Monday, August 19, 2013

Working at the Northwest FMCA Rally

Aug 7-11, 2013
Corvallis, Oregon
Chez Cook’s RV Pad

Early in our full-timing travels we became members of Harvest Hosts, a program that allows you to dry camp at wineries, farms, and orchards all around the United States (and even a few locations in Canada and the Baja region of Mexico). Last March in their monthly newsletter, I read that the owners of the company, Kim and Don Greene, were looking for volunteers to represent them at the Northwest FMCA Rally in Albany, Oregon.  Knowing we would be staying only about ten miles from Albany during the time of the rally, Vic and I thought this would be a good opportunity for us to experience a rally without having to pay the $165 registration cost. I sent the Greenes an e-mail letting them know how much we have enjoyed our Harvest Hosts stays and our interest in volunteering to work at the rally.  About a week later, they confirmed they would like us to represent them and provided us with more information about what this commitment would entail.

nw fmca rally flyer

They would pay our registration fees and we would be attending the rally as vendors. Our job was to set up a booth with all their materials to let people know about Harvest Hosts and sell memberships. One added piece was to hold a one hour seminar for those interested to see a slide show of the various locales available and get more details about the benefits of joining the Harvest Hosts community. Having done many presentations as an educational consultant during my teaching years, I nominated myself to be the seminar leader while Vic worked the booth. One negative aspect of this particular rally was that all participants would be dry camping at the Linn County Expo Center. With temperatures forecast to be in the high 80s that week, Vic and I decided to keep our motorhome at our friend’s home in Corvallis where our dogs could have air conditioning without the need to run a generator all day.

We have met many RVers who attend rallies on a regular basis, but so far it just hasn’t been something that sounded too appealing to us. We are members of FMCA but don’t belong to any special chapters; we just enjoy the occasional discount it provides and like reading their monthly magazine. We really didn’t know what to expect other than having a pretty good idea of what the exhibitors area would be like from having attended a fair number of RV shows. From what we can tell, people attend rallies for the camaraderie, catered meals, live entertainment, seminars, and RV showcase.

fmca logo

With plans confirmed months in advance, all we had to do was wait until the date drew nearer and the Greenes would FedEx a mega box of materials to us for our rally vendor debut. Kim also encouraged me to add any decorations of my own to make the booth look more inviting. Given my penchant for wine, beautiful tablecloths, and fresh flowers, I looked forward to the opportunity to embellish the display.


To be honest, as the date drew near, we started to wonder why this commitment once sounded like such a good idea. Some of our closest friends who now live in Mexico were going to be in Corvallis this week and we had to work! Our hours were 10-4 on Thursday and 9-4 Friday and Saturday, plus we had to arrive on Tuesday or Wednesday to set up everything. After two years of being retired, this little job made me realize how much I take our freedom for granted. In spite of a few last minute misgivings, we went with open minds to see what the rally experience was all about and with excitement to help expand the Harvest Host community.

The rally was very well-organized with about 350 people in attendance which I learned was about 100 fewer attendees than previous years. The national FMCA rally was held in Gillette, Wyoming in late June which, according to the organizers, caused a lower turnout for the Northwest gathering. Setting up the booth went smoothly and, thanks to “shopping” at a friend’s home, I had fun adding some pieces that enhanced the harvest theme.



Our first day of work, we each took a little time to walk around and check out the other vendors’ offerings and see if there were any seminars we were interested in attending. (Did I think to take photos—no.) Vic sneaked off to attend a tire and battery seminar presented by Les Schwab, a major tire dealer in the Northwest. He said there were about twelve people in attendance, something I was curious about as my seminar was scheduled for the next day. One piece of information that was new to him had to do with the manufacture date stamped on tires. Apparently, this date has no relevance for determining the 5-7 year window for tire replacement because tires can sit in shipping containers or warehouses for 6 months to a year before they are mounted on a motorhome or RV. So you should go with the installation date. Another myth that was debunked is the need to put a barrier between your tires and concrete or blacktop parking surfaces. The tire expert says he gets asked this all the time and there is no simply no truth to it; however, covering your tires to protect them from UV rays and weather is an important practice. Overall, Vic said attending the presentation was good for reinforcing what he already knew.

I was interested in attending a seminar on making pine needle baskets, but the time didn’t work out. Other than a few stretch breaks, I stayed in the booth most of the time freeing Vic up to check out the new motorhomes for trade-in possibilities—not!  Quite a few folks stopped by our booth to find out what the banner that said “Free Camping” was all about. Having a bowl of candy might have attracted more folks, but having a bottle of wine on the table lured in a few curiosity-seekers with hopes of a free wine tasting. We also had a good number of folks who were already Harvest Host members stop by to tell us of the fantastic places they have stayed. I kept a running list of hot tips from these folks and started to think about changing our fall itinerary to specifically seek out some of these places.

