I grew up a city/suburbia girl. But when I was around eight years old, my brother's fifth grade teacher took my family on a tour of his parents' dairy farm. I remember the smell of the hay (and the cow patties!), the soft brown eyes of the cows, the begging mews of the barn cats and their dexterity in balancing on their back legs to catch a squirt of milk directly from cow to mouth. I even got to ride the tractor (although I was jealous that big brother actually got to drive it). As you've probably already figured out, the whole day was memorable for me. Little did I know that I was a pioneer agritourist.
Fast forward a few (dozen) years and agritourism is a real thing nationwide. Just like my brother's grade-school teacher, Missouri's farmers are sharing real experiences of life on the farm.
Sticking with dairy farms for the moment, visit Shatto Milk Company in Osborn in Northwest Missouri. They offer 90-minute tours of their dairy, bottling facility and farm by appointment. Across the state in Newark, Heartland Dairy's 60-cow carousel in action is a sight to see. For a twist on same theme, substitute sheep for cows at Green Dirt Farm in Weston. Their by-appointment tours take you from field to milking parlor to cheese kitchen. They also offer farm-table dinners and cheese tasting events.
A stay at the Sycamore Valley Farm Bed and Breakfast in Brunswick offers more than just a cozy place to sleep. You can play - fish, go on hayrides, do crafts - or climb on a tractor (there it is again!) to help with the row crops and split wood for a nice fire, complete with roasted marshmallows and hot cocoa.
Once upon a time, pretty much everyone in America had chickens, and every town had a small hatchery. A tour of Cackle Hatchery in Lebanon is a rare treat, considering there are only about a dozen small hatcheries left. And you get to see baby chicks. The best time to visit is March to September.
When you're planning your Show-Me State agritourism adventure, be sure to include a stop at one of our abundant alpaca operations: Ya Ya's Alpaca Farm in Garden City (be sure to say hi to their guard llama, Ms. Manners), Whirlwind Ranch Alpacas in Lebanon, Rockin' W Alpaca Ranch in Owensville, Hasselbring's Harmony Ranch in Concordia and Big River Alpacas in Fletcher - just to name a few. You can learn about and shop for alpaca fiber products, and just enjoy those soft coats and adorable faces.
Agritourism doesn't end on the farm; it's just a place to start. Visit an orchard, pick a pumpkin, indulge in a visit to a Missouri winery, treat yourself to a farm-to-table dinner. But whatever you do, if you get to drive a tractor, be sure to let me know.
Other Missouri agritourism attractions:
Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company, Mansfield - pure, natural, non-GMO seeds for your own garden.
Todd Geisert (Pig) Farms, Washington - pigs raised the same way since 1916, farm-to-table dinners and farmers market.
Warm Springs Ranch, Boonville - see where the Budweiser Clydesdales all get their start
Long Row Lavendar, Wright City - tours offered Wed.-Thu. by reservation only, for groups of 10 or more. Barn and gift store open Saturdays, 10 a.m.-4 pm. In bloom June and September.