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Fall on the Farm: Agritourism Offers Plenty to Savor
It’s that time of year again, when a visit to the pumpkin farm is an essential weekend outing for families. Farmers have capitalized on the appeal of picking the perfect pumpkin, adding corn mazes, hay rides and hot cider.
But did you know that visiting small farms can also be a great travel option for grown-ups, countryside lovers and locavores alike — not to mention an important means of preserving our vanishing rural landscapes? By boosting the economic welfare of family farmers, agritourism helps them resist pressure to sell or develop their land. It also helps sustain sources of locally grown food.
Agritourism connects people and protects landscapes
Agritourism, a growing niche travel market, draws visitors to agricultural regions for recreation and education while helping farmers generate new means of supplementing their incomes. In a world where industrial food production dominates, agritourism is a way to rebuild relationships between consumers and producers through reconnecting at the source. The public is hungry for an experience of traditional farm life, which small family farmers can share. The formula is so appealing that at least one state — Vermont — has directed significant state support to agriculture for supporting rural tourism.
Farm-based tourism is diverse. It can encompass a stay in a country villa in an Umbrian olive orchard, picking grapes at a California winery or lavender in the Texas Hill Country, sampling maple syrup boiled from sap inside a Quebec sugar shack, or tasting artisanal cheeses made from the rich, fresh milk of grass-fed cows. Farms at home and abroad are opening accommodations for travelers, with Italy and Vermont leading the way.
My most recent agritourism idyll was in the Upper Midwest, where the top of Wisconsin meets Lake Superior. Read on, if you’d like a taste of the bounty agritourism can offer.
A Wisconsin sampler
I was in Bayfield for the town’s annual Apple Festival earlier this month, where I stayed at a delightful “green B&B,” the Pinehurst Inn. The small village of Bayfield sits on the south shore of Lake Superior next to the Apostle Islands. It’s a perfect microclimate for apples and berries, which the region boasts in abundance. Local farmers truck in baskets of just-picked apples, pies, pastries and cider to festival booths on the town’s main street. But the real fun is visiting the nearby orchards and farms, which court visitors with you-pick opportunities, fresh produce and fruit products, and a host of seasonal activities.
Apples ready for picking at Hauser’s Superior View Farm. Credit: Wendy Worrall Redal
I stopped first at Hauser’s Superior View Farm, a 101-year-old, five-generation family enterprise that sits atop a ridge surveying the lake and islands. Orchards blanket the hilltop, ripe apples hanging like shiny red Christmas ornaments. Alongside the hundreds of old and new varieties grown on the farm’s 30 acres, the Hausers also raise perennial flowers in several greenhouses. In 1988, Marilyn Hauser started making Hauser’s Red Barn homemade jams to augment the family’s income. The jams, jellies and apple butter are made in small batches from fruit harvested on the property, to preserve the freshest flavor. Scott and Renate Hauser have further diversified the family’s pursuits with Bayfield Winery, specializing in traditional hard ciders, meads and country wines crafted from local fruits and honey. Products are sold in the farm store next to the big red barn, where visitors can also buy one of Marilyn’s pulled pork sandwiches, slow-cooked all day and served with her special apple-cider barbecue sauce. Outside, pony rides are available for the kids, and guests can tour the orchards on a tractor-drawn hayride.
Ready for cider pressing at Bayfield Apple Company. Credit: Wendy Worrall Redal
My next stop was the Bayfield Apple Company to pick up a jug of the same tart, fresh cider I’d savored in town. I parked next to stacks of crates filled with red and green apples ready for pressing. Though the farm’s name heralds its apples, it is also Wisconsin’s largest raspberry producer. The retail shop sells a wide selection of jams, jellies, fruit butters, mustards and ciders, all made on the premises using fruit from the farm.
Blue Vista Farm, commanding a bucolic setting on a hill high above undulating pastures and the steely waters of Lake Superior, is dreamy. Certified by Travel Green Wisconsin, a program that recognizes tourism businesses committed to reducing their environmental impact, Blue Vista uses eco-friendly methods to grow its crops. These include Wisconsin’s largest certified organic blueberry planting, flowers grown without herbicides and weeded by hand, and membership in the Wisconsin Eco-Apple Project, a network of growers using Integrated Pest Management to reduce pesticide risk.
The historic 1910 barn at Blue Vista Farm. Credit: Wendy Worrall Redal
The farm seeks not just to produce fruit of the highest quality, but to provide guests with an experience “where the beauty, abundance and harmony of the farm is both seen and felt.” I felt it, wandering among pumpkins piled in the green grass outside the century-old stone and timber barn, listening to the wind rustle the maple leaves. It was comforting to learn that the farm has sold its development rights to the Bayfield Regional Conservancy, to protect it in perpetuity. While visitors may harvest their own bounty from the picking fields, the Barn Shop sells a tantalizing assortment of local products, from blueberry-lavender jam and raspberry-chipotle salsa to Wisconsin maple syrup and coffee roasted in Bayfield.
Ultimately, agritourism is all about values: the value of land stewardship, honest enterprise, community, and quality in products and relationships. Isn’t it time you headed down to the farm?
4 more farms to frequent on a fall weekend
1. Gordon Skagit Farm, Mount Vernon, Wash.
63 varieties of pumpkins, gourds and heirloom squashes, including pink banana jumbo squash, red warty thing squash, and Yugoslavian finger fruit squash (I could not be making this up!)
2. Big B’s Organic Tasting Room and Cider Mill, Hotchkiss, Colo.
The best natural, organic cider anywhere, from apples grown in the high-altitude North Fork Valley on Colorado’s Western Slope. Unpasteurized fresh-pressed cider available in season.
3. Hunter’s Honey Farm, Martinsville, Ind.
Third-generation beekeepers producing pure, natural honey and beeswax products for over 90 years. Custom-tailored farm tours can include honey extraction (in season), honey tasting and candle making.
4. Liberty Hill Farm, Rochester, Vt.
Vacation at a B&B on a working dairy farm. Feed animals, help with farm chores, learn to milk a cow, and enjoy home-cooked country breakfasts and farmhouse dinners with fresh-baked bread and garden-grown vegetables.
Happy Country Travels,
Feature photo by Wendy Worrall Redal. Fall garden display at Blue Vista Farm.
Get more economical, ecological travel ideas from Wendy Worrall Redal's eco-travel blog for Gaiam.