Like anything, if you really want to learn about a subject, teach it. Kim sent me a 5-page script and a DVD with a slide show for the seminar, but reading directly from a script is not my style. I reviewed the script a few times (happy to have it), then made an outline for talking points. I also previewed the slideshow so I would know what the photos looked like and could adjust the timing. I have to admit learning more about what membership in Harvest Hosts offers and seeing some amazing photos of the wineries and farms made me more excited about seeking out new HH overnight places as we travel across country this fall.

Lots of folks who stopped by our booth said they would be coming to the seminar, but I know that doesn’t always happen. In this case it seems like it did. I did a rough estimate of the number of folks in the room and it exceeded 50! This turnout surprised me as the cost of an annual membership is only $40 and it’s not hard to figure out how it works. Maybe since it was held on a Friday afternoon, they thought I would have something more than the root beer floats offered at the Sky Med session next door.
To help fill the hour and add a little personal experience to the presentation, I showed a mini-slideshow of our own photos from staying at Harvest Host locales. The photo I took of our dogs at Jaxson Keys Winery near Mendocino was a big hit.

I also told the story about enjoying a bottle of wine on the porch of their 100-year-old farmhouse after hours. For one sweet evening, we had the pleasure of pretending we owned our own winery as we had this gorgeous place all to ourselves.

Aside from some great stays at wineries, I also told the audience about our stay at Sunbonnet Farm in Fort Collins, Colorado. The owner, Pam, turned out to be a retired teacher like myself who signed up to be a host just to meet new people. She had a mini-farm with donkeys and horses that she rescued and, unlike most Harvest Hosts sites, she had nothing to sell. She offered us several different places to park depending on our preference for views and encouraged us to stay the whole week. She even brought us fresh chicken and goose eggs in the morning for breakfast and had a huge fenced pasture for the dogs to roam free. With her encouragement, we ended up staying three nights using her place as a base for exploring the area including Rocky Mountain National Park.

sunbonnet farm view

I ended my seminar with a Q and A session that included a short demonstration of how the on-line program works once you are a member. The funny part was that several folks left a little early to beat the rush back to the booth where you had to go to sign up and pay and Vic became a little overwhelmed as I forgot I had the computer with the credit card swipe. Everyone was very understanding and patient and seemed to be pretty excited about adding this new kind of overnight stay experience to their travels.


In terms of attending a rally, we might do so in the future but it would have to be during a lull in our travels. We didn’t get the full flavor of this rally as we opted to return to Corvallis after our shift so we could spend time with our Mazatlan friends rather than staying for the meal and entertainment. We both felt rather exhausted from being on our feet and talking to people all day long, but most folks were quite engaging and had valuable stories to tell from their own RVing experiences. The serendipitous benefit is being inspired to make more use of our membership and discover some more HH gems along the way in our travels from Washington to New York and south to Florida. Lastly, this experience also convinced us we are not ready for workamping as that idea flits through our minds from time to time. Maybe I should change the name of our blog to Freedom Seekers. . . . Thanks for coming along with us.



  1. That was indeed a very hectic week-end. I am so glad you shared the info about tires. Thanks!

    I like your stories and I am sure the folks in attendance did too!

  2. Sounds like you both gave and got a lot out of this experience. A win/win all around. You've definitely made me think more seriously about Harvest Hosts. I won a year's membership at a rally and gave it away becasue I am not a wine drinker. Now I'm thinking that was a BIG mistake. I'm especially interested in your stay near Rocky Mountain National Park as we plan to go there on our next trip west. Wish I could have heard your presentation. I'll bet you were great and Harvest Hosts has a lot of new members thanks to you both.

    1. I meant to reply much sooner. Having too much fun in Oregon, I guess. I would definitely encourage you to join before going to Colorado. You would love the Sunbonnet Farm and Pam's welcoming spirit.

  3. We looked into Harvest Hosts a few years ago ... but without knowing how many wineries, if any, participated in the program in the VA area, decided to pass for now. Will have to check out their website again. Interesting about not having to put anything between the tires and concrete/blacktop, etc. I'll have to go back and look at the Michelin tire booklet we have as I am pretty sure they specifically recommend doing so.

    1. Vic says the Michelin tire booklet does recommend a barrier for "long term storage," but this guy had been in the tire industry for over thirty years and said it is not necessary when staying in parks for a month or two.

      Do check into Harvest Hosts again when you are back in the country and out on the road. It's a lovely option.

  4. You confirmed what I thought I might feel should we decide to take on a workamping gig. Our lifestyle is way too fun! Like you our Harvest Host stays have been unique and enjoyable. Glad you still had time to enjoy your friends!


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