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Petting zoos, picking your own produce—such as spring’s sweet berries and summer’s peaches—and winding your way through fall’s corn mazes before choosing a pumpkin can give you a taste of rural life. But if you’re looking for a more immersive event, a farm tour offers a feast for the senses.
With dusty barns, wafts of manure, goats bleating, and the smell of soil as a backdrop, farm tours give a behind-the-scenes, insider’s perspective of farm life. With farmers themselves often serving as the guides, you’ll see connections between products at the supermarket and farmer’s market and how food is produced beyond perhaps your own efforts as a home gardener. Odds are, you also come away with a greater appreciation for nature’s bounty.
Here’s a round-up of some great farm tours throughout the U.S. that yield a variety of agriculture adventures.
Kid Around at Split Creek Farm
Young goats—known as kids—are a highlight of Split Creek Farm, a 27-acre artisanal goat farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains foothills of Anderson County, South Carolina. On this self-guided farm tour, you’ll get a close-up of goat life. “We want people to see what is involved in a working farm and be able to appreciate the benefits of goats,” says Sandra Coffman, co-owner.
Split Creek Farm features 235 outgoing goats, with names like Twist of Fate and Miss Amelia Earhart, and a menagerie of rescue pot-bellied pigs, Mustang chickens, guinea hens, ducks, and farm kitties. Hang around until 4 p.m. and you’ll catch Sam, the resident border collie, herding the goats in from the fields for milking. Wander over to the dairy barn to tour the milking parlor, milking and cheese operations, and the kid nursery.
After your DIY tour, sample Split Creek Farm’s goat milk fudge and award-winning feta. “We’re No. 1 in the U.S.A.,” says co-owner Jessica Bell.
Good to Know: Tours are free, but donations are always welcome.
Tap into Pure Maple Syrup in Virginia
Nestled in the Allegheny Mountains on the western side of Shenandoah Valley is Virginia’s sweet spot: Highland County. With its abundance of sugar maple trees, this region is one of the nation’s southernmost places for producing pure maple syrup. The Virginia Maple Syrup Trail passport program makes it easy to tour eight maple syrup sugar camps, most of which are located on working farms.
“On the Virginia Maple Syrup Trail, you’ll learn about the tapping process from the producers themselves and what makes good sap flow, then transition to the sugar houses to see how maple syrup is produced and get a tasting,” says Missy Moyers-Jarrells, owner of Laurel Fork Sapsuckers, a sugar camp and family farm on the trail that has been in her family for 79 years. “Everyone associates maple syrup with pancakes, but we also encourage visitors to use it in their daily cooking and baking,” says Moyers-Jarrells, such as in a marinade for salmon or as a flavoring for popcorn. Visit her farm and you’ll leave with several pure maple syrup recipe ideas.
Photo Credit: Laurel Fork Sap Suckers
Each sugar camp tour takes an hour. Because the sugar camps are scattered throughout Highland county, stamping your passport at each of the eight maple syrup farms can take two days. You’ll not only get to learn and taste different maple syrups, you’ll experience the peace and expansive views of Highland County with elevations as high as 4,000 feet.
Good to Know: Due to a lack of cell phone service in this mountainous region, be sure to print a map of the area before you arrive. Tours are free. Learn more and reserve your spot.
Bond with Llamas at Moose River Farm
On the outskirts of Old Forge, a leafy resort town in New York’s Adirondack region, lies Moose River Farm, which offers daily llama trekking on trails carved from the farm’s 77 wooded acres. “Llama trekking is a relaxing, ethereal experience with creatures who are rather aloof until you get them on a lead rope—then they are your best friend,” says owner Anne Phinney, author of Finding My Way to Moose River Farm.
Upon arrival, mingle with the llamas in the barn. Phinney, a retired sixth grade teacher, will provide llama lessons, including the fact that llamas are people-friendly because they’re pack animals and not to worry about llamas’ spitting habit. “Llamas only spit at other llamas, particularly if one gets too close to their hind quarters,” she says. “I warn guests ‘there’s no butt sniffing.’”
You’ll lead your llama, such as Chokko, along Moose River Farm’s hilly one-mile trail, which simulates what llamas are bred to do: transport as much as 80 pounds on their backs through their native Andes Mountains of Peru. Phinney will also introduce you to the farm’s resident goats, pigs, horses, donkeys, and Cappuccino—a personable goose Phinney hatched from an egg on her kitchen counter a few years ago. “Cappuccino and the bond that forms with your llama is what makes this experience truly memorable,” says Phinney. Afterwards, feel free to grab a bite in town at Slickers, one of Phinney’s favorite Old Forge restaurants.
