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Agritourism in the Heartland

Courtesy Silos and Smokestacks

Silos and Smokestacks National Heritage Area
Waterloo, Iowa
Whether its hand-feeding buffalo at the Hawkeye Buffalo Ranch, sipping wine at any of the local vineyards, touring the fields at one of the many working farms or picking flowers at Miss Effie’s Country Flowers and Garden Stuff, everyone can find something they enjoy at the Silos.

The Silos and Smokestacks National Heritage Area covers 37 counties in the northeast region of Iowa and is one of only 49 federally designated national heritage areas in the nation. The area seeks to preserve American history by telling the story of early American agriculture, from dairy farms and museums to vineyards and tractor assembly tours.

Each year, the area welcomes groups to its more than 100 sites, where all of the attractions have a connection to agriculture, and a number of them offer hands-on farm experiences or other unusual agriculture-related experiences.

“There’s so much to experience, it’s hard to focus on just one thing while you’re here,” said Aaron Steinmann, marketing and communications manager for the area, who made a point to note that many of the attractions offer incentives, such as the free ice cream at the end of the Hansen’s Dairy tour.

Fair Oaks Farms
Northern Indiana
You could call a visit to the fields and barns of Fair Oaks Farms an “extraordinarily dairy” experience. The entire idea behind the farm is to educate society about modern farming efforts in a fun way, and the staff there does just that every day.

“We’re here basically to create a destination for families and groups to come and enjoy themselves and also get that education,” said Leslie Rusk, marketing director at Fair Oaks Farms in northwest Indiana, whose favorite thing to do on the farm is go to the nursery and see the newborns. “It never gets old.”

Fair Oaks Farms is a family-owned, environmentally sensitive dairy farm set among thousands of acres brimming with herds of cows. Groups can take part in the Dairy Adventure, the main attraction of the farm that takes guests behind the scenes of dairy production, from a 4-D movie experience to visiting the birthing barn and touring the largest working dairy farm in the country.

Other great stops for groups at the farm include a cheese factory, a cafe, a garden, a gift shop and Mooville, an outdoor play area for children that’s open weekends from Labor Day to Oct. 28. In 2013, the farm will be adding two new adventure areas that focus on pigs and fish, so groups can choose one, two or all three animal lifecycle experiences.

Kristy Alpert

Kristy Alpert has traversed more than 50 countries in her quest to uncover stories for her outlets in Food & Wine, Men's Health, Group Travel Leader, American Way, and more. When she's not on the road, you can find her teaching yoga and exploring around her new home in Germany with her husband and her Boston Terrier, Tobias.