Mountain High in the Laurel Highlands

Reader Contribution by John D. Ivanko
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While the Mother Earth News Fair at Seven Springs Mountain Resort may have been our family’s primary destination (as speakers about renewable energy, sustainable living and farmstead cooking), it definitely wasn’t our only one in a region known as the Laurel Highlands.

For three days before the Fair, we rafted, biked, toured some of Frank Lloyd Wright-designed homes that I wrote about in my first post. Then we savored farm-to-table cuisine that blew us away at The Historic Stone House.  After our nature adventures, our family bedded down at three very different farmstays every evening.

Savoring a Taste of Place

The Stone House Restaurant, located along the original National Pike, the first national road built in the early 1800s that became a gateway to the West.  It’s about a half hour and very scenic drive from Ohiopyle — and the place for a farm-to-table feast.  Executive chef Jeremy Critchfield focuses on farm-fresh ingredients, prepared and inspired by seasonal abundance, leveraging his decades of culinary experience at some of the leading resorts around the country.  From savory crab cakes to pork chops prepared from a couple pigs he got his hands on four miles up the road, there’s something for everyone here — and it’s all delicious.

To the north, Out of the Fire Café in Donegal will entice you with their signature roasted mushroom soup and smoked salmon sampler as you take in the mountain vistas from their patio seating.  Of course, there’s plentiful roadside farmstands, too, from which you can create your own simple farm-to-table meal.

Lights Out at a Farmstay

Along valleys and across windswept ridges are picturesque farms, several of which have opened their doorsto guests looking to experience a farmstay – an increasingly popular type of accommodation on a working farm or homestead.  Northeast of Ohiopyle and located on a 65-acre homestead, Campbell Hill Farm offers both a rental cottage as well as a new “glamping” experience where we stayed in a comfortable tent atop a platform, slept in a cozy queen-sized bed, prepared meals in an outdoor kitchen and soaked away our tired bodies in an outside heated tub that faces the Allegheny Mountains.   It’s a place to channel your inner Little House On the Prairie fantasies without needing to rough it too much.

For a more pampered farmstay, we couldn’t go wrong with a night at the Inne at Watson’s Choice, situated
on a 1820s land-grant farm just outside Uniontown.  Gourmet breakfasts served in the Great Room, luxurious bedrooms and common areas, plus plentiful outside furnishings offer a respite after a day of outdoor activity. 

Finally, outside Ligonier rests the historic Foxley Farm, a 58-acre estate once used for fox hunting and which still has a fenced riding ring used today. Views from the guestrooms look out onto their kitchen garden, flower beds and pasture used by their small herd of beef cattle.

If you’re coming to the Mother Earth News Fair, plot a couple extra days to explore the many opportunities to connect with nature and savor the flavors.  No doubt, you’ll find us at The Historic Stone House to try out another of their salads with Chef Critchfield’s house-made dressings, spice rubbed Atlantic salmon (sustainably cold-water farm raised), or their Jack Daniel’s smoked pork chops from a butchered pig from a farm just up the road.

John D. Ivanko, with his wife Lisa Kivirist, have co-authored Rural Renaissance, the award-winning ECOpreneuring, and Farmstead Chef along with operating Inn Serendipity B&B and Farm, completely powered by the wind and sun.  Both are regular speakers at the Mother Earth News Fairs.  Ivanko writes and contributes photography to Mother Earth News, most recently, “9 Strategies for Self-Sufficient Living.”  They live on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin with their son, Liam, millions of ladybugs and a 10-kW Bergey wind turbine.