I don’t know about you but our vacation plans for the summer came to a screeching halt when COVID-19 showed up on the landscape. We had planned on going to the Grand Canyon this summer – a place my dad has always wanted to see – with my extended family. But, with older parents in the at-risk age group, those plans have changed.
As we started considering options, we looked at staying closer to home and trying to find places outside when possible. Despite some common misconceptions, Iowa has a lot to offer in terms of vacation activities. Castles? Check. Wineries? Check. Hiking? Check. Water activities? Check. Ag-Ventures? Double check.
Iowa has something unique to offer travelers – farm experiences. With one in five jobs in Iowa tied to agriculture, what better way to get to know our agricultural roots? Here are a few sites for you to consider on your next vacation around Iowa.
Milk a cow, pet a kangaroo?
Located in the eastern Iowa town of Hudson minutes from Waterloo and Cedar Falls, Hansen’s Dairy offers several farm tours of their dairy operation. Check out the Hands-On Tour where you’ll go through the process of getting milk from the cow to your table.
You’ll get a trolley ride to the farm and take a walking tour to see their animals and facilities. You’ll also have a chance to feed a calf, milk a cow by hand, pet the kangaroos (yes, kangaroos!) and goats, make homemade butter, sample Hansen’s Dairy products, and eat ice cream. There is also an Animal Petting Tour for those not interested in milking or bottle feeding a cow. The land the Hansen Dairy Farm sits on has been in their family for 150 years and is designated an Iowa Heritage Farm.
The smells of the south of France here in Iowa
When you think of lavender do you think of the south of France where many different herbs are grown? Me too, but did you know Iowa is home to a lavender farm? Nestled in the Loess Hills, the Loess Hills Lavender Farm has more than 2,000 lavender plants. Lavender grows best in dry, well-drained, sandy soil. The Loess Hills in western Iowa is perfect for growing lavender. Loess Hills are hills made up mostly of windblown soils. When visiting you’ll see a landscape of prairie and forest-covered steep bluffs, narrow ridges, and rolling hills. The gentle slopes naturally drain water making it perfect for the lavender. Lavender is used in cooking, cleaning, and healing. After visiting the fields, you’ll be able to find a variety of lavender products and other locally crafted items in the farm’s shop. The farm also hosts several events during the year.
A step back in time
Take a step back in time and see how agriculture was an important part of life from the 1700s through today. Living History Farms is a 500-acre, open-air museum located in central Iowa that tells the 300+ year story of how Iowans transformed these Midwestern prairies into the most productive farmland in the world. Visitors can see the day-to-day activities of how people lived at four farms through different periods: the 1700 Ioway farm, 1850 Pioneer farm, 1876 Walnut Hill town, and 1900 Horse-Powered farm. Each site is authentically farmed or worked by historic interpreters. You’ll learn how the food was prepared, how animals were used to help farm the land, how different crops were grown, and a look inside a frontier community.
A forest in our backyard
More than 750 million acres of land is covered by forests in the United States according to the U.S. Forest Products Industry. About two-thirds of all U.S. forested land is timberland, which is used for producing wood used in homes and other products. You might think most timberland is located in Oregon, California, or Alaska but Iowa is also home timber areas. Located in Northeast Iowa is Kendrick Forest Products – Iowa’s largest and most productive sawmill. They source all of their timber from a 100-mile radius from their facility. Through a one to two-hour walking tour, you’ll see the sawmill, mulch operation, and kiln-dried lumber operation. You’ll see up close how logs are transformed into lumber and how they use everything from the lumber…even the sawdust. You can also see their cabinet shop, sign manufacturing facility, and retail shopping and showroom.
Aronia berries make a comeback
Gourmet food, farm-fresh smoothies await you at America’s first aronia berry farm. Sawmill Hollow, located in the Loess Hills region of Iowa, grows the antioxidant-rich berry on 150 acres. These round, pea-sized, violet-black berries are considered to be one of the most nutritionally dense fruits on the planet. Berries are harvested after they are ripe in late August or early September. They can be harvested by hand or with a mechanical blueberry picker. While grown for centuries throughout Europe, farm families throughout Iowa are beginning to consider the berry as a value-added crop and a way to diversify farm income thanks to grants from Iowa State University. Put on your walking shoes and enjoy a walking tour of the Loess Hills landscape while enjoying smoothies, juice, and berry wines from this rich fruit.
Silos & Smokestacks National Heritage Area organization, an Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation partner, has a wealth of information about local agriculture tourism sites across Iowa. Silos & Smokestacks National Heritage Area is one of 49 federally designated heritage areas in the nation. Learn the story of American agriculture and its global significance.
Note: Due to the changing COVID-19 situation, be sure to check out how a farm’s operation might be impacted by COVID precautions before you venture to any of these places.