Fairfax – In Vermont, many retirees open bed and I breakfasts, but at The Inn At Grace Farm, energetic owners Liz and Jason Minor are reinventing the state’s most famous form of lodging.
“It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it,” said Jason, 41, while seated in their inn dining area with Liz, 35, as their two young sons played in the next room. “So do it now, while you still can.”
The Minors opened The Inn At Grace Farm, on Route 104A, in November 2008, on a 120-acre tract of property with photoworthy views that span Camel’s Hump to Mt. Mansfield. They built the 6,200-square-foot, stone-and-timber structure with wood from their land. Construction took 13 months. The result feels like a 200-year-old farmhouse peppered with the amenities of modern accommodations. “It’s a green hotel,” Liz said.
The Inn At Grace Farm’s five rooms have year-round occupancy, but the busy season is May through October. Eighty to 90 percent of the Minors’ guests are out-of-staters and first-time visitors to Vermont. They have hosted people from New York, Boston, South Africa, Italy and Singapore.
“I think they want to find an experience that’s very Vermont,” said Liz, who, as Jason puts it, “puts love” into the guests’ breakfast each day. “We’re really small, and we want it to be a good atmosphere.”
“It’s a good lodging experience when you pull into the driveway,” added Jason, who is also director of quality and risk management at Northwest Counseling and Support Services Inc. (NCSS).
Their busy work and family schedule hasn’t stopped them from growing the inn. Last October, they broke ground on a 2,700-square-foot, round timber-frame barn that will hold 110 people for weddings and receptions. There will also be a microbrewery and community space for farmers markets and other activities.
If the barn is successful, the Minors might add three to four more rooms to the inn and hire a chef to add a meal to their offerings – and perhaps start serving them in the barn, outside of events.
“We’re excited to share this spot with other people,” Jason said. “It’s not our view. It doesn’t belong to us. So why not share it?”
Neither Jason nor Liz had innkeeping experience prior to opening the lodging: Liz was a teacher in Berkshire; Jason worked for Gannett Publishing Co. He is from Swanton. She is from Newport.
They wed in 2004 and were living on Meade Road, in Fairfax, when they passed the property that now houses their business and thought, “Wouldn’t it be nice if that was for sale?” And then it was.
Former owner John Craighead gifted the 120 acres – once a working dairy farm – to the Vermont Land Trust (VLT), which purchases development rights on agricultural land to preserve the state’s rural heritage and sustain agriculture.
The Minors offered a plan to buy the land from the VLT in 2006 and use it for agri-tourism. With some income from the new barn, they hope to expand the agricultural aspects of the business, perhaps with pick-your-own strawberries, or pumpkins and blueberries.
“It is difficult starting a diversified farm today from scratch – with the cost of land, equipment and buildings,” Jason said. “It takes a lot of creativity and perseverance. It’s not as simple as putting a farm stand beside the road. We have been fortunate to have the support of Yankee Farm Credit and the land trust who understand the vision and need to support a different approach. Small farms today look a lot different than ones even 10 years ago.
“Our plan is consistent with the mission of the land trust. The Inn At Grace Farm could become a great gathering spot for the community.”