Courtesy of Ostlie’s Sunnyside Acres
Courtesy of James Ranch
At the family-owned James Ranch in Colorado, visitors can hang out with the animals and purchase items like raw-milk cheese and homemade jams.
If your definition of a farm tour involves corn mazes, pumpkin patches, and hayrides full of screaming children, it’s time for a rewrite.
Dovetailing with a booming interest in farm-to-fork eating, agritourism—wherein guests stay at or tour farms or other agriculturally related ventures—is a burgeoning sector of the travel industry. While you may not be ready to spend a summer herding sheep in Italy with WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms), there are countless opportunities closer to home to learn more about where food comes from and who grows it. What follows are six insightful U.S. farm tours offering a behind-the-scenes look at modern agriculture, from organic cranberry farming in Cape Cod to goat milking in South Carolina.
Carrington, North Dakota
Lindsay and Mike Ostlie may grow haskap berries and hardneck garlic at their Sunnyside Acres farm in Carrington, two hours northwest of Fargo, but their hops are the real stars of the show. The couple sells most of its lupulin harvest to Fargo Brewing Company for use in its Farm Fresh beer; the rest goes to Laughing Sun in Bismarck, Kilstone Brewing in Fargo, and various Dakotan home brewers. Day-trippers tour the couple’s vintage granary and sustainable hopyard, learning the many ins and outs of hops production along the way. Mike studied Crop & Weed Sciences in college, so he can really get in the weeds on the technical stuff (pun intended). Ostlie’s Sunnyside Acres is open for tours from June to September; reservations are required.
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Husband and wife Leo and Andrea Cakounes love showing guests around Cape Farm Supply & Cranberry Company, their organic cranberry bog—the largest on Cape Cod—and explaining the many ways that harvesting this native North American fruit differs from what you’ve seen in the Ocean Spray commercials. (You won’t be up to your knees in floating cranberries, for one; the bogs are only flooded during harvest season and that step lasts about 24 hours.) Andrea leads the 90-minute group tours, which dive deep on the growing process while weaving in humorous stories about working on the bog. Raising cranberries is a year-round endeavor, but tours are offered in spring, summer, and fall only. Sweet-tart souvenirs such as cranberry sauce, sweetened dried cranberries, and cranberry bog honey are for sale at the on-site farm stand.
John’s Island, South Carolina
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This charming Lowcountry goat dairy, located about 25 minutes from downtown Charleston, is a two-man operation—and both of these men were doing something different a few years back. Chris Maher was a chef before he became the cheesemaker-in-chief. Danny Sillivant was a real estate agent turned head herdsmen. They teamed up in 2017 and took over the Burden Creek Dairy, along with its herd of 30-something goats. Trixie, Edna, Pebbles, and the rest of the caprine gang are now considered to be their family, and the duo offers two-hour farm tours that travelers can book year-round via Airbnb Experiences, inviting them to try their hand at goat milking, to cuddle and bottle-feed the kids, and to sample some of the farm’s primo artisanal soft cheeses. (John’s Island Green, a chèvre made with garlic and seasonal herbs, and Sweet Sunset, a pineapple-mango goat cheese coated with chili powder, receive rave reviews.)
Jeff Davis Parish, Louisiana
Although some crawfish are caught in local swamps and bayous, far more are raised on freshwater farms deep in Acadiana, the southern region of Louisiana that has historically been home to the Francophone population. From March through May, the Jeff Davis Parish Tourist Commission leads crawfish farm tours to Tietje Crawfish Farm in Roanoke, set on a 65-acre pond about 90 minutes west of Baton Rouge, to showcase the wee crustaceans’ preferred habitat. (They don’t call ’em mudpuppies for nothing.) Visitors remain dry on a dock while waders-clad farmer Burt Tietje gives his spiel while standing knee-deep in mucky water. After learning about pond ecology, the dietary preferences of crawfish, and harvesting, guests are ferried to the I-10 Crawfish Cooperative to learn how crawfish are cleaned, graded, distributed, and marketed. The tour ends with a brief stop at Gator Chateau in Jennings, too, an alligator farm where guests have an opportunity to hold and hand-feed rescued baby gators.
Unlike some marijuana-centric tours, which are more about getting high than higher education, the immersive half-day excursions led by Matt Kurth, CEO of four-year-old Humboldt Cannabis Tours, focus on the history and science of legal cultivation throughout Northern California’s “Emerald Triangle,” the largest cannabis-producing region in the nation, consisting of Mendocino, Humboldt, and Trinity counties. Travelers can reserve their spots on a customized daylong farm tour based on their personal interests, visiting with commercial growers and/or manufacturers of cannabis concentrate. The informative outings offer a front-row seat to sustainable cultivation, dissecting every step from seeding and harvesting to trimming and curing. In addition to touring working farms, guests can splice in a cannabis-oil massage, a cooking lesson with a cannabis-friendly chef, visits to local dispensaries, or stops at some of the surrounding redwoods’ most beautiful natural settings. (Before he got into cannabis tourism, Kurth spent a decade working as a wilderness expedition leader.)
For the general-interest traveler heading through southwestern Colorado, the 2.5-hour tour of family-run James Ranch, just north of Durango, offers a fine overview on organic farming. Namesake cofounder Dave James tours groups of eight guests or fewer around his property in an electric vehicle, narrating the entire visit. He’ll show you where his cattle graze, often alongside wild elk, and then take you to his on-site dairy to demo how the cows get milked and the cheeses get made. Other farm animal sightings might include hens, turkeys, and pigs. And no tour is complete without picking up a few souvenirs from the James Ranch market, which sells homemade jams and ice cream, grass-fed beef, raw-milk cheese, and farm-fresh eggs. Reservations are required, and guided tours are offered from July through the end of August.
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