Farm Living: The Place to Be
Become an agritourist and take in the sights and sounds of farm life.By Leah Chester-Davis
Farm season is set to swing into high gear, and with it, a growing number of opportunities to visit a local farm. In late spring, summer and fall, numerous farm operations are open on a regular basis for visitors, as well as for annual tours and events.
“Farming is a fantastic life,” says Jamie Ager, who owns Hickory Nut Gap Farm in Fairview with his wife, Amy. The pair met in chemistry class at Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa. “You get to be outside a lot and see the way nature changes. I think people need a connection to farming; It’s a powerful thing.”
Across North Carolina, the diversity of farms open to visitors means there really is something for everyone. From barnyard and fiber animals, riding and walking trails, farm bed and breakfasts, country cabins and retreats, historic farms, quilt barns, summer camps, corn mazes, pumpkin patches, vineyards and wineries — the North Carolina Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services (NCDA&CS) lists 10 different agritourism categories online (ncagr.gov/NCproducts) with a directory of farms by category. Hundreds of spots from the mountains to the coast offer the chance to get out on the farm.
The Agers, who own both Hickory Nut Gap Farm and Hickory Nut Gap Meats (hickorynutgapfarm.com), offer a wide range of activities at their farm located just outside of Asheville. They started their meat operation 17 years ago on a fourth generation farm, and have begun to offer seasonal activities through the years. A corn maze, trike track, hay climb, cider press, corn box, baby animals, hay rides and horse rides, along with a pumpkin patch and an apple orchard, are a few of the activities they offer. They also host kitchen classes, on-site catering for those using one of their barns for an event, Friday night barn dances and a host of other fun events to draw you outdoors. Their farm store is open daily; lunch is served daily from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday brunch from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Hours change in the winter months.
Franny’s Farm (frannysfarm.com) in Leicester, outside of Asheville, was voted one of the favorite farms to visit by readers of the Mountain Xpress. The sustainable farm offers wedding and event venues, animals, flower and vegetable gardens and a you-pick blueberry hill. During spring break and in the summer, it hosts Farm Camp with activities such as incubating and hatching chicken eggs, prepping and planting a garden, scavenger hunts and a feast that participants help prepare.
With a background in education and forestry, owner Frances Tacy says she has always dreamed of teaching children in a farm setting.
“People have lost their connection to nature, to food, to everything,” Tacy says. “We all need places to experience that. With our farm they can return to a place to see animals and just relax.”
In the Piedmont region, Alpha & Omega Corn Maze (alphaomegacornmaze.com) in Hamptonville hosts school and other groups, birthday parties, family reunions and weddings. The Vollmer Farm (vollmerfarm.com) in Bunn hosts farm stays, special events and a tractor load of activities in the fall on the “Back 40” Country Playground.
Carrigan Farms (carriganfarms.com) near Mooresville features numerous on-farm activities and events, and hosts swimming parties at its on-farm quarry. The fifth-generation family owned farm specializes in growing quality fruits and vegetables, and hosting a variety of events and field trips.
“We use the farm like a giant, private park,” says owner Doug Carrigan. “You can come and play for the day and leave with good memories.”
Lineberger’s Maple Springs Farm (Lineberger's Farm Website), outside of Dallas, started as a strawberry farm and has expanded to other berry crops, peaches, vegetables and pumpkins. You-pick berry patches in the spring and summer and a pumpkin patch with a hundred different varieties in the fall are available. An on-farm market sells numerous fruits and vegetables from the farm from spring through fall.
Harold Lineberger, who retired from Rutherford EMC, and his wife Patsy, are in the process of training grandson Ethan Lineberger and his wife, Frankie, to continue welcoming families and school groups to this fourth generation farm.
“We really like to teach visitors a little about the seasons and the seasonality of food,” says Frankie. “A fresh strawberry picked from the field tastes better than what you get at the grocery store.”
On-farm dinners offer a taste of local flavor. Goat Lady Dairy (goatladydairy.com) in Randolph County offers dining adventures that include a farm tour, hors d’oeuvres on the porch and a gourmet meal that features cheese, herbs, vegetables and meats from its own or nearby farms, and is served in the rustic atmosphere of the dairy barn.
Another dining experience includes restaurants that are located at some of the state’s wineries. Sanders Ridge Winery (sandersridge.com) outside Boonville provides a glimpse of the vineyards. Its Sourwood Restaurant, including a tasting room, is located in a beautiful wooded setting at the edge of the vineyard. For the adventurous, work up an appetite at the Big Woods Zipline located in a forest behind the winery.
Many other wineries throughout the state offer dinners, special events and wine tastings. Check the NCDA&CS site or visit ncwine.org.
Something for everyone
With hundreds of options across the state, consider your interests. Some farms are geared toward those with young children while others have activities to keep teens and adults engaged.
“Whenever people get out on the farm and look at cows and pigs and then go have a piece of barbecue or a hamburger, they have a connection between farm and food,” says Jamie Ager. “That is cool.”
More on Agritourism in North Carolina