Stop By The Farm
Have Some Fun At A Farm
All across the state, North Carolina farmers are welcoming and greeting city dwellers who are looking for an agricultural experience. Farm parties and picnics, pick-your-own produce, and petting zoos are just a few of the farm-based activities from which to choose in the Tar Heel State.
Vollmer Farm is a fifth generation operation in Bunn east of the Research Triangle. Prime time on the Vollmer spread is spring and fall. Strawberries star in spring, while pumpkins and gourds take center stage in fall. Seasonal vegetables and specialty lettuce make cameo appearances in both growing seasons. Farmer John’s Country Café and Market serves up homemade ice cream, fresh-basked breads and strawberry lemonade, as well as roasted corn on the cob and homemade chili. Hay rides, pony rides, marshmallow roasting over a bonfire, cane-pole fishing and John Deere trike track racing are just a few of the experiences available at The Vollmer Farm.
The Celebrity Goat Dairy is a working farm in Chatham County that uses time-honored French farmstead techniques to make fresh goat cheese. In fact, farmers here are so busy that they only open their dairy to visitors a few times a year, but it’s definitely worth the trip if you can plan the trip. In February, you’ll be able to see newborn goats, or maybe even witness a live birth for yourself. In April, the farm takes the time to show off its low-impact and sustainable agriculture methods, and on Thanksgiving weekend, once the year’s cheesemaking is finished, the owners once again welcome people to visit the farm and see the now-adolescent goats wandering the area.
A trip to Shallowford Farms in Yadkinville may change your perception of popcorn. Here, you will learn it does not grow on trees or inside a microwaveable bag. You can arrange tours for groups of 10 or more to see how to grow, harvest and pop popcorn. Five dollars per head gets you the tour and your own bag of freshly popped popcorn at tour’s end. At the gift shop, you can buy special gift tins sporting professional and college sports logos, NASCAR tins, John Deere toy tractors, as well as stove-top and antique replica popcorn poppers.
The Weeping Radish Farm Brewery is a 14-acre farm in the northeastern corner of the state near Jarvisburg. Farmers here practice farming techniques based on an old German beer law known as “Reinheitsgebot”. The phrase literally means “purity order”, and at the Weeping Radish, that means sustainable, organic, farmer-to-fork agriculture… and handcrafted beer brewed on the premises. Visitors can take a self-guided brewery tour during normal business hours, take a two-hour guided tour of the whole farm on Tuesdays and Thursdays at noon, or sign up for the “Hay Bale Ride Tour” every Wednesday at 11 a.m., when staff members take guests through the farm, brewery, butchery, and smoke house while explaining the biodynamic and organic principles in practice here.
Twenty miles north of Raleigh is Hill Ridge Farms, a 55-acre recreational farm where you can pick your own produce or schedule a corporate outing at the conference center. A favorite on the farm is Big John, a 16-gauge, 100-passenger steam engine. You can climb aboard for a tour of the farm, and then pan for gems at the gemstone mining sluice, or visit the Farm Animal Corral, where you can pet and even feed the animals.
Also near NC’s Triangle is the Maple View Farm, just northwest of Chapel Hill in Orange County. The folks here have recently completed work on the Maple View Agricultural Center, which hosts school groups and birthday parties during the week and gives public tours on the weekends. Of course, what Maple View is really famous for in these parts is its Holstein Dairy Farm, which produces top-quality fresh milk and ice cream. The popular dairy products are all available at the farm’s store seven days a week.
No trip to Australia is necessary to visit an ostrich ranch. Located in Sherrill’s Ford, north of Charlotte, is the Birdbrain Ostrich Ranch, where you can meet, greet and eat the big birds. Tours that include an ostrich burger lunch are available. About 50 head of ostrich roam the ranch at any one time. Besides low-fat red meat, you’ll learn that an ostrich also provides leather, feathers and eggs, as well as oil that can be made into soap and a number of other toiletry items.
More than 200 years of family farming has taken place at the Gillis Hill Farm in Fayetteville, and Gillis family members are eager to share that history with visitors. You can learn about the history of the area, and find out how each new technological innovation made farming a little more productive and efficient. You’ll also find out how crops such as tobacco, cotton, soybeans, and corn were the economic engine that powered this area for centuries. There are also wagon rides available to enjoy, and some delicious homemade ice cream to sample.
There always seems to be something happening at Mike’s Farm in Beulaville, just northwest of Jacksonville. Besides providing kids and adults with an up close look at farms and farming life, the popular Onslow County attraction has an Easter Egg hunt in the spring, hayrides and a pumpkin patch in the fall, and a nighttime hayride through the farm’s Christmas decorations in the winter. There’s also a restaurant, bakery and country store on the premises.
The alpaca is a beautiful animal that has been domesticated for more than 6,000 years and whose fiber is warmer, lighter and softer than wool. At the Precious Alpaca Farm in Thurmond (near Stone Mountain State Park), you can see these gentle and intelligent animals up close, and learn about their history, first as a cherished treasure of the Inca Civilization in South America, and now as a farm animal that provides us with the material for comfortable winter wear and other clothing. There’s even a shop on the site where you can buy your very own alpaca gloves, scarves, or throws.
You’ve heard of dairy farming and crop farming, but butterfly farming? At the All-A-Flutter Farm near High Point, Tim and Donna Pless raise endangered monarch butterflies for release at events such as weddings and for educational purposes. From April through mid-October, the farm hosts group tours with advance notice and opens its doors to the general public on Saturdays. During those “Family Days”, guests will hear a presentation on the life cycle of the butterfly and get a tour of the flight house. Children are even encouraged to feed the butterflies by hand!
So, the next time city life is dragging you down, visit a North Carolina farm and try standing in someone else’s field.
added: May 21, 2009
updated: April 3, 2012