The drive up and down California’s San Joaquin Valley can be tedious, but consider a stop along the way in Visalia. Seven Sycamores Ranch is offering a kind of bed-and-breakfast experience on a real farm.
Agri-tourism is what they call it – the blending of tourism with California’s vast farmlands and orchards to offer city folk an up-close view of how an orange, for example, gets from the tree to your dining room table. With its location just outside of Visalia, Seven Sycamores is in a good location to break up that long drive between the cities of Northern and Southern California.
Bob McKellar is the host of Seven Sycamores and something of a visionary in the realm of agri-tourism. A few years back when he was just 75 years old, McKellar decided it was time to find ways to market some of his orange crop outside the usual packing shed channels that tend to eat up a grower’s profits. He joined a national organization and found that, in some places, farmers had started “CSA’s” – community supported agriculture programs – that cut out some middlemen and brought fruit straight to the consumer. Today, McKellar sells a sizable portion of his crop by packaging hundreds of fruit baskets delivered regularly to local customers.
Then McKellar got to thinking about the growers in other parts of the country who were hosting weddings on their property and, in his first year, booked 30 weddings on his picturesque grounds.
The piece de resistance is that McKellar now offers visitors overnight stays in an authentic farmhouse – a kind of bed and breakfast experience except that McKellar lives down the road and not in the house, and the breakfast comes in the form of fresh groceries that guests cook up themselves. If the three-bedroom farmhouse is too big, guests can opt for an economy-sized bunkhouse nearby. Both come complete with hens and baby chicks wandering the grounds, as well as roosters who offer guests wake-up calls for no extra charge.
McKellar’s mother lived in the house for many decades until 2002 when she passed away. There are family photos still in the house, which makes it feel like a home, not a vacation rental. One guest used the guestbook to complain about all the family photos, but McKellar has no intention of taking the photos down. We thought they simply added to the charm of our stay.
The accommodations are comfortable, even for a large family. A big living room and old-fashioned porch area provide comfortable spots to unwind, while the kitchen has everything you need to cook up your own farm-style meals. As part of your stay, the Seven Sycamores will ask you what you like for breakfast and then have your refrigerator stocked upon your arrival.
McKellar family history is everywhere you look on the grounds. One example would be the observation tower – a replica of the real thing that was used to watch for Japanese bombers if they attempted to …