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The Homegrown Flavors of the South

Big flavors grow from Southern soil.

The South is known for its hearty dishes and an array of signature cuisines. The region’s warm climate is key for producing a diverse bounty of crops, from collard greens to sweet potatoes to peaches, while its mix of cultural heritage has produced distinct farming and culinary techniques. Each state has something new to add to the palette, from tangy barbecue to sweet fruits to spicy Cajun seasoning.

Agritourism encounters throughout the Southeast make the connection between the product and the processes behind it, letting visitors experience firsthand the hard work that delivers food from the farm to their forks. On these delightful agritourism experiences, groups will enjoy delicious food with a side of education as they discover the forces at work behind Southern cuisine.

The Market at Pepper Place

Birmingham, Alabama

Birmingham is one of the top foodie destinations in the country, and in the heart of the city, groups will find The Market at Pepper Place. First held in the summer of 2000, this market has become a well-loved addition to the city. It grew from just seven tents of vendors to the current crowd of 85 to 120 vendors. The market is the largest producer-only farmers market in Alabama; this means everything sold there must be grown or made in the state.

“It’s an easy way to get a diverse snapshot of produce that’s grown and the food that’s made, eaten and enjoyed,” said Leigh Sloss-Corra, executive director of The Market at Pepper Place. “You get a sense of the full diversity and fabric of our culture in one visit.”

In addition to the dozens of tents with fresh produce, baked goods and handmade home products, the market has two stages for live music and live cooking demonstrations on weekends from May to October. At these demonstrations, local chefs prepare a quick and tasty meal for an audience of market-goers using ingredients that can be found at the market.

“For visitors, it’s an incredible opportunity to have direct contact with the people who are producing the food you’re eating,” Sloss-Corra said.

Groups visiting the market can look around on their own or request a tour in advance. The market takes a short break for the holiday season, but otherwise is open on weekends every year, rain or shine. Visiting during the warmer months guarantees a bustling market; on peak weekends, it’s visited by as many as 10,000 people.

Parking is free, and groups can also explore the surrounding shops and restaurants.

Coastal Tide Excursions

Brunswick, Georgia

The Lady Jane, a retired commercial shrimping boat, isn’t quite done with its sea voyages yet. For the past 16 summers, it has taken passengers off the Georgia coastline for an educational tour that teaches them about the ecosystem and commercial shrimping. The boat trawls for marine life several times throughout the voyage and brings what’s caught to the surface for passengers to learn about, take pictures of and even touch before releasing it back into the water.

“When you’re out on the boat, you’re going to have an opportunity to see and handle and look at things you’d never see unless you were on a shrimp boat,” said Cameron Ako, captain of the Lady Jane. Ako said cruise passengers learn about the importance of the local ecosystem. “A lot of people don’t realize how important Georgia’s coastline is to sustaining sea life from Maine to Florida.”

In addition to learning about the marine life and the shrimping industry, groups can request a low country boil to enjoy during their voyage. This traditional meal is a combination of shrimp, sausage, corn, potatoes, onions and seasoning, boiled together for a mouthwatering, hearty meal that’s a staple of the Southeastern coast. It’s usually served buffet-style as soon as they leave the dock, and groups can also request fruits and vegetables, chips and dips or other appetizers to go with their meal. If they want a cocktail or brew on the water to go with their meal, they can bring their own on board.

To make sure groups have plenty of room to enjoy their meal, Ako recommends limiting group size to 30-35 passengers. Voyages last about two hours.

Chaney’s Dairy Barn

Bowling Green, Kentucky

Avid Food Network watchers may recognize Bowling Green’s Chaney’s Dairy Barn from season two of Guy Fieri’s hit show “All-American Road Trip.” Fieri stopped at the dairy farm for a tour and some farm-fresh ice cream, making it a recognizable culinary stop in Kentucky.

The Kentucky dairy farm has evolved to survive and meet consumer demands. Carl Chaney, owner and fourth generation farmer, said his great-great-grandfather began farming the land in 1888. Chaney’s father began milking cows on the farm in 1940, and in 2003, Chaney and his wife decided to add agritourism and ice cream making to the farm’s resume.

“The first year we had about 3,500 people who came in for tours, from school tours, motorcoaches, church groups,” said Carl Chaney, owner and fourth-generation farmer of Chaney’s Dairy Barn. “This year we’re going to bring in 15,000-plus.”

In 2016, the Chaneys added a robot to do the milking, and groups can now choose from guided and self-guided tours to learn about the technological innovations in the dairy industry. They can begin in a climate-controlled room with bleachers to watch the cows being milked. They’ll watch an informational video and a screen that identifies which cow is being milked. Groups can also go to the overlook, where they can see the cows from a bird’s eye view.

“They’re able to see where their milk comes from, and they can follow it from the cow to the cone,” Chaney said.

