock. As the years went on and more visitors came, they remodeled their farmhouse and added adjoining guest quarters, built a three-bedroom home known as Meadow House, and created a canvas tent campground appointed with everything from wood stoves, beds, hot showers and an outdoor kitchen.

During their stay, guests have a range of activities from which to choose, like cross country skiing in the winter and hikes with pack goats in the summer. There are complimentary farm tours and the ability to pick veggies from the garden. There’s also a farm store stocked with frozen meats and goat milk for purchase.

What types of travelers book a farm stay? These days, with more people eating organic and wanting to learn about where their food comes from, agritourism is on the rise. This trend in travel calls for a destination where people can fall asleep under unobstructed starry skies and wake up to the rhythmic sounds of farm life. It’s an opportunity for willing participants to try their hand at ranch life in the form of a working vacation. Willow-Witt encourages visitors to experience everything from collecting fresh eggs to feeding the livestock.

Perhaps the most popular draw at the ranch are the alpine goats. Known for their affable nature, they have been trained to take people out on day hikes along the area’s scenic trails. “They’re wonderful companions,” Willow says. She describes how they train the goats to walk alongside hikers and carry weight in ‘goat packs’ with panniers (bags that rest on the animal’s sides). The goats are not only easygoing but are also easy on the environment, as they don’t erode the trail systems. “They’re browsers, not grazers,” says Willow. Unlike pasture-grazing animals, goats eat broad-leafed plants and bushes. To the delight of younger guests, the nanny goats produce a whole host of new kids each spring. Because kids are weaned from their mothers within a couple of weeks, those who visit during this shoulder season have the opportunity to get up close and personal and bottle feed warm milk to these nuzzling, soft-coated babies.

In addition to sharing the experience of farm life, Willow-Witt generously gives back to the community. The ranch owners make themselves available to students of all ages, whether it’s an elementary school field trip or college course teaching sustainable farming practices. The operation prides itself on running on its own resources that include both hydro and solar powered energy.

Willow and Witt have also extended their eco-conscious efforts to restoring and preserving 76 acres of the property’s seasonal wetland. With determination and patience, the owners have worked to protect this bit of nature that was overgrazed by previous settlers and their cattle. Their aim is to return the land to its original state.

“We are a little island of preservation for wetland restoration, forest restoration and supporting local agriculture,” says Witt. She and her partner hope to continue to share their quiet little corner of the world for years to come.

Willow-Witt Ranch

658 Shale City Rd., Ashland
541-890-1998

www.willowwittranch.com

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