You’ll never find food fresher than this.
At farms across the United States, visitors come to connect with agricultural heritage and sample the bounties of the land. And it’s not all hayrides and U-pick orchards: Today’s farmers have begun offering immersive, interactive dining experiences that combine the ambiance of a rustic farm setting with the culinary quality and innovation that travelers demand.
If your group loves good food, plan to take them to one of these eight charming farm dinners.
Fair Oaks Farms
Fair Oaks, Indiana
In northwest Indiana, Fair Oaks Farms has become one of the largest agritourism destinations in the Midwest. The farm opened in 2004 as a co-op of local dairy farmers. Today, it offers a full day’s worth of activities for visitors. Groups can take the Dairy Adventure, during which they explore the state-of-the-art workings of the dairy farm, or the Crop Adventure, which illustrates how plants and produce are grown at farms in the area.
When it’s time to eat, groups gather at the Farmhouse Restaurant. This casual eatery features dishes like bacon cheeseburgers, chicken wings and the Pig Adventure. House specialties include a cheese board, cheese curds, macaroni and cheese, and other dishes made with cheese from the Fair Oaks dairy. Ice cream from the dairy makes a great way to finish your farm-fresh meal.
Living History Farms
Iowa’s Living History Farms has a special mission: to educate visitors on the role of agriculture in Midwestern life during the 1900s. To do so, this working farm employs a team of living-history interpreters who re-create aspects of daily life on a farm and a small rural town. For hungry visitors, the most engaging form of education is the 1900 Farm Dinner program.
This dining program is hosted by specially trained historical interpreters, who prepare the food on-site using period equipment and historically authentic methods. Guests can watch them prepare food over a wood-burning stove in the kitchen of a historic home, then gather around the dining room table to sample the historic flavors themselves. The dinner menu varies throughout the year depending on what’s in season, but favorites include roasted turkey, pumpkin butter, cider and roasted root vegetables.
California is known for its dairy industry, but Harley Farms puts an unusual spin on this concept by creating dairy products with milk from goats raised on-site. Groups can tour this farm in Pescadero to visit the goats, see how they are milked and then learn how the dairy turns the goat’s milk into delicious cheeses and other products.
For a more involved and intimate experience, groups can book a Dinner at the Dairy. The experience starts with hors d’oeuvres in the garden at dusk. Then the group moves to a rustic table in the hayloft of the main barn. The loft seats 20 guests, but the farm can accommodate larger groups as well. Visitors dine by candlelight, enjoying foods produced at the dairy and provided by other farmers and purveyors from the Pescadero area.
When Nobel Prize-winning author Sinclair Lewis asked Dorothy Thompson to marry him, she agreed on the condition that he buy her a farm in Vermont. So he found a 1795 farmhouse with 300 acres, and the couple made it their home in 1928. Since then, the farm has been repurposed as a luxury resort, and visiting groups can arrange to have dinners there that reflect the farm’s historic ambiance and commitment to freshness.
The farm’s culinary team doesn’t use set menus. Instead, chefs create new dishes daily based on the produce, meats and seafood available from local purveyors. Groups can have breakfast, lunch or dinner in the historic farm house. For smaller gatherings and more special occasions, the farm also offers a chef’s table dining experience that takes place in the kitchen as well as opportunities to dine in the wine cellar.
Elderslie Farm was founded in 2010 when a brother and sister began planting blackberries on a plot of land near their childhood home. Today, the farm, just north of Wichita, Kansas, continues to grow blackberries and other vegetables. The farm also raises goats and uses their milk to make feta, chevre, ricotta and mozzarella cheeses in an on-site dairy.
Farm dining has become a staple at Elderslie. Depending on their size and the weather on the day of the event, groups can enjoy meals in various indoor and outdoor locations on the property. Options include brunch, lunch, appetizers and a multicourse farm-to-table dinner prepared with ingredients grown on the farm or sourced from around Wichita. The farm also offers traditional fine-dining experiences on the weekends.
Barrier Island Eco Tours
Isle of Palms, South Carolina
Not all harvests happen on farms. In South Carolina, groups can explore the world of commercial fishing and see how hardworking people harvest shrimp, oysters and other seafood. Barrier Island Eco Tours takes groups on three- to four-hour cruises up the intracoastal waterway and through commercial fishing waters to Capers Island Preserve, a barrier island accessible only by boat.
During the cruise, hosts explain the history and ecology of the fishing industry in the area. Once guests arrive at the island, they’re treated to a delicious beachside cookout with dishes such as a lowcountry boil that features smoked sausage, corn, potatoes, onions and shrimp freshly caught in nearby waters. The staff also often harvests some oysters on the way to the barrier island and will grill them over an open flame during the cookout.
J.Q. Dickenson Salt-Works
Malden, West Virginia
West Virginia has farms of all kinds, but one of the most interesting to visit is J.Q. Dickenson Salt-Works, where locals have been mining for brine since 1817. The farm produces small-batch finishing salts harvested from the ancient Iapetus Ocean, a saltwater deposit trapped under the mountains of Appalachia. Today, groups can tour the farm and learn how locals have been mining salt there for two centuries. There’s also an on-site shop where visitors can buy the finishing salts and other products.
Groups can sample the saltworks’ signature product during a series of farm-to-table events in a beautiful, rustic outdoor setting. Meals feature locally sourced ingredients and are finished with Dickenson salts. Groups can also hold private events at the farm outside of the regularly scheduled farm dinners.
Prairie Fruits Farm and Creamery
In 2003, Wes Jarrell and Leslie Cooperbrand left their academic lives in Madison, Wisconsin, to pursue their agricultural dreams. They opened Prairie Fruits Farm and Creamery in Champaign, Illinois, and planted more than 350 fruit trees and 600 berry plants on land that was previously used for buckwheat. Now the farm also includes a herd of more than 70 goats that supply milk for the on-site creamery. Groups can take tours of the farm to see the pastures, meet the goats, walk through the orchard and taste some of the creamery products.
For a more in-depth experience, Prairie Fruits offers farm-to-table dinners. These multicourse, slow-food meals showcase Midwestern agricultural tradition. Many of the vegetables, herbs and fruits served at the meals come from the farm, as do the milk, eggs and cheese. Each meal features a theme and a discussion with a guest farmer.