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Food Lovers Encyclopedia: Work The Land

Forget FarmVille. Some Central California farms allow agri-tourists to pitch in for a spell

Photograph by Michael Czerwonka

Rinconada Dairy
For turophiles, Rinconada Dairy is a 52-acre sanctuary in Santa Margarita. Bleating sheep are your wake-up call at Christine Maguire’s Spanish ranch-style home. In the morning Maguire, a culinary school graduate, fries up fresh henhouse eggs. Tag along on her goat-milking and cheese-making chores, or settle on the patio with a book. You can spend the afternoon tasting cabernets at area wineries. By bedtime you’ll be counting sheep with newfound confidence. Rooms, $150-$200 (two to four people, two-night minimum). 

Windrose Farm
Near Paso Robles, the apple orchards of Windrose Farm are where you drop off your camping gear before being put to work picking Barbara and Bill Spencer’s Red Dragon carrots and heirloom garlic. The crops you pull may end up on the menus of restaurants such as Gjelina, Lucques, and Providence. After Bill takes you on a tour of the 70-acre farm, ask him to share his tips for the superior sourdough he’s sliding out of the oven as you pass by the kitchen. Campsites, $20 (15 sites total); RV, $80 (sleeps four). 

Work Ranch
If the kids are in need of an urban detox, a weekend spent on the family-run Work Ranch, a 12,000-acre San Miguel cattle operation, will not only get their hands dirty, it will help them unplug. The massive property is home to whirring tractors, enough barnyard animals to keep e-i-e-i-o-ers singing till naptime, and horses happy to take sulking teenagers on trail rides. Just be sure the brood is back in time for the home-cooked supper on the front porch. Rooms, $225 (includes breakfast and dinner).