Farm to Fun

Recently, I was given the opportunity to attend a promotional farm tour as a guest of the Georgia Agritourism Association. While I was not paid to attend, nor to write this review, lodging, transportation, and meals were provided, as well as a whole bunch of amazing treats from each of the farms we visited. This post represents my honest opinions.

What are you doing this weekend? I have suggestions!!  Visit a farm – how about a pumpkin patch?

As a registered dietitian and mom, any opportunity that gets kids excited about food is right up my alley. In fact, one study showed that nutrition education, paired with a farm visit, resulted in improved nutrition knowledge and positive vegetable consumption among third graders. That sounds like research I can get behind. So when I was invited to visit a bunch of farms-turned-tourist destinations within driving distance from my home, I could not say no! I’m thrilled to share a bit of my experience at each of these locations and encourage you to get out and visit a farm in your neck of the woods. I can tell you honestly that I can’t wait to get back to these farms with my son to let him learn first hand how the food we eat grows – and just have a great time outdoors.

This was our group of bloggers out on the Georgia Agritourism Association tour. Great photo op in the BIG chair!

Southern Belle Farm, McDonough
The nearest of our farm visits was to Southern Belle Farm in McDonough, GA. A former dairy, the 330 acre farm now provides beautiful fields for u-pick strawberries in the late spring and pumpkins in the fall. Jake Carter is a 5th generation farmer and told us that the farm also provides tours for students from local schools with more than 40k visitors and over 100k customers per year. With a beautiful country store, outdoor pavilions, and plenty of fun for the kids (including pig races, tube slides, outdoor old-time arcade, fake cow to milk –> and a petting zoo), Southern Belle Farm is fully worth the trip! If you go this fall, you can also experience their corn maze.

Farmview Market, Madison
Farmview is an impressive market just a short drive off I-20 along the drive toward Augusta from Atlanta. I actually had to ask if it was a chain grocery, because the marketing and experience were so smooth. Specializing in local foods, Laura Rotroof gave a great explanation that local can mean so many different things. For Farmview local could mean from any state that touches Georgia; or it could be a product from within the state; or they even have some “hyper-local” products that are grown within 50 miles of the store! We had lunch at the Market and the food was all top-notch, fresh and delicious. Currently, the Market offers classes in all sorts of DIY subjects (from soap making to sausage!) through their Farmview Schoolhouse. If it was closer, you couldn’t keep me from taking a gardening class! They also have a weekly farmers’ market from April to October.

Mitcham Farms, Oxford
Still a family farm, the family Mitcham Farms make me think of my favorite characteristic of a farmer – innovative! The Mitcham family has tried all kinds of interesting things to help support their farm from roadside produce stands to selling fresh plants to u-pick strawberries. They’ve got a beautiful piece of 500 acres of property where they grown strawberries, blackberries, peaches, and pumpkins and plan to try apples too.  The Farm has a pavilion where they provide educational tours for schoolchildren and they offer hayrides and duck races too. We enjoyed such wonderful fellowship with Kevin Mitcham at Mitcham Farms – he even gave us some of his mother’s fig preserves and THE most delicious strawberry slushy (I didn’t even want to think about how much sugar was in it). I hope to make it back for strawberry picking!

Berry’s Christmas Tree Farm, Covington
Y’all, it is not too soon to start thinking about Christmas!! It has been a long time since I had a fresh tree, but this year might be the one. I loved visiting the Christmas Tree Farm and learning from Chuck Berry. It smelled like Christmas, partly because we were there at just the right time to see an expert trimming each tree by hand. No joke – this is serious skill. With thousands of trees on site, you will not leave without the perfect tree. The trees cost about $6-7 per foot, so they can also be really affordable. And you can also enjoy sweet treats, hot cocoa, and a train ride too!

 

Yule Forest
Susie and Allen Grant run this adorable Christmas tree farm turned pumpkin patch in the fall! The Grants have turned their farm into a learning lab for children, especially the ones in the nearby elementary school. They host school groups to visit their farm, learn about hydroponics, local insects, animals and plants, and even have an educational video about bees and a puppet show! This time of the year, you can visit the pumpkin patch, run through a corn maze, jump on the GIANT pillow, and (if you’re not chicken like me) go through a haunted maze. You won’t catch me in that scary stuff, but if you’re into it, I hear it’s awesome!

The Rock Ranch, The Rock
My personal favorite place we visited was The Rock Ranch. Owned by the Cathy family (Chick-fil-A), the Ranch is made up of 1,500 acres of property that includes several private homes, plus five farm-stay homes (where we stayed and they are so comfortable and beautiful!) and a conestoga wagon camp if you’re into “glamping”. The property also serves as a cattle ranch with a roaming herd. They alsohost super fun day themed events like Cowboy Day in the fall and an Easter egg hunt with over 55k eggs! While the Ranch is open to the public for special events and for a period in the fall, their big specialty is for corporate events and team building. The site features pedal cars, jumping pillow, paddle boat, climbing wall, train, u-pick (in season), zip line, and a petting zoo. The staff, including Ana, Jeff, and Adam were incredibly kind and accommodating. Their purpose statement is, “Uniting families with the land and each other.” How can you not want to be part of that?!

Dickey Farms, Musella
In operation since 1897, Dickey Farms was a wonderful destination and Cynde Dickey was a delightful host. They grow 20 varieties of peaches on 1,000 acres (that’s 120-150 trees per acre). Nearly everything there is done by hand, because peaches are so delicate! Some of the varieties of peaches aren’t even shipped off site because they’re that perishable. Because of that, you should make your way down to get them in person! Well, that and so that you can visit their wonderful open-air country store, stock up on peach goodies (think peach salsa and BBQ sauce), and taste their luscious soft-serve peach ice cream. I’m not kidding when I say that ice cream is worth the trip! I’ll definitely be back and I suggest that you go to.

Lane Orchards, Fort Valley
The largest operation that we visited, Lane Orchards was such a fun way to finish up our farm tour. Lane grows 2,400 acres of peaches and 3,300 acres of pecans. Wow! is right. David Lane, 5th generation grower, met with us to show us around. He took us out to the u-pick field where they have 7 acres of strawberries, blueberries, apples, and…wait for it…kiwi! in addition to apples. They also have beautiful zinnias (flowers) that serve to keep things beautiful while attracting pollinators – and they’re also free for guests to take with them. One of the most interesting things we learned is that, because their harvest is so large and labor intensive, they work with the U.S. government and Mexico through a special program that allows workers to come and help with harvest. Workers are paid a fair wage, provided housing and transportation, and about 95% of the workers come back every year. This partnership provides much needed labor for the farm, which would not be able to hire enough local labor to meet their needs otherwise. Lane is a large operation, but very clearly a family business. I can’t wait to get back there for a visit.

 

The best part of the trip was meeting so many wonderful people who take such pride in what they do. Agriculture + Tourism = a chance for every family connect to the land and to each other. (P.S. To view more pics from my tour, visit my Facebook page at www.facebook.com/dietitiansherry!)

Our guide Anna Messer from The Rock Ranch was amazing. So friendly, knowledgable, and kept time about like I do!

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