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Agri Hotspots

Article and Photos by Kathleen Walls

In this issue, American Roads is beginning a new column, Agri Lanes. We all enjoy eating and surely traveling, so what better than exploring the unique places our food comes from. Agritourism is becoming mo e and more popular fueled by the trend of farm to table and no doubt by the alarming recalls and warnings about processed food and salmonella outbreaks. Also in more urban societies, children have no concept of where food comes from. A classic example is the person seeing tongue on a menu exclaims, "I don't want to eat anything that has been in an animal's mouth . I'll have an egg sandwich instead."



For this first column, we are going to present a mini view of some of the great farms, wineries, ranches and other places that bring their products to you table and let you come visit and see how the product is produced. So if one or more of these little appetizers about great agritourism spots whets your appetite, the future issues will give you the whole enchilada. In fact, the next issues will all be featuring one of these very places.

Lane Southern Orchards:

David Lane III told me "If I went to the bank for a loan today to open a packing house and orchard five miles off the interstate, they would probably laugh at me."

But in 1908 when family patriarch, John David Duke, started as Diamond Fruit Farms in Fort Valley, GA there was no interstate and no one imagined that people would want to visit a packing plant or orchard to see fruit packed or picked. Today, managed by fifth generation descendents of John David, the orchard had three hundred thousands of visitors last year flocking to see the peaches or pecans packed. They throng to ride the orchard tour wagon to see the peaches ripening on trees or pick their own fresh strawberries.

If seeing all that fresh fruit makes them hungry, they can just go into the orchard's own Peachtree Caf´┐Ż and chow down on freshly prepared meals or enjoy some peach cobbler. But whatever you do, try the homemade peach ice cream. It is the best you'll ever taste which is ironic as it started accidentally. David explained they never planned to sell ice cream but one hot day they got out an old ice cream maker and pealed a bunch of peaches and made some peach cream for themselves. A few visitors came by and asked if they could buy some. They shared it and the visitors loved it. So they decided to use up some of the less than perfect peaches and sell a little ice cream. They hired a high school girl, and set her up with a folding table out front. She sold out and had visitors clamoring for more. So they hired two girls and set up another table. Again they sold out and had people begging for more. Thus the tradition was born. Today people from all over come for a taste of that mythical ice cream. They have to set aside and freeze hundreds of bushels of peaches to have enough to last to the next season.

Farmhouse Inn at Hundred Acre Farm:

If you want a getaway to a real farm and still have gracious accommodations, this is the place. Innkeeper, Crystal Johnson, and her husband Ellis will welcome you to some down home fun and excitement. The Farmhouse Inn is a bed and breakfast with a country style twist. The rooms are in a white clapboard farmhouse-style tin-roofed building and decorated in a cozy farm style. A community room with a fireplace and lots of games is there if you choose to enjoy some indoor time.

But there is so much to do outdoors at the farm. You can hike �or if you constrained by time or health take the golf cart� and explore the farm. There are lots of chickens, cows and goats to visit. Then you can fish or canoe in the river or lake on site. There is even a basket with binoculars and identifying information for birders. You will find other wild life there, too. I was excited to spot a few fox squirrels.

Breakfast is a real delight . It is served in the Red Barn Meeting Room with lots of large double style doors that open onto a wide veranda overlooking a green pasture where you might see any type of bird as the Farmhouse Inn is located in a flyway area. The food is fresh and mostly local. Crystal showed me the fresh eggs from her chickens. They were beautiful, all large, some brown and some a lovely pale green. The cooked version lived up to the beauty of those fresh ones. There is so much more I want to tell you about this place but it will have to wait for the feature on it that will be in an upcoming issue.

Olive Forge Herb Farm:

Marsha and Darryl Herren are an amazing couple. Seniors, who are their own best advertisement for staying healthy with herbs, they run Georgia's only licensed herb farm. This place is amazing. You can find over 350 varieties of culinary, medicinal and wreath herbs. Their gardens and gift shop, The Still Room, are available for browsing.

Rosemary rules there. One bush is almost the size of a small tree. I was so impressed with a new variety of rosemary they have produced by crossing some existing plants. The butterfly garden is another impressive place. Darryl explained that in order to have a complete butterfly garden, you need not only the beautiful flowering plants that the butterflies love, you must also have the plants they need as caterpillars and those used to devout and to create their cocoons before hatching into the beautiful flying jewels everyone wants to see in their garden.