Chaney’s Dairy Barn is still improving its tourism offerings; by June, the farm is slated to add an additional 10,000 square feet, including a designated group-dining space and a viewing area for the ice cream-making process. Chaney’s currently offers 32 ice cream flavors and has a restaurant where groups can grab a bite after their tour.

TerraVox Winery

Kansas City, Missouri

Forget Cabernet and Bordeaux — have you ever tasted a Cloeta, Wetumka or Albanian? The odds are, you haven’t because these wines are made from grapes indigenous to North America rather than the popular European varietals widely known today. Surprisingly, these interesting varietals can be found in Kansas City, Missouri, at TerraVox Winery.

“We specialize in North American varietals,” said Michael Regan, sales and marketing coordinator at TerraVox Winery. “They’re really unique and rare varietals you don’t see a lot around the world. We’re bringing back the varietals that don’t have much of a voice.”

Many of these grape species were lost to time and to Prohibition before the winery opened in 1996. It was created to record America’s forgotten grape culture and to bring American grapes back into the wine scene. Owner and proprietor Jerry Eisterhold collected seeds from around the country in a decades-long quest to cultivate a mix of worthy American wines.

“We see ourselves as a living museum rather than a standard winery,” Regan said. “Because the grapes here don’t really exist in many other places in the world.”

Groups can take a 90-minute tour of this Missouri winery to learn about the life cycle of grapes and the process of winemaking. They’ll be led through the vineyard to see the baby vines and mature vines of any in-season varietals. Then they’ll see the equipment where the grapes are processed, from the crushing and destemming to the aging and storing. Tours can be followed by tastings in the winery’s tasting room, overlooking the vineyard. Groups can try a flight of wine to round out their immersive winery tour.

Jeter Mountain Farm

Hendersonville, North Carolina

Picking apples surrounded by the picturesque landscape of the Blue Ridge Mountains is an experience worthy of every autumn bucket list. At Jeter Mountain Farm, groups can check that off and more. On 400 acres outside of Hendersonville, North Carolina, Jeter Mountain Farm is more than just an apple orchard — it’s an experience.

“Our orchard is just a little bit different,” said Kelsey Hunsader of Jeter Mountain Farm. “You get to come to the farm, start with a coffee, head out to the fields for you-pick, come back for lunch and cider, then end the day shopping.”

The farm is open each July through October, and each month brings a varied and bountiful harvest. Blueberries, flowers, blackberries and peaches can be found in July, while a variety of apples begin to ripen in August and the remaining months. Groups can ride to the fields in a tractor-pulled wagon to pick whatever’s in season before returning to enjoy the farm’s other amenities.

The farm’s food truck, 1813 Smokehouse, serves pulled pork — smoked for 20 hours at the farm — enhanced by a secret family barbecue sauce recipe made with apples and honey from the farm. Groups can enjoy their lunch with some traditional Southern sides and a pint of hard cider made fresh at the farm’s Hard Cider Taproom. The taproom produces six hard ciders made from the farm’s apples, and groups can even watch it being made. For a sweet treat and a pick-me-up, the farm’s bakery serves warm apple cider doughnuts and hand pies, and the coffee house offers hot and iced drinks made with locally roasted coffee beans.

To add to their bounty, groups can head to the farm’s 6,000-square-foot market for a souvenir such as baking mixes, apple butter or candles. Visitors should be mindful of the farm’s hours, which change seasonally.

White Oak Lavender Farm

Harrisonburg, Virginia

There are few sights or smells as lovely as a lavender field in bloom. These rows of purple flowers also produce culinary delights, as the powers of lavender are increasingly being recognized in the kitchen. But one of lavender’s greatest benefits is its ability to soothe anxiety and calm the body. That’s what makes White Oak Lavender Farm in Harrisonburg, Virginia, one of the best destinations for groups.

“We consider ourselves a destination venue for visitors to our area,” said Julie Haushalter, CEO of White Oak Lavender Farm. “It’s been our mission to help reduce stress and encourage healthy practices.”

Opened in 2008, the farm has an ever-growing list of ways to use lavender, from culinary to medicinal. Farm tours are available during the summer on weekends; and during June, July and September, when the lavender is blooming, groups can pick it themselves. They can walk through the farm’s gardens, which have QR codes for educational tidbits about the farm’s processes. Here, they’ll learn about the drying barn, the lavender distilling process and the farm’s history.

The property also includes the Purple Wolf Vineyard, which opened in 2015 and produces 12 still and two sparkling wines. Tastings are available as an add-on to farm tours; groups can sample wines, wine slushies, draft beer or the farm’s hard ciders. Other add-ons include animal encounters, where groups can visit the farm’s goats, sheep and miniature horses.

Groups can take classes on topics ranging from winemaking to making lavender lemonade. They can round out a visit with a trip to the farm’s gift shop, which sells over 100 products made from the farm’s lavender, including coffee, cookies, jams and spices.