The Lodge at Sun Ranch in Cameron, Mont., is set on a massive 26,000-acre sustainable cattle ranch, and was officially launched in 2008. The main 10,000-square-foot building offers rustically elegant rooms for 16 guests.
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updated 4/10/2009 10:42:23 AM ET 2009-04-10T14:42:23

When was the last time you awoke to a rooster’s crow? How about milked a cow or gathered eggs for breakfast — while on vacation?

It’s an experience that more travelers are seeking out, as the concept of taking a farm vacation becomes increasingly popular.

“The trend that’s driving this is people want to leave an urban environment and get into a country setting,” says Jane Eckert, creator of RuralBounty.com, a Web site that helps travelers find “agritourism” opportunities, from pumpkin patches to bed and breakfasts. “They want to reconnect with their food, to put a face on where their food comes from. What better way to have that opportunity than to spend the night?”

Farm stays have long been popular in Europe, where travelers book rooms on working farms in the country. In return, farmers benefit from some extra income.

In the U.S., the idea is catching on, according to Eckert. “It’s one area of agritourism that is growing, and it’s certainly one that is being sought after.”

While many small farms with lodging offer modest accommodations, some properties are going all out with a much more upscale interpretation of down-on-the-farm living.

From New England to Baja, these luxury farm retreats give guests the chance to connect with the land — barnyard animals and all — without sacrificing any creature comforts. Alongside rolling pastures, silos and stables, visitors are treated to lavish linens, sumptuous spas and gourmet meals.

A trailblazer of this luxury travel trend is Tennessee’s Blackberry Farm, a bucolic resort nestled in the Great Smoky Mountains. The 63 elegant guestrooms and cottages offer antiques, featherbeds, fireplaces and complimentary snacks, while outside, the more than 4,000 acres are home to a flock of sheep that provides milk and lamb, and heritage breed chickens that supply eggs. There’s also an heirloom vegetable garden, beehives for honey, a dairy and an orchard. A larder stores jams and jellies, cured meats like bacon and salami, and sheep’s milk cheeses.

“Our guests no longer just want to be pampered and indulged with luxury,” says Sam Beall, the proprietor of Blackberry Farm. “Today guests want to experience something that impacts their life. They want to leave Blackberry Farm with a little more than they came with.”

With that in mind, guests at Blackberry can partake in your typical resort pastimes — fine dining in a red barn and Aveda spa treatments in the original 1800s farmhouse — as well as get involved on the farm.

“Life on the farm is experienced through a host of different activities with our gardeners, cheese makers, bakers, chefs, ‘jammer’, butcher or forager,” Beall says. Tours take guests across the farm, where they can roll up their sleeves to pick vegetables.

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Having an onsite garden, particularly one that is organic and sustainable, can be a big draw for some travelers.

According to a report from the Travel Industry Association of America, at least 55.1 million Americans can be classified as “sustainable tourists” or “geotourists.” These travelers, according to the group’s report, are seeking culturally authentic experiences that protect and preserve the ecological and cultural environment.

Beall, who grew up on the Blackberry Farm, says he thinks guests want to reconnect with a lifestyle that they’ve been removed from. “Guests also want to learn more about how and where their food comes from and how it can enhance their own life.”

Los Poblanos, a historic inn and ranch outside Albuquerque, is home to a 16-acre organic farm that supplies not only the inn’s breakfasts but also area farmers markets and a community-supported agriculture program, or CSA. Meanwhile, guests are pampered with bath amenities made from the farm’s own lavender in rooms with kiva fireplaces.

An organic and sustainable farm is also an attraction on Rancho La Puerta, a destination spa resort near the border between Mexico and California. Guests can leave behind their private casitas, furnished with Mexican folk art, for morning hikes into the garden where breakfast is served.

On the banks of Lake Champlain in Vermont, Shelburne Farms offers a luxurious seasonal inn, as well as an education center, teaching sustainable agriculture and conservation practices. Brown Swiss cows graze on the farm’s pastures and provide milk for its award-winning farmhouse cheddar cheese.

And down in Texas, the Inn at Dos Brisas features a destination restaurant that attracts gourmands from across the country. The ranch’s organic garden and orchards contribute to the five-star restaurant headed by chef Jason Robinson. Tasting menus include dishes like ahi tuna with garden cucumber and housemade chile oil, and rack of free-range lamb with a garden vegetable Napoleon.

The inn’s Spanish-style guest casitas, set amidst pastures dotted with grazing horses, come with a personal golf cart, private patios and remote-controlled fireplaces. And after a day of horseback riding or skeet shooting, guests can slip into the infinity pool, overlooking the fields.

How’s that for green acres?

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