When signing the mortgage paperwork a decade ago for land in the Town of Jay that would become Blue Pepper Farm, Tyler Eaton had a thought. He and his wife Shannon could vacate to a family cabin over the Fourth of July and Ironman weekends and make the farmhouse available to the copious tourist population that swarmed into the region in search of accommodations.
They put the farmhouse up on an app few had ever heard of at the time, Airbnb, and sure enough, there were takers. This wasn’t agri-tourism in the traditional sense; Blue Pepper (named after two family dogs) began raising broiler chickens and the Eatons didn’t figure that the slaughter would be anything summer vacationers would want to see. Even though some did, as part of an authentic experience that was growing in the conscience of travelers.
“We would warn people when we were killing chickens — we told them they could come see it or avoid it,” Shannon said.
But the farm experience was clearly a selling point, Tyler said, and “some people were really into it, some would just glance at a distance and say, ‘OK, that’s cute.’”
Playing up the local agricultural scene, the Eatons would stock the fridge with products from their own farm as well as neighboring producers at Asgaard Farm and Sugarhouse Creamery.
Through the years, both the farm and the rental business grew. Blue Pepper transitioned into laying hens and East Friesian sheep (one customer at a farmers market asked if the sheep laid the eggs, but those who stay at the farm tend to be a bit more savvy), today producing legendary sheep-milk yogurt, grass-fed lamb, wool, tanned sheepskins, yarn and eggs.
Rentals were becoming more frequent, but repeatedly moving in and out of the farmhouse throughout the summer was wearing thin, so the Eatons were considering building a cabin on the property when Shannon saw that a neighbor was selling a yurt.
For a few years the yurt became their summer home — a development applauded by their young boys Wyatt and Shep who viewed it as one big campout. For adults though, the rustic pleasures of no running water and no electricity were not as enticing.
The Eatons improved the yurt until moving into a house across the road from the farm, as the rental business basically became an all-summer affair.
The farm and rental are treated as two separate businesses, but still require a precise choreography — making yogurt, cleaning the rental, staffing farmers markets. Both are a lot of work, but there are some built-in advantages.
The pastoral setting (it is hard to out-quaint a herd of sheep) and grand mountain views are obvious assets, but so is living across the road. Shannon said guests are particularly appreciative of having the hosts nearby in case something is in need of attention.
“People like that we’re available,” Shannon said. “We try to read the room, to see if they’re more social or if they want their space.”
Some become genuine farm groupies, showing up in Blue Pepper t-shirts and eager for farm tours. Others take more adjustment. “One told us they had seen twelve flies,” Tyler said. “They said ‘we know we’re staying at a farm, but — twelve.’”
The large farmhouse rents for $522 a night during the summer season (somewhat less at other times of the year), a cost that can easily be shared among two families. Impeccably decorated, it also features a pool, large deck, woodstove and of course the proximity to Whiteface Mountain and grand views accented with herds of sheep and lambs.
As short-term rentals have proliferated, Tyler said he hasn’t noticed an oversaturation of the market. Still, just to be sure, he lowered the price a bit to ensure that it stayed booked. “It’s more valuable to have it booked all 12 weeks (of summer) and take a little less,” he said.
Tyler said a side benefit is that it forces neat-and-tidy farming, to the degree possible. The farmhouse is close to the barn, but he has fashioned a “farm pit” where machinery, supplies and other tools of the farming wars are stored, more or less out of sight of vacationers.
“It’s been massively successful, but a lot of it is location, and the compatibility,” Tyler said. “We’ve been able to manage the farm in a way that makes it presentable.”
The results are evident on Airbnb, where virtually everyone gives the experience five stars and the Eatons are listed as “superhosts.” As a June guest commented, “This is our new favorite place to stay in the Adirondacks.”
You can find out more about the farmstays at Blue Pepper Farm here.