Mike and Nori Naylor educate urban folks about agriculture and stone fruit one family at a time. At their farm stay, located in the heart of California’s stone fruit growing region, guests can pick their own fruit, learn about life on a small family farm, or just unwind from the demands of city living.
Naylor’s Organic Family Farm Stay is a California ranch-style home located near Dinuba, where the Naylors grow about 25 varieties of organic peaches and nectarines for wholesale markets and run a U-pick operation on their 80-acre farm. The husband-and-wife team remodeled the Naylor homestead in 2009 and turned it into a farm stay.
Mike and Nori are high-school sweethearts, and both have ties to farming. Mike is a third-generation family farmer; both Nori’s grandparents were small family farmers, and she spent many summers helping on their farms.
“When they come out in the morning, still in their pajamas, that’s when we know they are comfortable.”
The Naylors’ farm stay, like others cropping up across the country, is similar to a bed and breakfast. They rent two bedrooms, each with private bathroom and entry, and include a hearty, country-style breakfast as part of the stay. But that’s where the B and B similarities end.
“Ours is different because the focus is on the farm,” said Nori, who manages the farm stay.
Under California business codes, their business is defined as an agricultural homestay. Licensing and regulations are a little less stringent than those for bed and breakfast businesses, she said, though kitchens are inspected and other codes and standards must be met. Each county in California has its own interpretation of state regulations, but generally, the farm stay must be located on a working farm or ranch and the stay cannot be the primary source of income.
“Our main purpose is not financial,” said Mike. “It’s educational. Most people nowadays have never been on a farm or are two to three generations removed from farming. This is a way to invite them to come and meet a farmer up close. It’s all about education and building relationships.”
This is their fourth year operating the farm stay. On average, they have houseguests about every other weekend from February through September, though summer months are the busiest. Their home is open for guests four nights a week, with at least two days’ notice needed. Appointments are needed from October through December, and they are closed in January. Rates range from $139 to $199 per night.
They also have a short-term rental that provides housing for a two-week maximum stay for large families or groups.
Farm stays are common in Europe, says Nori, but are still novel in the United States. In Britain, there are around 7,200 farm stays, compared to about 900 listed on the website www.farmstayus.com, a searchable website sponsored by U.S. Farm Stay Association. The nonprofit trade group, of which the Naylors are members, was established in 2010 to connect guests with farm and ranch stays across America.
About half of the Naylors’ guests are from out of state. Most stay one night, Nori said, and the most frequently heard comment is “it’s so peaceful and quiet.” Those who visit from mid-May to mid-August can pick tree-ripened organic fruit and watch fruit being harvested.
Naylor’s farm stay home is surrounded by about two acres of more than 30 varieties of U-pick fruit—peaches, plums, apricots, nectarines, pluots, and blackberries. The trees include a mix of unique, unreleased crosses that were bred by Walter Krause, plant breeder and consultant. Mike planted selections of Krause’s that are distinct in flavor and sugar (around 20° to 21° Brix), though most have flaws that make them unsuitable for commercial production. “They’re very sweet, but have flaws like small size, unattractiveness, or they don’t set—so they were never made public,” Mike said.
He prunes the U-pick trees to keep the height at around six feet so ladders aren’t needed for picking. Customers pick into buckets that hold about five pounds and pay $1.50 per pound for their bounty. Blackberries fetch $6.50 per pound.
“We teach the U-pick customers what to look for and how to pick stone fruit before turning them loose,” said Nori. This is their third year running the U-pick operation. It’s a growing business because there are few U-pick farms for stone fruit in the area.
“Our goal for our visitors is to have them unwind and get away from the noise of the city,” Mike said. They offer every guest a farm tour. Mike has a knack for storytelling and with his graying beard, even looks the part. He enjoys sharing the area’s history with guests during farm tours and in the evenings.
“Most people don’t even know what kind of agricultural questions to ask,” he said, “But they all want to walk in the orchard.” One guest walked through their front doors, dropped her luggage, and continued walking right through the house to the orchard—even before checking into her room. Nori remembers hosting their first guests, a family from South Korea that was living in Texas while the father attended Texas A&M. The family came to California for a vacation.
“Before long, the kids were calling Mike ‘Grandpa,’ and the children and mother lost their fear of dogs,” she said. “To see that transformation and hear them say that the best part of their trip—even better than their Disneyland visit—was their farm stay, that was success in our eyes.
“We want our guests to feel like family,” she said. “When they come out in the morning still in their pajamas, that’s when we know they are comfortable.”
It was Mike’s idea to open the farm up to visitors. His parents had died, leaving behind the original farm homestead. Operating a farm stay was a way to help pay for remodeling construction costs, but he admits that they’ll probably never see the rooms pay for the amount they put into the remodel.
“But we’re fine with that,” Nori said.