Take a break
Close to home can seem a world away
Health-care workers, teachers, students … even local baristas have one thing in common: they all need a break sometimes. If you’re searching for an outlet for a bit of rest and relaxation, consider some local options that won’t take you too far from home.
Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel
Last fall, the (585) team headed down to Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel to experience part of its Empire State Road Trip, which combines nights at four different hotels with activities and outings built in that allow guests to get the full experience of the region. The aim is to encourage visitors to explore, rather than to just stay at a hotel for the entirety of their visit.
This destination is made particularly appropriate for the season by the region’s water features. Not only does the hotel cozy up to Seneca Lake, it also sits next door to Watkins Glen State Park. If you haven’t seen this state gem, you’re missing out on cascading waterfalls and a recent renovation of the main entrance that helps visitors focus on the history and science behind the large, glacier-sculpted park. The hikes vary depending on one’s preferences. Some gentler walks can lead your party past streams and falls, and, if you’re feeling brave, you can take a longer excursion in hopes of a better view.
One evening, Captain Bill’s Cruises took us on a sunset excursion on the Seneca Legacy across Seneca Lake. The trip was family-friendly, the crew was helpful and informative, and the view was spectacular. Tours are an hour long and include sightseeing of the lake and historical details of the area. We got plenty of photos from the boat, and after deboarding, passengers were encouraged to walk along the pier— a sweet short walk, the perfect sunset stroll to take with a loved one.
While in the area, you’d be mistaken not to visit some wineries. Our journey took us to Lakewood Vineyards. This three-generation winery offers tastings and outdoor seating—dogs are also welcome.
If you have a little more time, check out the Seneca Lake wine trail, which features thirty-four wineries with a wide array of wines and spirits.
Other stops on the Empire State Road Trip include:
• Allegany State Park in Salamanca (This park has scenic views, hiking trails, and restaurants. In the park is Red House Lake, where visitors can enjoy swimming, boat rentals, and the Red House Restaurant.)
• Mark Twain’s Study in Elmira (A thirty-minute drive from Watkins Glen, this study is where he wrote some of his most famous stories.)
• The Corning Museum of Glass in Corning (Here, visitors can watch glass take shape during a live demonstration, learn the history, and/or even try glassmaking themselves.)
• The Rockwell Museum, also in Corning (You’ll find unexpected showcases of the work of great American artists such as Andy Warhol, Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Moran and Frederic Remington.)
I didn’t know what to expect when I met the Becker Farms crew. As I explored the farm’s website I thought, “This is a huge operation; how do they manage it all?” As it turns out, they’re a deeply family-oriented group that truly cares about farming. Melinda and Oscar Vizcarra are the owners, and Melinda grew up on the farm.
Oscar met a determined Melinda in college in the ’70s. They were both students at SUNY Delhi, a small college in the Catskills. At the time, Melinda was sure that her path would lead her away from her home. She had just traveled for over a year, visiting Japan, Russia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, and East Africa. “I learned on my trip that I really did enjoy agriculture, but I didn’t really think I could make a living on a small farm,” she says.
Melinda would tease Oscar, an immigrant from Peru, and say, “How can you leave home and go and work for the rich people?” But Oscar would retort, “Well, how can you leave your family farm?” Ultimately, the couple decided if they wanted to save the world, they had to start somewhere.
So they started from Melinda’s home. The pair transferred to Cornell to study pomology—fruit growing. According to Melinda, “We started with pick-your-own; it was very popular in the late ’70s and early ’80s; people would come and pick a huge amount.” But as times changed, the workforce changed. And as fewer women stayed in the house as homemakers, they required less fruit for homemade jams and jellies.
So the Vizcarras pivoted their business model. They began to do school tours of the farm, taking kids to pick their own berries and teaching them about the farm. They also started to do a fall festival on the farm, in the ’80s, with hayrides, pony rides, and hay bales to play on. “Fun things that you take for granted if you live in the country,” says Melinda.
Oscar also brought a fresh perspective to the farm, because while Melinda grew up there, he grew up in the city—he wasn’t a farmer. So, “he didn’t have any preconceived ideas, and he knew what people that don’t live on a farm want to see. He knew what we take for granted,” says Melinda.
As they grew, the Vizcarra family stayed anything but stagnant. They added a farm market in the original farmhouse that Melinda’s great-grandparents and grandfather had lived in, and there they sell fresh produce, fudge, homemade pies, donuts, and, in the fall, homemade cider.
Since then, the growth only continued. In 2004, the Vizcarras built a winery, later adding a brewery in 2016. They also offer wedding-venue pavilions, CSA shares, and a petting zoo. Their daughter Amanda has built ten small cabins on the farm for wedding guests’ stays or for unplugged country getaways.
Of course it’s wonderful to see your business grow during a difficult time. But what is the most rewarding part of this work?
Melinda says the thing that makes it all worthwhile is seeing people fall in love with her family’s farm. “It was something I totally took for granted, but I learned through my husband to appreciate those little things … [people] just really enjoy being outside. We [also] have generations of customers who make it their annual tradition to come to the farm,” she adds. “That’s really rewarding, to see other people enjoy our life’s work.”