Good to Know: The cost is $25 per person for a 45-minute llama trek followed by a 45-minute farm tour. Llama tours run twice daily: 10 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. (summer); 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. (winter).
Full Farm Transparency at White Oak Pastures
Jodi Harris Benoit and her family, owners of White Oak Pastures in Bluffton, Georgia, are on a mission to show how food can be produced with holistic regenerative practices involving animal welfare, land regeneration, and zero waste. The 3,500-acre operation produces beef, lamb, goat, pork, rabbit, and poultry (including geese, guinea hens, ducks, and turkeys). It’s one of the only farms in the U.S. with both red meat and poultry abattoirs (slaughterhouses) on site. White Oak Pastures also has a certified organic vegetable garden and pastured egg operation.
Photo Credit: Angie Mosier
With hanging carcasses on display in the abattoirs, “this is not Disney World,” says Harris Benoit. “Be sure to wear boots and old clothes. It’s the real deal and it can sometimes be messy.”
If walking isn’t your style, ask about a guided horseback tour. Afterward, enjoy dinner in the dining area located within the farm’s general store.
White Oak Farms offers daily one-hour tours by appointment and overnight lodging in its four one-bedroom cabins, nestled in longleaf pines. It also features a two-bedroom Pond House, which sits on a peninsula of a 15-acre pond, plus leather tanning and tallow candle workshops.
Tours start in the farm’s general store, where there’s a restaurant and Wi-Fi. “But that’s about it,” Harris Benoit says. “So, you’re kind of forced to put technology down and get outside.”
Good to Know: Tours cost $50 for a group of five; additional adults will be charged $10 per person.
Small Scale Farming at Leaping Lamb Farm
What is a male and female sheep called? How about a baby sheep? By the time you’re done taking a tour of Leaping Lamb Farm in Alsea, Oregon, in the quiet creek valley of the Coast Range, you’ll know. (Cheat sheet: ram, ewe and lamb).
Photo Credit: Leaping Lamb Farm
“We do a vocabulary test,” says owner Scottie Jones. On the tour of the 65-acre livestock farm, Jones will fill you in on the farm’s hair sheep that shed their wool, eliminating the need for shearing. You’ll also meet the farm’s horse, donkey, and friendly goats plus walk through the farm’s greenhouse and quarter-acre garden. When you get to the chickens in the yard, Jones will discuss why eggs are different colors. Overnight guests can pick their own vegetables for their meals. “It’s a quick course in small scale farming,” says Jones. “There are no stupid questions.”
Good to Know: Tours cost $40 for up to four guests, $10 for each additional guest; children 2 years old and under are free. Maximum tour size is 10 guests. Tours are offered once a day.
Overnight farm stays are $200-350 per night for up to 12 people.
Farm Safari at Los Poblanos
Since 1999, Los Poblanos Historic Inn & Organic Farm, which features 50 guest rooms and a working organic farm nestled in the village of Los Ranchos de Albuquerque in New Mexico in the heart of the Rio Grande River Valley, has been growing organic lavender.
On a private Los Poblano’s guided farm safari tour, you’ll traverse the farm’s 25 purple acres of organic lavender. Led by Wes Brittenham, the farm and landscapes manager, and Kate Gardner, the cultural coordinator, you’ll learn about the challenges of growing lavender in the desert, the farm’s selection of water-wise crops, its compost practices, its field to fork model, and tour its organic kitchen gardens. You’ll also tour the farm’s beekeeping facilities, hoop house, greenhouse and distillation center and meet the farm animals.
“You can attend a tour several times and learn something new, as things are always changing and evolving on the farm,” says Lauren Kemner, Los Poblanos’ marketing manager.
Good to Know: Tours are complimentary for lodging guests; contact Los Poblanos Historic Inn & Organic Farm for its public tour fee, which is a new option. Los Poblanos’ farm safari tour covers 1.5 miles on gravel paths and uneven ground, so be sure to wear walking shoes and weather-appropriate attire.
Sandra Gordon has been writing about food, travel, health and medicine from her home office in Stamford, Connecticut since long before working from home was cool.