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Heartlands Behind the Scenes

America’s Heartland is known for its rich agricultural heritage and for manufacturing some of the most iconic American-made products in the world. From cheese, chocolate and horses to motorhomes and Ford trucks, this selection of farm and factory tours will fuel your imagination and paint a picture of what it means to be made in America.


Winnebago Motorhome Factory Tour

Forest City, Iowa

Visitors to Winnebago Industries are usually astounded by the size of the property, but it takes a lot of space to churn out 9,000 motorhomes annually.

The company, which has been in business since 1958, offers tours of its huge campus and manufacturing facility daily, Monday through Friday. Groups start their visit at the Visitor’s Center in Forest City, where they can visit the museum before taking a tour of the manufacturing facilities. The Forest City plant makes Winnebago’s Class A and Class C motorhomes.

Tours take about two hours because they highlight the entire Winnebago campus, which is “almost a city within a city,” said Sam Jefson, public relations specialist for Winnebago Industries. “It’s fun to see all this happening.”

The tour takes visitors through two specific buildings, one where motorhome interiors are stitched together and the other where the vehicles themselves are produced. They can see chairs, window valances, sofas and other pieces of furniture being made. They also can view the main production facility in a building nicknamed Big Bertha because it is eight football fields long. It features two production lines. Guests can look down on the production from two different mezzanines, where they can see things like the extended living spaces being built into the motorhomes.

“It’s a pretty fascinating thing to watch,” he said.

Winnebago accommodates close to 10,000 visitors a year.

The Tempel Lipizzans

Old Mill Creek, Illinois

Lipizzan stallions were bred to be cavalry horses 400 years ago. When the horses were no longer used in battle, they were adopted by the royal courts of Europe as the epitome of classical riding and highly choreographed horse ballet, said Esther Buonanno, program director at The Tempel Lipizzans in Old Mill Creek, Illinois.

The Tempel Lipizzans is a private riding school in America’s Heartland where visitors can tour the grounds, see the magnificent stables and watch these beautiful dressage horses being trained.

“We explain how the training program works and the temperament of this particular breed. We explain the history of the breed, this herd and about the basic training of these horses,” Buonanno said.

Tours can be tailored to a group’s particular interest. Some people are fascinated with how to care for these horses; others want to tour the stables and get nose-to-nose with them.

Half of the tour is spent watching the horses perform choreographed pieces to classical music where they show off their synchronized movements and airs. Tours are available even in the winter, although guests need to be a bit more bundled up.

The farm has 85 horses, 26 of which are in training.

“It’s the biggest population of Lipizzans in the United States,” Buonanno said. “They are considered an endangered domestic breed. There’s less than 10,000 of them worldwide.”

Ford Rouge Factory Tour

Dearborn, Michigan

Tours of the Ford Rouge Factory begin with a 15-minute bus ride from the Henry Ford Museum to the Ford Rouge Factory Tour Visitor Center. Guests start their tours with an immersive sensory experience in the center’s Manufacturing Innovation Theater that details the process of building the F-150 from start to finish.

Tours are self-guided, even for large groups. Groups have the option of skipping the shuttle buses from the museum and heading directly to the factory tour in their own motorcoach. The tours take between one and two hours.

The top attraction is the walking tour of the Dearborn Truck Plant, where the new military-grade, aluminum-alloy-body Ford F-150 truck is made. An elevated walkway takes visitors on a one-third-mile journey above the plant’s final assembly line. Guests get to see firsthand the equipment, robotics, parts delivery and skilled workers that are needed to build one truck per minute at full line speeds.

Visitors also get the chance to see the trim lines for cab, box and door, as well as final testing. They can see the F-150 come into the plant as an empty shell and leave as a fully tested truck ready for the road.

The tour also takes visitors on a tour of the Living Laboratory, which shows how Ford turned a brownfield into a sustainable site with storm-water management, land use and redevelopment, support of natural ecosystems and wildlife habitat, and solar energy. There is even a living roof on the Dearborn Truck Plant final-assembly building. It is planted with drought-resistant groundcover called sedum and spans 454,000 square feet, or more than 10 acres. It is one of the largest living roofs in the world.

DeBrand Fine Chocolates

Fort Wayne, Indiana

DeBrand Fine Chocolates has been around since 1987. The founder, Cathy Brand-Beere, grew up in her parents’ confectionary supply store helping demonstrate the art of chocolate-making for guests from the tender age of 8. That experience fostered her love of creating fine chocolates, and she dreamed of opening her own chocolate shop.

DeBrand now has four locations in Fort Wayne and one in Indianapolis.
The factory and corporate headquarters are on Auburn Road in Fort Wayne.

Groups can visit the factory to see where the confections are made by hand. They also can watch a video about the company and how it got its start before touring the facility, from the party room to the kitchens and mail order operation, said Audree Beere, marketing manager for DeBrand. Free samples are a must, and most visitors are thrilled to get a chance to taste what they’ve just seen being made. DeBrand offers three main gift box collections: the classic, the truffle and the connoisseur collections. They are carefully crafted from fresh local ingredients and the best imported Belgian and Swiss chocolate.

All of the chocolate centers are made from scratch, including fresh cremes, rich caramels, ganaches, truffles, brittles and smooth creams.

Tours are $5 per person and last 30 to 45 minutes. Each guest is given a rebate of $5 on a $10 purchase

Heini’s Cheese Chalet

Millersburg, Ohio

In the heart of Ohio’s Amish country, Heini’s Cheese Chalet is the factory retail store for Bunker Hill Cheese in Millersburg, Ohio. Tour groups can take a free guided tour of the factory where Bunker Hill produces 35 types of cheese, including classic mild farmer cheese, fiesta jack, colby, Swiss and feta. The company also makes a yogurt cultured cheese that is lactose-free and contains live probiotics.

One of Bunker Hill’s most popular varieties of cheese is raw milk cheese, which is heat-treated instead of pasteurized. The process “tends to have a richer flavor profile,” said Gabriel O’Brien, director of marketing at the Bunker Hill Cheese Company.

“That is something we do that is pretty unique. You would be hard-pressed to find any other manufacturer making raw milk cheese. That is one of our fastest-growing products over the last 10 years.”

The company makes all its cheeses on-site at Heini’s Cheese Chalet, and the free samples are the biggest draw for tourists.

“On Fridays and Saturdays, there are significant lines and large groups, so coming early is a good idea,” O’Brien said.

The cheese is made from locally produced milk. Visitors get to see the open-style vats of milk and curd being stirred by hand. The company’s cheeses are all made by hand.

Bunker Hill presses its cheese for 12 hours to expel the moisture.

“You get a higher-quality product that way, ” O’Brien said. “It gives us a stronger flavor profile and a higher-quality product because of that.”