The term agriculture conjures images of neat rows of corn, sprawling fields of grain and grazing animals dotting green pastures. But agriculture encompasses a lot more than the farms one sees driving on a rural Midwestern road. Agriculture can provide everything from the honey drizzled in one’s tea to the clothes one wears.
In a world where a trip to the supermarket can deliver it all, agritourism allows people to reconnect to nature and discover the origins of their food and other goods they enjoy daily. These atypical agritourism encounters allow faith-based groups to gain firsthand knowledge of some of the most interesting niches in agriculture.
Kona Joe Coffee
Big Island, Hawaii
The rich, bold flavors of coffee are enjoyed by millions every single morning not as a mere treat but as a necessary start to the day. Coffee beans are typically grown in the warm, tropical climates of Central America, South America, Africa, Southeast Asia and the Middle East, so exploring the origins of this flavorful bean can be tricky without traveling internationally. However, at Kona Joe Coffee, on the Big Island of Hawaii, groups can witness the magic without technically leaving the U.S.
Started in 1995 by husband-and-wife team Joe and Deepa Alban, Kona Joe is a coffee farm that takes advantage of Hawaii’s naturally warm climate. There are other coffee farms in Hawaii, but Kona Joe is the only coffee farm that uses trellises to grow the beans.
“It’s the first coffee farm in the world to do the trellis method, and they have a patent on the process,” said Collier Maxwell, director of business development at Kona Joe. “We grow it; we process it; we roast it; we package it; we sell it.”
Group tours of the farm kick off with an overview of its history and the benefits to growing coffee in the Hawaiian climate. They’ll learn about the different types of coffee trees, the acclaimed trellis method and the harvesting and processing of the beans. Groups can even learn how to roast their own beans at the end of the tour with the farm’s 10 miniature coffee roasters. At Kona Joe’s visitor center, groups can stop at a coffee bar to try a coffee beverage and some chocolate or check out the gift shop to buy some Kona Joe coffee and memorabilia of their own.
Lively Run Goat Dairy Farm and Creamery
Interlaken, New York
Situated in the small village of Interlaken, northwest of Ithaca, New York, Lively Run Goat Dairy Farm and Creamery is a more unique take on the typical dairy farm. The farm got its start in 1982, making it one of the first and oldest commercial goat dairies in the country. Its current owners, Steve and Susanne Messmer, took over in 1995 and expanded the retail side of the farm and tourist operations.
Lively Run makes a variety of goat cheeses from the goats it raises, but it also partners with some local farms to supply milk for cow cheese too. The farm’s extensive retail and tourist opportunities are what set it apart from other dairy farms and make it a must-visit when in the Finger Lakes region.
“We’re not like some commercial petting zoo,” said Steve Messmer. “When you get to the property, it’s definitely a farm experience.”
There are plenty of activities for faith-based groups to enjoy when they make the trip to Lively Run, which is open to the public during the warmer seasons. Groups can enjoy a guided tasting of many varieties of cheeses made on the farm, watch a short video that explains the cheese-making process and shop in the farm’s store. But perhaps the biggest draw is the goats themselves. The farm hosts a variety of events that allow visitors to interact with the goats, such as goat yoga on weekend mornings. Tour groups can head to the barn after their guided tastings to meet the goats. If they come in late spring or early summer, there’s even a chance they could get to participate in bottle feeding the farm’s baby goats.
Hunter’s Honey Farm
Bees are responsible for the pollination of many of the world’s flowers and crops, making them one of the most important species in the world. One of the sweetest fruits of their labor is enjoyed by many as a natural sweetener, but beekeeping can yield many other products besides honey. Hunter’s Honey Farm in Martinsville, Indiana, is a fourth-generation beekeeping operation that specializes in not only honey but also products like honey ice cream and beeswax candles. The farm produces over 50 types of honey, some of which are derived from pollen from different floral sources, and some that are infused with other flavors, like habaneros or sassafras.
The farm is exceedingly group-friendly, offering a range of tours that allow visitors to examine the making of their products at nearly every stage. Groups can tour the farm’s property and visit the beehives to learn more about the biology of the bee and how they make honey. Visitors can also see how the honey is extracted and bottled and even participate in that bottling process, leaving with a honey bear with their own name on it. They can watch the dipping of the beeswax candles and roll their own. And, of course, they can sample from the largest selection of honey in the Midwest and purchase honey products in the farm’s gift shop.
“We’re about the only honey farm in the Midwest that offers tours of the hive and the honey house and allows you to participate in the bottling of the honey and the making of the candles,” said Tracy Hunter, owner of Hunter’s Honey Farm.
Oysters are often considered a delicacy in the culinary world, especially when visiting a coastal destination, and farming oysters and mussels is a billion-dollar aquaculture industry. Operational since 1952, Carlsbad Aquafarm in Carlsbad, California, uses a distinct method to produce oysters and mussels and emphasizes both sustainable shellfish production and high-quality oysters.
Many oysters are farmed in shallow mudflaps, but this aquafarm uses floating rafts with attached containers to farm them in deep water, for a cleaner, crisper flavored oyster. They also use a purification system onshore that purifies the oyster to further improve quality. The farm’s location in Carlsbad, a thriving coastal city between Los Angeles and San Diego, makes it the southernmost oyster farm in California and an unusual find in a busy city.
“It’s pretty uncommon to see an urban oyster farm,” said Matt Steinke, operations manager at Carlsbad Aquafarm. “Most of them are out in the middle of nowhere, but it’s easy to stop here during your vacation.”
Carlsbad Aquafarm opened to the public only two years ago and offers public tours four times a day, seven days a week. During these tours, groups can walk through the farm and learn about its farming methods and equipment. They can see and touch oysters and mussels at different stages of growth. Then, they are given an oyster shucking demonstration and tasting of fresh oysters, with complimentary lemon juice and hot sauce included.
Black Barn Alpacas
One of the rarest livestock animals in America is the alpaca. These gentle animals are raised for their antimicrobial, moisture-wicking fleece. Because of their gentle temperaments, minimal land use and relatively low cost, they’re increasingly being used in agritourism. Black Barn Alpacas, an alpaca farm in Southeastern Texas, is a fast-growing farm that began less than three years ago.
In 2020, the farm’s owners, Travis and Yusra McManus, were looking for a way to use their 17 acres when they began researching alpacas. After learning how to care for the animals, the pair bought five. Now they have over 100 animals. In addition to making products from their fleece, the farm breeds and sells them. They also allow visitors to tour the farm and interact with the alpacas, with experiences ranging from selfie opportunities to picnics.
“It’s all about hanging out with them,” Travis McManus said. “They’re a therapeutic animal.”
Tours of the farm are guided by McManus from pasture to pasture so groups can meet all the animals. They learn about the alpacas, their care and their fleece, and have the chance to pet, take pictures with and feed them. They can also purchase goods such as socks, sweaters, yarn and more made from alpaca fleece, some of which comes directly from the farm. Following the tour, groups are free to picnic on the grounds or simply relax with the alpacas.