MAGGIE VALLEY — Emerald Gate Farm is tucked away on a beautiful hillside near Maggie Valley in the Jonathan Creek area. It is not the type of place anyone would stumble across accidentally, but once discovered, it’s a place many find perfect for lingering.

For guests, the farm represents much of what is delightful about Haywood County —the mountains, the fresh air, the scenic beauty and the chance to explore new things.

The farm is one of a growing number of working enterprises in Haywood County that is opening its doors to the public.

Bucking the national trend, the number of farms in Haywood County has actually grown since 2008, said Tina Masciarelli, project coordinator for Buy Haywood, a local organization that supports farmers and the preservation of Haywood's agricultural heritage.

Every year Buy Haywood produces a promotional guide of area agribusinesses, and the number of businesses listed  continues to grow, said Masciarelli.

"From year to year, we always have a few listings that don't return. For example, folks retire or have a health issue that causes them to take a season off. But overwhelmingly, the new listings outweigh the few that leave," she said.

Emerald Gate farm is taking agribusiness in a whole new direction, serving as both a working farm and a lodging place for visitors.

Guests who stay at the farm have an entire three-bedroom, two-bath house to themselves if they wish, including a complete kitchen. The home sleeps seven in the main floor, and there is a basement apartment that can sleep four more for an extra fee.

The farm is located just three miles from I-40 and includes all the modern conveniences like Wi-Fi and DirecTV, in addition to all the outdoors pursuits available.

For recent guests, Vann and Jessica Turner, it has become a second home they can escape to when city life and the heat in Orlando, Florida, become unbearable.

For the Turners, farm owner, JC Dobson, has become like an uncle, always attentive to their needs when they visit, ready with a restaurant recommendation and eager to show them the newest additions to his farm when they return.

The couple who has stayed in the area on vacation several times first learned about Emerald Gate when they were searching for an inexpensive place to get married.

Vann’s aunt came across Dobson’s listing on VRBO.com, which stands for vacation rentals by owner, a site similar to AirBNB.com that connects owners and renters directly.

The Turners wanted a place that could serve as both lodging and venue at a price they could afford on a limited budget.

Both Vann and Jessica said they were surprised by just how much they got for their money.

They booked Dobson’s place for a week and brought 20 guests with them who attended the wedding, five of whom stayed to vacation for the week.

They said Dobson was incredibly attentive, helping them coordinate everything on site, even enlisting the help of a neighbor who provided the catering and a cake.

They were married just behind the guest house, in the driveway, after a last-minute rainstorm dashed their plans to wed near one of the pond's on the property.

Vann said Dobson helped them move everything to the driveway when their plans changed and assisted in setting up in the living room for their reception.

“Everything that could have gone so wrong went off without a hitch,” said Jessica about the couple’s big day.

“This area has so much meaning for both of us,” she said. “Our family loves Cataloochee and to stay here so close is such a joy for us.”

Vann said his family has been vacationing near Maggie Valley for years. He said his grandmother always wanted to visit the mountains, but she never did get the chance. When she passed, they brought her ashes to Cataloochee so that she might rest there forever.

Part of the fun of staying at Emerald Gate for the Turner’s is watching a real working farm on a day-to-day basis.

“We wake up to the rooster crowing and only need to step out onto the porch to feed the chickens,” said Jessica.

Over the years, Dobson has trained his free-ranging chickens to come running at the sound of the bell mounted on the cabin’s porch.

Visitors like the Turners are delighted to step outside, ring the bell and watch chickens, ducks, geese and guinea hens come running from all corners of the 10-acre property to enjoy a scoop of grain from the bucket kept on the porch.

There’s a token horse to pet as well, although she’s mostly retired and is no longer ridden. Many guests also enjoy the company of farm dogs, Clyde and Polly, a pair of massive Great Pyrenees who take their jobs quite seriously.

As a retired fisherman from south Florida, Dobson delights in teaching his young guests how to fish in one of several stocked ponds he maintains on the property.

“I’m always happy to set a new fisherman out on a lifetime of enjoyment,” Dobson said.

His technique is simple. He has them cut their own pole at a nearby stand of bamboo, tip over a log for a fresh worm and rig up their new pole with line and a hook, then the teaches them how to cast into the pond.

“With a little luck, a new fisherman, or lady, is born,” said Dobson.

He also enjoys introducing families to farm life by having kids help gathering eggs and firewood.

“They are welcome to have a bonfire every night, but I always tell them they have to go get their own firewood,” he said.

Harkening back to his days as a fishing guide, Dobson said he now serves as a guide to guests who are curious about the mountain environment. For those interested, he takes them all over his property, pointing out native species, letting them sample edible items, and sharing folklore.

Guests get to sample things they may not be able to find at home like farm-fresh eggs, homemade jam and fruit right off the trees.

“I try to provide an experience that is much like traditional self-sustaining farms of the past,” Dobson said. “I believe the experience they get here is unlike anything some of my guests have ever seen.’’

Dobson has been running his small farm and guest cabin for the past 10 years and said he is hoping to reach out this year to homeschool families to offer them the opportunity to explore farm life first-hand.

“Homeschool families are free to travel when others are not so it’s a win for everyone,” Dobson said.

His farm is open year-round for vacationers, weddings, reunions, or just about anything, he said.

For those interested in learning more about agritourism in Haywood County, the 2016 guide, published by Buy Haywood is expected to be released in early May.

The guide includes farmer & tailgate markets, award winning farm-to-table restaurants, specialty retail shops, rustic hospitality venues, heritage festivals, U Pick farms, historic preservation sites and gardens, and farms welcoming visitors to explore the properties and shop in on-farm markets.

"The 2016 version of the guide is the biggest yet with the most listings and calendar of farm-related events," said Masciarelli.

To learn more about Emeral Gate Farm visit www.vrbo.com/96096

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