When cities are small, they’re usually more connected and physically closer to their agricultural roots. A visit to those farms can bring a local touch to a meeting or convention. They can be a breath of fresh, sometimes fragrant air — ever been to a hog farm?
Most of us live in cities now, so a trip to a farm might be a wake-up call for our dulled senses. Maybe you learn the difference between a Holstein and a Hereford, you meet chickens like the ones that lay your daily scrambled egg, you walk next to fields of your future food: These new experiences make brains expand like Indiana popcorn.
Farmers can also teach city slickers a lot about business. One business strategy many of 2 million farms are trying is diversification, and that includes opening their gates for tours and finding ways to make their working farms places people want to visit. Here are a few things farms are doing in that respect.
Field of Dining Dreams
Fargo, North Dakota, and its sister city Moorhead, Minnesota, sit in the Red River Valley, a highly fertile region known as the Breadbasket of the World. So it’s fitting, in fine weather — not winter, obviously — to take an opening reception or a final banquet into a field around there. A number of farms offer up their fields to groups that hunger for an eating experience that leans on locally grown foods like Wild Acres chicken thighs or duck bacon, catered by Fargo’s Luna restaurant.
It’s also possible to have an agricultural experience within Fargo’s city limits at picturesque Bear Creek Winery, with a pond, a farmhouse and vineyards that small groups can tour as they sample the maker’s dry red and white blends, made from grapes that weather Northern winters.
Slightly south of Fargo, the Solberg Farm has been around a century but sure isn’t old-school. If anyone’s up for an afternoon yoga session followed by a snack of cider and local cheeses, this sheep and fowl farm on the Wild Rice River is happy to host it.
How Now With the Holstein Cows
Sample creatively named ice cream flavors like How Now Brown Cow or Heavenly Holstein at the Falls Overlook Café in downtown Sioux Falls, South Dakota, then head to Stensland Farm, barely over the border in Iowa, to tour and meet about 200 Holstein cows whose milk makes the cool treats possible. Like 98% of America’s farms, this one is family operated and has a great story to tell of its revival 20 years ago, spurred by two grandsons looking for a way to earn money for college.
Tours can delve into diversifying a business: Owners talk about branching into ice cream and innovation as visitors see cows step into three robotic milkers that not only milk them but collect tons of production data.
After the tour, groups can sample Stensland Farm goodies such as homemade soups; sandwiches; salads; and ranch, garlic or white cheddar flavor cheese curds.
Garden Spot Grows
Like most gardens, the Woodstock Resort’s garden plot snowballed in a few short years from one acre to three on a former dairy and horse farm a mile from the resort in Woodstock, Vermont. Vegetables, fruit, herbs and cut flowers grown in the garden are all used at the resort. Three years ago, two 19th-century barns became venues for dinners and for classes in cooking and flower arranging.
The gardens are open to the public in-season, and visitors can hop on scheduled guided tours that focus on how to garden sustainably or which flowers are best for bouquets and how to grow them.
Lincoln’s Greatest Pumpkin Patch
Fall means heading to the pumpkin patch, and in Lincoln, Nebraska, Roca Berry Farm reigns as the greatest pumpkin patch of them all. It’s a far cry from the 1980s, when Roca Berry was a humble berry and pumpkin farm.
Today, the farm is where carnival meets corn. Beyond the expected hayrides, farm animals and corn maze, there are duck races, a corn corral, a zip line, a low-ropes course, Rocamotive Railroad, a giant rocking horse and more. Kids of all ages can’t help but have fun. In the evening, the farm will set up a campfire for groups, complete with skewers for s’mores. Its two event barns welcome dinners or receptions.
Over at Lakehouse Farm’s Prairie Plate Restaurant, groups can conclude a farm tour with dinner in its lakeview farm-to-fork restaurant, where 85% of the produce used is grown on the certified organic farm.
A Toast to Agritourism
With more than 40 wineries within 25 miles of Charlottesville, Virginia, viticulture is a big part of agritourism. The wineries’ natural beauty and individuality make them naturals for off-site venues. Not to mention, they always have ample wine to pour at receptions and dinners.
At Blenheim Vineyards, part of the draw is the fact that musician Dave Matthews owns the place. Matthews even designed the tasting room, with a goal of having as little impact on the environment as possible, which will be of great interest to meetings that focus on sustainability or architecture. Groups of 35 can even book the tasting room for private events. A huge lawn has room for lots of picnic tables for outdoor events with views of the mountains and valleys in this beautiful slice of Virginia.
Over at Pippin Hill Farm and Vineyard, the Vintner’s Table is a great choice for executive lunches. There, beneath an open-air pavilion, groups of eight to 16 have anything but a light lunch, as they enjoy a four-course or five-course meal, each course accompanied by one of the vineyard’s wines.