Category Archives: agritourism

Gorgeous fall day for a “Farm Crawl” in Southern Iowa

We drove an hour south of Des Moines on what turned out to be a lovely fall day (after a few initial sprinkles) for the 11th annual Farm Crawl — a driving (not crawling) tour rural in Marion, Lucas and Warren counties of five farms plus a local pottery place and a sale on the grounds of an 1850’s country church, where FFA (Future Farmers of America) kids set up shop, selling their iron works and meat from their “Cattle Project.”

Such a great way to see the Iowa count side and out-of-the-way small family farms, driving up and down hilly gravel roads, tire wheels kicking up dust, flocks of birds suddenly flying in formation from a telephone line, lots of open land and then suddenly, a rare round barn or a tidy red barn or a ramshackle farmstead or the sun-dappled  lawn of an old country church at a rural crossroads.

The Iowa we love.

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Wilson’s Orchard/Iowa Grown Market/Yotopia in Iowa City; bike trail and Heyn Ice Cream in North Liberty

Iowa Grown Market

Iowa Grown Market

I would not advise doing what we just did – riding the strenuous bike trail in North Liberty, near Iowa City – in 94 degree heat. But it was Sept. 23 and we were thinking “crisp fall day,” even after  weather reports forecasting near-record heat.

The roadside trail had its pretty moments as we cycled  south from Penn Meadows Park on Dubuque Street, past high dry corn and rolling, wooded properties near Coralville Lake. There wasn’t too much road traffic but when we turned right onto  Oakdale Avenue, we were deep in new subdivision land – not my favorite scenery. We found much the same heading north on 12th Street back toward town. There were also some killer little roller coaster bits, all the more killer in the heat. So not sure we’ll be doing this trail again. My quest to find a great trail in the rural countryside near Iowa City continues….

Wilson’s Orchard

We did appreciate the cold AC and sorbet inside Heyn’s Ice Cream, locally-owned and made,  inside a charming corner store  with an old-fashioned counter, in North Liberty.

We also took a very pretty drive to get to North Liberty from Wilson’s Orchard (a pretty place just north of Iowa City off Highway One that was packed with sweaty families with sweaty kids trying to pick apples on a ridiculously hot fall day. Good cider, donuts and, of course, apples. on trees in orchards lining a deep valley with weeping willows). The drive included a section of  RAGBRAI we rode a few years ago (very scenic but rolling, with lots of gentleman farms with white picket fences, perfect barns and big new houses that reminded me a bit of horse country outside Nashville).

Turning west off Highway One past a party barn, onto country road F8W/Newport Road, we stumbled upon a picture postcard perfect farm stand, Iowa Grown Market, (open June – October) where we could not resist buying some carrots, cherry tomatoes, a mottled pumpkin and a few other things we thought would survive sitting for hours in the heat in our car. (They did survive.)

Wilson’s Orchard (and sadly, the kids are looking at cellphones, not the view…)

In Iowa City, we had another very good lunch at the Bluebird Cafe (splitting the pulled pork sandwich, our favorite from last visit, and a good Greek salad) and stopped for frozen yogurt with “popping juice pearls” (kiwi/green; strawberry/red, passion fruit/yellow) at Yotopia (also locally-owned and made) before braving Kinnick Stadium to sit with thousands of other hot football fans (quite a few inebriated – this was a 6:30 p.m. game) watching the University of Iowa Hawkeyes lose (narrowly) to Penn State.

 

 

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Airbnb room with a view (Lake Superior) and Northern Waters Smokehaus – Duluth

Another great Airbnb (unlike the one I booked in Minneapolis where the weird host cancelled at the last minute). We are in a airy blue-walled room on the second floor of an old wooden house in a neighborhood high on a hill above downtown and the blue waters of Lake Superior. Some nice touches including a Polaroid camera to snap a few shots (haven’t used one in years), a white noise machine, pretty botanical prints on the walls, a map with pins to stick in to show where visitors are from. (Other Des Moines residents had been here, as had visitors from Tehran and Hamburg.) We shared a bathroom with the one other room, which wasn’t an issue.

After a brief stop at The Minneapolis Farmers Market downtown on Lyndale near Twins stadium to pick up huge red dahlias, raspberries, strawberries, scones and banana bread to take to Noah and Rachel’s new apartment on Emerson Street, we drove two hours or so to Duluth (not too much traffic) and tried our first batch of smoked whitefish at Northern Waters Smokehaus, a hip, foodie sandwich shop inside an old brick warehouse renovated into a marketplace with nice shops. I ate the fish on saltines with a smear of cream cheese, as directed.

