Harvest Hosts

Ed Smiley's, of Boise, Idaho, RV sits in Stone Cliff Winery's parking lot in Dubuque on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020. The winery is part of Harvest Hosts which allows RV owners to stay overnight for free. The RV owners in return support the Hosts by purchasing food or other items from them.

HANOVER, Ill. — Last year, a group of customers at Fergedaboudit Vineyard and Winery suggested Vicki Bruno list her business on a website where RV owners pay a subscription to park at wineries, breweries or farms.

Bruno kept the idea in the back of her mind. But when she was forced to close her business in Hanover, Ill., for several months during the COVID-19 pandemic, she decided to use the downtime to sign up for Harvest Hosts.

“We started getting phone calls and emails right away,” said Bruno, the business’ co-owner. “We will just commit to one or two (RVs) a weekend. I get like 10 or 15 calls a week. I can’t even keep up with scheduling them.”

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As more people cancel flights to stem the spread of COVID-19 and look for other ways to travel, many have purchased RVs and taken to the road. And some area businesses have started opening up their properties for travelers in hopes of attracting new business.

Harvest Hosts aims to make RV travel accessible by giving people a variety of places to stay, and, in turn, helping local businesses. Participants can pay an annual fee to access more than 1,275 sites or purchase a subscription to stay at sites as well as access golf courses.

Since signing up for Harvest Hosts in June, Fergedaboudit Vineyard and Winery has had about 50 guests arrive in their RVs, Bruno said. They are able to park at the site, sleep in their RVs overnight, explore the winery and hang out for the evening.

“It’s been really cool,” she said. “They just kind of hang out with us all day. The main purpose is for them to reciprocate. There have been people who have bought a case or two of wine. It has definitely been worth it financially.”

Bruno said guests have come from around Illinois and all over the country to get a break from the city and check out a rural winery.

“It’s been really cool,” she said.”Every one of them has been wonderful.”

Harvest Hosts representatives reached out to Stone Cliff Winery in Dubuque this summer, asking if the business would register to be one of its destinations, said Jodi Bryson, tasting room manger and event coordinator.

“We were excited right away because we love having visitors here,” she said. “We like to showcase Dubuque, and so far, we have had like seven or eight people.”

Bryson said people come and park their RVs in the parking lot and sit at the winery for lunch, and they often continue to drink wine and stay through dinner as well.

“I think it is good because it brings people to Dubuque, and they fall in love with it,” she said. “I have already had a few people say they will be back.”

Officials from Harvest Hosts did not respond to an email seeking comment for this story.