Tracy Wood and Taralea Simpson knew they found the perfect spot when they discovered a 95-acre wooded river lot just outside of Portage la Prairie was for sale.
Having long dreamt of owning their own farm-stay, bed and breakfast business, the sisters officially opened “Farm Away Retreat” last month.
With their roots deeply embedded in agriculture, advocating for the industry was an integral part of their business model.
“Agriculture is who we are, it’s what shaped us, it’s what we do now for jobs, it’s where we spend our volunteer hours at – from 4-H to fair board to educating kids at the school level to 4R nutrient management promotion,” said Wood. “We want to bring our knowledge, first-hand experience and love of agriculture to those who are eager to learn more. Plus, there is really no place exactly like this anywhere nearby.”
The sisters grew up on a farm south of Portage la Prairie. Both furthered their education at the University of Manitoba — Wood with a diploma in agriculture and Simpson with a bachelor of science in agriculture degree.
Wood and her husband, along with their two sons, operate a 250-head cow-calf operation. She obtained Equine Assisted Learning certification in 2014 and began her business, “Touch of Equine.” Currently, she is also general manager for the Portage Industrial Exhibition Association.
Simpson has worked as an agrologist for the last 25 years, and runs a 50-head cow-calf operation with her daughter and husband.
With their busy schedules, assistance from family and friends was crucial.
“Honestly, it’s a bit hectic at times. Our new business is like an extension of our existing family farms. Through the help of family and some great friends we are able to make it work. It takes organization, teamwork and communication,” Simpson acknowledged. “I think all those things are skills we have learned from 4-H, our farms, our jobs etc. Our ultimate goal is to transition to Farm Away full time as soon as it can support itself independently.”
Wood extensively researched both bed and breakfast and care farm (the use of farming practices for providing or promoting mental or physical healing, social or education services) before the sisters decided on how they would run their farm-stay business. Bridging the ever-growing urban-rural divide was one of their main goals.
“We want people to come and immerse themselves in agriculture and nature, to experience it first hand; ask questions and hopefully leave feeling they understand more about where their food comes from,” explained Wood.
They see a wide variety of opportunities to do this, with their motto, “Gather – Learn – Stay” guiding the way.
Pasture tours are complimentary to anyone who stays and offer the opportunity to discuss hay processing, pasture and land management. Calving dates for the various family herds are September/October, February/March and April/May. Winter provides the experience of feeding and bedding for the cattle.
Horses, sheep and chickens are on site with ‘guest appearances’ from occasional cows, calves and pigs. Lambing takes place throughout the year and Equine Assisted Learning runs from spring to late fall.
While the farm experience is an integral part of Farm Away, it also offers the opportunity to simply relax and enjoy the peace and quiet of country life. The house is surrounded by meticulously manicured gardens. An outdoor pool provides a place to cool off on a hot summer day. Trails and walking paths are abundant. You can wander through an old farmhouse filled with antique decor. It’s a perfect spot for photo shoots.
Wood and Simpson are quick to acknowledge the previous owners for the love and care they put into the property which perfectly suited their vision. Serendipity played a part as it only took two weeks to find once they decided to pursue their dream together.
Financing a new business is always a challenge, but the sisters admit the first and toughest hurdle they faced was believing they could do it. “It’s daunting to step out of the familiar and into something new, admitted Simpson. “Putting the plan into place and how to make it happen was challenging.”
The biggest reward to date has been the enthusiasm of others – those who have visited the property or checked out the website are cheering them on, supporting and encouraging them in their venture.
Knowledge is nothing unless you share it with others. These two passionate agvocates are taking that message to heart. They hope the first-hand experiences they are offering at Farm Away will leave a lasting impact and better understanding of agriculture with each and every guest.
Their advice to anyone wanting to follow their agvocating through experience model: Do your research, talk to people to get ideas. Don’t be afraid to take a chance. Do something you are passionate about.
For more information visit the Farm Away website or phone 1-204-870-1564 or 1-204-857-1910.