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Iowa State Fair 2017 – gorgeous weather brings lots of people but doesn’t feel crowded

The weather was so perfect (sunny and almost cool, not hot or humid) last Saturday that I feared the fairgrounds would be uncomfortably crowded. There were tons of people but the fair didn’t feel any more crowded than usual for a Saturday. There was a long line at the Dairy Barn, which is to be expected, and it remains the one place where I always feel sweaty, even in relatively cool temps, because there’s no shade.

But there was hardly any wait to get an egg-on-a-stick from the Iowa Egg Council inthe Ag Building or to get a ticket for the Sky Glider. We sailed right into the Pork Producer’s tent for dinner – maybe because it was relatively late? (about 7 p.m.)


The Midway did look cleaner, brighter and less seedy – as promised with the rebranding as Thrill Park. And I did overhear someone actually ordering a cheesy fried enchilada funnel cake – one of the “new foods” at the fair. No thank you. Other than that, just enjoyed the usual highlights, with the added bonus of having two of our grown kids and their significant others with us!

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Finds at the Downtown Farmers Market – Des Moines

“There’s usually nothing new down there,” my husband muttered as I persisted in heading down a side street (near the new HyVee) in downtown Des Moines during the Saturday morning farmers market.

And he’s usually right. But this time of year, chances are he’s wrong – and he was. Spotting a crowd gathered around a vendor, we arrived at Coeur Bread which turns out to be new (or new to us and this particular market location) and makes noteworthy bread, which is hard to do in such a crowded field these days. The flavors are different – raspberry feta is delicious, “hot chocolate” a little odd but not too sweet, jalapeno corn has visible kernels and a kick. And the texture is perfect – dense, chewy, crusty and dusty on the outside, both the little rolls (sort of the size of charcoal brickets) and the loafs, sweetly wrapped in brown butcher paper with a little brown ribbon.

I was also pleased to see the return of Butcher Crick, which sells gorgeous heirloom tomatoes – all kinds of odd shapes, unusual colors and best of all, discernable flavor. And the sellers are so enthusiastic it’s hard not to suddenly drop $8 on a handful of beauties.

With fresh produce so bountiful and widely available this time of year, I’ve come to restrict my Saturday farmer’s market shopping to things I can’t find elsewhere and raspberry-feta bread and dusty red or tiger-striped tomatoes fit that bill.

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Casa de Oro/Perry (Iowa) and bike trail from Waukee to Perry

The bike trail between Waukee and Perry in Central Iowa is about 18 miles – long and straight, cutting through classic farm country, fields of rising green corn, the occasional abandoned see-through wooden barn, a smelly hog confinement operation and a smelly fertilizer plant, a pretty farmhouse surrounded by a white picket fence dotted with orange tiger lilies.  We rode in the late afternoon and early evening – returning just before 9 p.m., with the trail and the terrain all to ourselves. Or so it seemed. The light was stunning. A light breeze. Dragon flies whizzing around in front of us, hovering over the pavement. The sound of birds, frogs and crickets.

We stopped for a drink in the small town of Minburn at a depot that’s recently been turned into a little restaurant and then in Perry for dinner at Casa de Oro (after finding our usual Mexican place, Taco Villa, closed). Place was busy and the fajitas good. We’ll be back.perryphoto

 

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ben’s chili bowl, rosa Mexicana : Washington, D.C.

IMG_1121Didn’t have much time to be a tourist this trip but I did go to a reception at Rosa Mexicana, which had good -you guessed it – Mexican food — near the gallery metro stop (and hotel Monaco, where my work meetings were). I also had a bowl of chili at the Reagan national airport outpost of the famous Ben’s chili bowl. Didn’t bowl me over. But it obviously lacked the more urban atmosphere of the original Ben’s.
I had hoped to go to the ramen noodle place, daikaya izakaya, my sister highly recommended, also near the gallery metro but ran out of time. Next trip.
Last night I made my requisite pilgrimage to Politics and Prose, a longtime favorite bookstore on Connecticut. Always have to buy a book there, every DC trip!

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Filed under agritourism, air mileage, Washington D.C.