Getting up-close and personal with barnyard animals makes Uncle Donald’s Farm in Lady Lake an ideal place for agritourism and a fun place for urban kids to visit. / Contributed
Editor’s note: This is the second half of Deborah Hartz-Seeley’s “Agritourism Brings Fun, and More Business, to the Farm.” Part 1 ran Oct. 3. At the end of this article is a section for farmers interested in agritourism.
An agritourism veteran
One of the oldest agritourism destinations in the state is Uncle Donald’s Farm in Lady Lake. The 50-acre beef farm has been open to the public since the 1980s.
“Today, we have people who came here as children bringing their own children,” says Donna Morris, who is part of the third generation of her family to run the farm.
Morris remembers that, when she was young, her father and mother welcomed her friends to play baseball in the pasture or to come along for a hayride on a cart with iron wheels that her father attached to the tractor.
“We were offering agritourism before it was even a word,” notes Donna, who explains that the idea of opening their farm to the public just sort of grew. When her father, Donald, retired from his engineering job, he ran the hayrides. Her mother worked in the gift shop.
Today, it’s Donna and her sisters, Beth and Jeanette, who run the business that has grown and grown and grown. “I’ve heard it described as a’4-H project gone wild,’” quips Donna.
Gain hands-on experience
Visit today and, among other things, you can feed ducks, geese, chickens and rabbits; see whitetail deer and a cougar; learn about heritage breeds of chickens, including ones that lay green eggs; and milk a goat.
Donna enjoys seeing urban visitors get up-close and personal with the “wildlife.”
“Some people are terrified of a little ‘banty’ (bantam) rooster that’s just looking for food,” she notes with a good-natured laugh. “He’s just begging for corn, not looking to hurt anyone, and these kids are terrified.”
Another way to enjoy the farm
For a little different way to “imbibe” farm life, visit the Island Grove Wine Co. in Island Grove. This is a recent addition to a successful family-run blueberry farm.
Under the aegis of Island Grove AG Products, the farm produces between 1 million and 2 million boxes of blueberries annually from plants on 450 acres.
Traditionally, each year in May, at the end of the six- to eight-week growing season, the farm was left with fruit that the company wanted to use profitably. It seemed ideal to make a product that visitors would want to see being manufactured. That’s when Island Grove’s owners hit upon wine-making.
They hired a wine-maker and, in 2011, opened the doors of their winery to the public. “Agritourism goes hand in hand with opening a winery,” says Sarah Aschliman, general manager of Island Grove Wine Co.
Wine is a big draw
Today, the free winery tour and tasting room attract about 10,000 people a year.
The tasting room is housed in a 2,500-square-foot, Key West-style building with a 25-foot tasting bar made of granite, with reclaimed cypress on the front, and a stone fireplace.
In addition to wine tasters, this space appeals to people who want to host parties such as bridal or baby showers.
The family produces and sells 15 different wines, including Kinda Dry; as well as Sorta Sweet Blueberry Wines that are 100 percent fruit. There’s also Sunshine State Sangria, a blueberry sangria made with Florida lemons, limes, oranges and strawberries.
Aschliman, like the others we talked to, enjoys welcoming the public into her world to see, touch and taste what’s being produced in Florida.
“You can make connections with people by letting them know where and how their food is made. It’s not something they learn in school. It’s a hands-on experience of what goes on here in our home state,” she says.
FOR FARMERS INTERESTED IN AGRITOURISM
The state of Florida is taking agritourism seriously and, in 2013, passed statutes making it easier for farmers to invite the public onto their land.
The Florida Agritourism Law prohibits local governments from “prohibiting, restricting or otherwise limiting” agritourism activities on land classified as “agriculture” by a property appraiser.
And it establishes a limitation on legal liability for the landowner, agritourism operator and employees.
The statutes were revised recently to better define the types of activities that they cover, including weddings and fundraisers held on a farm.
Using a 2014 grant from Visit Florida, the Florida Agritourism Association has developed the “Florida Agritourism Toolkit.” It provides marketing and technical information and resources for anyone interested in running an agritourism operation.
It’s available at http://operator.visitfloridafarms.com/fata-tourism-guide-2015
Deborah S. Hartz-Seeley is a longtime Florida journalist covering the local food and gardening scene. With a master’s degree in agricultural journalism, she served as food editor for The South Florida Sun-Sentinel for over 20 years. Today, she is a certified “master gardener.”