The gift shop, filled with their own handmade soaps, candles, teas, lotions and books on herbs, is part of their beautifully rustic home they build lovingly by hand. They invited us in to enjoy some of their homemade bread, cake, lavender cookies and redbud tea.

This is the kind of place you need to visit to believe. Olive - Forge /28328162630

Watermelon Creek Winery :

Located in Glennville, GA, this is the newest muscadine winery in Southeast Georgia is owned and operated by Charles and Debra Tillman, Watermelon Creek Winery may be new but the roots run deep here. It's located on the homestead of generations of Charles's ancestors.

This is a boutique winery where most of the work is done by hand in the state of the art processing room. The love and care put into each bottle shows when you sip one of the wines. You can do that sipping in the tasting room which is an amazing blend of the latest trends and the heritage that links the winery to the past.

We took a tour of the ancient buildings still preserved on the property and rode through the vineyards being tended according to the most advanced techniques.

From the way Georgia is embracing the trend towards "Georgia Grown" I doubt this will be the newest winery for long but I expect it will stay around for many years and earn the title "One of Georgia's oldest wineries."

Crane Creek Winery:

This is one of the old traditional North Georgia mountain wineries. Located in Young Harris, it grows several kinds of grapes, some of the French ones not usually associated with North Georgia such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, and produces some tasty local wines. The tasting room, open Tuesday thru Sunday, is at the vineyard in the old Bryson farmhouse. You can drop in and have an impromptu picnic perched on the deck or spread a blanket on the rolling hillside. Their gift shop even has some gourmet cheese and some crackers and a bottle of one of their fine wines You will find vines planted to take advantage of the unique mountainous countryside in North Georgia suited to the European varieties of varieties of Chambourcin, Vidal Blanc, Seyval Blanc and Villard Noir along with the modern hybrid Chardonel and native American varieties of Norton and Catawba Try their Sweet Sally for a perfect sweet wine.

In season, you can tour the winery. Crane Creek also offers festivals and several culinary events throughout the year. The had a small apple orchard and a culinary garden that provides mush of the food for these events.

Hunter Cattle:

Hunter Cattle Company Began as and still is a place where cattle, pigs and chickens are raised in the most humane way and at the same time fed without chemicals growth hormones, steroids, or antibiotics. The result is tastier meat and the eggs richer than those bought at the grocery store. It began as Del Ferguson's dream. He had ran a successful business in Savanna for 25 years but dreamed of the day he could get away back to the farm. He convinced his wife, Debra, and they began to raise quality beef adhering to the highest standards of the American Grassfed Association and the organization Animal Welfare Approved. As the ranch grew, he convinced his daughter, Kristin, and two of his sons, Anthony and Hunter to join them.

"So many people are disconnected from the way their food is produced now." Del explained. " I want to go back to doing things the way it was done 100 years ago."

He found that as the farm grew, people would come and just visit. To accommodate the growing number of people who want ot "visit" he has adapted an old tobacco barn into two visitors' suites. "Don't snort when I say old tobacco barn," he said. "We fixed them up really nice."

Hunter Cattle also provides camping facilities if you want to bring out your RV or tent. You can hike the nature trail, ride a horse or just relax on the porch if you don't want to do any of the hard work of raising cattle.

Moo Ma's Farm Store, at the ranch, sells their grassfed beef, pastured pork, free range chicken and eggs. They also support neighboring family farms by carrying locally grown vegetables and products.

Mercier Orchards:

This fourth generation family run orchard located in Blue Ridge, GA offers tours and u-pick fruit in season. You are driven around the orchard in a wagon pulled by a tractor and can pick vine ripened fruit that has been grown with a minimum of chemicals. Inside the shop, you find the seasonal fruit as well as many other local produce items. There is also a variety of unusual products from other areas and unique gift items. Try their bakery and deli for delicious fried pies, sandwiches and other goodies. Be sure to try their own pressed cider and fruit slushies.  

R and A Orchards:

This is one of Ellijay, GA's family owned orchards located on the stretch of highway 52 East known as Apple Alley for its abundance of orchards. Every weekend in September they offer farm tours on a huge old fashioned wagon and pick-your-own apples usually from June to February. They also offer other tours at other times of the year such as Apple Blossom Tours in April. The store is open all year and sells great fried pies and fresh produce. They have about 60 acres of varied apples and about 10 acres of peaches and nectarines.

