Before we go over my favorite agritourism destinations in Iowa, we should first discuss what agritourism is.
To me, agritourism is kind of a strange word. Agriculture and tourism don’t really sound like they go together. When I hear the term tourism, I picture something that belongs smack-dab in the middle of a city. I see a dad with knee-high socks, a fanny-pack, and a camera snapping pictures of the Statue of Liberty – not agriculture.
However, agritourism is when tourists can take part in and see farm or agriculture life that will profit the owner. It’s all focused on the experience that the consumer can get. There are many kinds of agritourism. Some include u-pick farms, farmer’s markets, day camps, and vineyards. Living in Iowa means that we are not short of any agritourism opportunities.
Every summer, Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation puts on many professional development workshops for teachers. Each workshop dedicates a day for tours of agriculture in the area. During my time with IALF this summer I’ve been able to experience agritourism first-hand. Check out our workshops here.
Here are some of my favorite agritourism stops that I have personally visited!
7. Silos and Smokestacks National Heritage Area –
A national heritage area is a region of land advised by the National Park Services. Each heritage area dedicates its existence to telling the story of a historic event in the United States. There are currently 55 National Heritage Areas in the country focusing on assets such as mining, the Augusta Canal, Abraham Lincoln’s life, and others. Silos and Smokestacks tells the story of American agriculture through different sites in the northeast corner of Iowa. These sites range from Eagles Landing Winery to Laura Ingalls Wilder Park & Museum to Reiman Gardens to everything in between. Searching the Silos and Smokestacks website is a great way to find more agritourism spots in Iowa to visit!
6. Cinnamon Ridge Farms –
Cinnamon Ridge Farms is a dairy farm located in Donahue, Iowa. They have 150-299 Jersey cows at any one time that produce some of the best milk in the United States for their breed. Cinnamon Ridge Farms is a robotic dairy, meaning they use robots instead of people to milk their cows! I was able to visit Cinnamon Ridge this summer, and I was amazed by the technology of the robots. How cool is it that the farmers can see exactly how many times a day each cow is being milked? And from that technology, they can tell if any of the cows are sick? If you want to see these milking robots for yourself, this farm gives tours, hosts meetings, and has day camps for students. Before you leave the farm, make sure to stop at The Country Cupboard. This self-serve store sells products derived from Cinnamon Ridge Farms and other local farms, including cheese, bacon, eggs and more.
5. Living History Farms –
Living History Farms is an outdoor historic interactive museum. Visitors will experience the advancements in farm sites over the last 300 years. As guests travel through time, they can see how Iowa was once full of fertile prairies and has been turned into productive farmland. The sites include historical information and interpreters that fully immerse themselves in the period they represent. These historically accurate sites re-create a snippet of what life was during the time of significant agricultural technology changes. In addition to touring the farm and town sites, there are many programs all year long. Some include historic baseball, historic cooking classes, historical dinners, and day camps. Even though the church at Living History Farms isn’t directly agriculture-related, it’s one of my favorite buildings because of the historical beauty. Actually, I’m looking to have my wedding here this winter!
4. Botanical Garden in Des Moines –
The Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden mission is “exploring, explaining and celebrating the world of plants.” Unlike some agritourism destinations, this botanical garden has education programs for all ages: youth, families and adults. When visiting the botanical garden, guests will have the opportunity to walk through an indoor and outdoor portion with plants blooming of all sizes and colors. My favorite part of the botanical garden is the conservatory. It’s great to visit during the wintertime because of the weather inside that the tropical plants need to survive. The conservatory is an 80 foot by 150-foot Plexiglas dome that you can feel the heat of the sun even in the dead of winter. After walking through the conservatory, guests can venture outdoors to visit the many other gardens. When visiting, don’t forget to stop at Trellis Café for lunch. They serve a locally sourced, plant-based menu that always is serving in-season choices!
3. Center Grove Orchard –
I have been to several orchards and pumpkin patches over the years, but Center Grove Orchard is the one I keep finding myself going back to. I grew up going here every year as a child and even worked here for two years in high school. Larry D. and Pat Black’s family planted their first apple tree in 1986. More than 30 years later, one apple tree has turned into 20 acres of 6,000 apple trees of many varieties. Center Grove also has more than apples! Guests can also pick pumpkins, gourds, sunflowers and strawberries themselves, depending on the season. On the tourism side, they have a corn pool, an old schoolhouse, an apple school, jumping pillows and more.
2. Farmers Market –
Farmer’s markets are a great place for consumers to see who is producing local products. When buying food at a grocery store, consumers only see the product and the packaging and decide to purchase the product solely on that. During farmer’s markets, consumers can have direct conversations with the farmers and producers of the product. They can learn more about the product and how it was produced. There are over 250 farmer’s markets in Iowa, but the most popular one is the Downtown Des Moines Farmer’s Market. It received a #2 out of 101 rating by the Daily Meal for the best farmers markets in America in 2013 and 2014. Every Saturday morning from May to October, downtown Des Moines floods with consumers waiting to purchase agricultural goods from over 300 locals from 50 Iowa counties.
1. Iowa State Fair –
While some may argue that the Iowa State Fair has turned more into nostalgia and entertainment, agriculture is still at the core of the Iowa State Fair. In fact, their mission statement is “To celebrate Iowa’s agricultural heritage by providing a quality environment and facilities to further education and to offer entertainment and competition for all ages. Offer opportunities for individual growth for all involved.” The Iowa State Fair has always tied into agriculture for me. I don’t think I have ever missed a year (besides 2020), and my high school FFA chapter put on the Avenue of Breeds every year. My state fair experience in high school was always taking care of the livestock at the Avenue of Breeds and informing the public of animal agriculture. Livestock shows, educational demonstrations, live entertainment, attractions and food are just a few of the many activities held during the 11 days of the state fair each year. The Iowa State Fair is an excellent place for people outside of the agriculture industry to have exposure to livestock, agricultural products and where they can learn more!
There are so many other great agritourism spots in Iowa that I missed. Let me know in the comments which ones are your favorite and which ones you plan on visiting!