Summer is a time for road trips and discovering hidden gems off the beaten path across America. With that in mind, I joined the scores of road warriors in search of an adventure fueled by farms and food.
My road less-traveled led me to Vermont to experience the sites, smells and tastes of The Green Mountain State. Vermont is known for its commitment to agritourism, a type of travel that focuses on how food and drink are made at the source. Agritourism supports locally-owned businesses and family farms all across the country, yielding roughly $704 million in sales nationwide, according to the U.S. Census of Agriculture.
I discovered that Vermont is truly an agritourism paradise. The state is filled with well-known producers and brands such as Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream and Cabot Cheese. And while it is possible to visit both of these company’s factories, I chose to seek out less corporate locations.
We started our trip near Burlington, a charming college town on the banks of the majestic Lake Champlain. There we stayed at The Essex, billed as a “culinary resort.” Upon arrival, guests will first notice that the check-in desk doubles as a pastry counter brimming with baked goods. Cooking demonstrations fill the lobby, and cooking classes are available at an additional cost. The restaurants on the premises serve dishes made with fresh, locally sourced ingredients including those grown in the chef’s garden on the property.
Food is the theme in every detail at The Essex. Even the in-room guide looks like the iconic red-and-white-checked cover of a classic Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook.
Needless to say, I loved this place— and its blueberry galette.
From Burlington, we headed south with a mission to find farms that produced cheese and maple, two products that have put Vermont agriculture on the map. (Vermont is ranked number 10 in the country for cheese production, churning out over 127 million pounds of cheese a year.) We managed to find one small slice of Vermont’s cheese producing empire at Shelburne Farms, located in a town of the same name. There are several options for visitors at Shelburne, including a guided farm tour. The farm has an inn with a farm-to-table restaurant, as well as a small bakery and snack cart. People can also walk the numerous trails on their own to explore the grounds, or simply take the tractor-drawn wagon up to the main building.
Upon boarding the shuttle, our tractor driver told the group that he had grown up on the farm, which is now run as a non-profit for educational purposes. The stories he shared of his childhood on the farm colored a rich history of generations who have tended to the land and animals and handled the cheesemaking duties at Shelburne.
Our cheese “guide” was equally invested in sharing the art and science of making cheese. I now know more about pasteurization and raw milk than I ever thought I would, and it's these personal insights that make visiting a working farm so interesting and meaningful.
We left Shelburne Farms with a cheesy grin and continued down Route 7 on the hunt for a maple producer. Vermont is king when it comes to maple — it's the number 1 producer of the sweet sap in the U.S., pumping out more than 2 million gallons in the last year alone.
In Ferrisburgh, we stopped at Dakin Farm, whose tagline is “What Vermont Tastes Like.” Dakin Farm has been harvesting maple and making syrup in its sugarhouse for almost 60 years. Visitors can go watch the production process through glass windows and learn about the history of maple production from a video presentation as well. I, of course, went to town buying all-things-maple in their large factory store, which offers a wide variety of products including meats smoked and cured on site.
Now that we got our maple fix, it was time to head toward our final destination, King Arthur Flour in Norwich, located almost two hours due southeast. But seeing as any good road trip has at least one unscheduled detour, we stumbled upon the Woodchuck Cider distillery in Middlebury. Founded in 1991, Woodchuck is distributed nationally. We took a walk around the factory and checked out the bar menu which offered an extensive array of hard ciders. (Since we were driving, there was no drinking for us. However, I did come away with some Woodchuck swag because I couldn’t resist that cute critter mascot.)
Finally, after traversing the state and crossing the national forest, we arrived in Norwich on a Saturday evening. To be honest, Norwich is basically a crossroads on the Vermont-New Hampshire border. The only action in this tiny town is King Arthur Flour, a baking paradise fueled by flour since the 1700s. Even though there isn't much around Norwich, it is absolutely worth the trek just to check out King Arthur Flour. I scheduled this whole trip around a pie-making class I signed up for here — I am biased, because I am a passionate hobby baker, but King Arthur Flour made all of my culinary dreams come true. The heavenly scent of fresh-baked bread greets your nose like an old friend at the door.
After floating right to the in-house café, hang a left into their huge store. King Arthur offers an extensive range of bakeware, cooking tools and special ingredients to make the perfect pastry. It took a lot of will power to stop myself from bringing the entire place home with me, but it wouldn’t fit in my carry-on bag, anyway.
I explored, ate and learned on my trip to Vermont. But most importantly, I got to support local businesses and farms that are the backbone of our American economy and our American story.
And if you can’t make it to Vermont, there are a number of agritourism activities to try all across the country. It's likely you can find an agriculture adventure right in your backyard.