Red Earth Farms:

At Red Earth Farm owners Raven Waters and Janisse Ray strive to produce a large selection of vegetables, pecans, fruit, honey, and heirloom seeds, as well as meat and eggs organically. They use no chemicals on the produce. Their animals are grass fed and not fed hormones or antibiotics. One way they do thsi is by raising hogs with a wild ancestor instead of regular domesticated ones. These are less succeptible to desease.They do much of the farm work on their 46-acre historic farm in southern Tattnall County, Georgia as it was done when their 1850 farmhouse was built.

You will find their own homemade sodas (birch beer, ginger ale, root beer, raspberry, cream), jams and jellies, lye soap, woodcut note cards, baked goods, and farmhouse granola when you visit.

One of the most fun aspects of Red Earth Farms are the workshops on organic gardening, cheese-making, fermentation, canning, solar dehydration, backyard chickens, and other sustainability skills such as their "Build a Cob Oven Workshop" and "Cheese Making."

Barton's 1792 Distillery:
(Click formore about Kentucky's Bourbon Trail StreetParty.html )

The distilling of spirits goes far back into man's primeval past. Probably before written history, primitive man was attempting ot ferment alcohol in gourds or stone jugs. Barton Brands of Kentucky is one of the Kentucky bourbon distillers that have followed in the time-honored tradition and using more modern methods have turned it into an art. It apparently is an art many people are interested in because at the new Visitor Center at Barton 1792 Distillery in Bardstown, Ky. The place teems with visitors. It the base of operations for the Distillery's tours.

Here you can learn about the history of the 130-plus year-old-Distillery, visit the area grain loading facility, hammermill and the still. Next you can go inside an aging barrel warehouse, called a rickhouse and smell what distillers call the "angels share," that portion of the alcohol content that is leached out into the air due to the expansion and contraction of the barrels. Next stop on the tour route is the bottling hall, where you will find several bottling lines filling the different varieties of bourbon made here. Then it's back to the visitors center to go for the gold and have a taste of some of their finest spirits.

Heaven Hill Distillery:

You may be thinking you are in Heaven at Heaven Hill Distillery. Here the most interesting stage of the process is the bourbon warehouse. Billy Joe Nalley, one of the guides, explains "The warehousing process is more than just a storage area. Bourbon's unique taste is created while it ages in white oak barrels that have been charred. The place it is stored is referred to as a rickhouse and whether a barrel is placed near the fifteenth or the first floor makes a huge difference in the final product."

�Parker Beam Taste of Heaven� is a barrel�shaped tasting room. These products are also similar yet subtly different from other bourbons, a result of a different storage time and position.


Willett's Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey is a real family business. You may be greeted by brothers-in law, Drew Kulsveen and Hunter Chavanne. They along with Drew's father, Even, and sister, Britt, operate this boutique style distillery. Here you can see the entire distillation process. You will love their little pot still. Hunter explained to me why their bourbon is a little higher in alcohol, "Once you add water, you can't take it out and we want people to enjoy our bourbon as they see fit."

Jack Daniels Distillery:

Although Kentucky produces 95% of the world's supply of bourbon, the Jack Daniels Distillery is the oldest distiller in the country. It did shut down a few times first when a Tennessee prohibition law was passed, again for national prohibition and for a short time during World War II. It is not exactly considered bourbon (even though U. S. laws governing spirits say it is) but Tennessee sipping whiskey. Located in Lynchburg, TN, a dry county incidentally) this is a trip into the past. From the barrelhouse to the cold air rushing from the cave where the spring water is pumped, everything is unique. Even the story about Jack Daniels meeting his demise from kicking a safe. He developed blood poisoning and refusing to go to a doctor to treat the injury.


Special preview: Paradise Hills Resort & Spa in Blairsville has planted 300 vines and are planting another 50 in a separate �test vineyard' by the lodge. Construction on the winery has begun and equipment is ordered. They hope to get it completed by this fall so that they can begin some production of wine with grapes from other vineyards this year. If all goes well, they will have wine in their tanks by the end of the year. The tasting room opening is still up in the air�. Their county has no farm wineries; they will be the first, so they are working with the commissioner to make it happen smoothly. For now, it is planned for the spring 2013 to open the tasting room; though, it is available for events & banquet reservation right now


For another great agri-tourism destination check out Cort's Crossroads


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