Florida Agritourism: How to Get Down on the Farm
By Saundra Amrhein
So you’re packing for your trip to Florida, and you’ve remembered shorts and a swimsuit. Now, how about some barnyard boots?
While many visitors are familiar with Florida’s popular beaches and theme parks, plenty of tourists and local residents are also jumping on the tractor-wagon of a national trend – farm tours.
Called agritourism, the phenomenon sweeping the Sunshine State combines two of Florida’s top industries – tourism and agriculture. Farm tours and other agritourism adventures let farming families open their gates to new revenue streams while satisfying a public’s growing curiosity about food sources, sustainable agriculture and farm-to-table experiences.
“Florida agritourism operations draw people to the farm while providing educational, family-friendly, and fun activities,” said Melissa Hunt, marketing representative with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
“From picking your own produce and flowers, to touring a dairy and being able to buy ice cream made right on the farm, to attending an event in a barn while watching livestock roam in the background, to touring a certified farm winery and sampling the wines, farmers have been able to create memorable experiences for agritourists while enhancing their own farm businesses.”
Florida’s 24 million acres of croplands, ranches and forests create ample opportunities for agritourism. Helped by state laws passed since 2013, Florida’s number of agritourism operations more than doubled in the decade leading up to 2017 – climbing from 281 to 761, according to the USDA 2017 Ag Census.
Beyond its famous citrus, Florida’s abundance includes a variety of farm products, including potatoes, tupelo honey, cucumbers, sweet corn, peppers, and peaches.
Florida agritourism operators run the gamut of activities, including dairy farms, vineyards and wineries, horse farms and hayrides, corn mazes, beekeeping, petting farms, and fruit and vegetable U-picks.
You’ll enjoy taking monster truck tours of ranches, feeding cows, hugging baby goats, helping harvest strawberries and blueberries, or getting a behind-the-scenes look at one of the nation’s top thoroughbred centers. Learn about composting and crop covers, organic farming and hydroponics, aquaculture and community-based agriculture. Many working family farms have restored their barns and offered their serene pastures for special, ecotourism events – such as farm weddings, yoga retreats, glamping, hiking, or open-air fine dining in a pastoral setting. Farm cafes and retail shops carry jams, goat-milk soap, and ice cream from resident grass-fed cows, and more.
Here's our compiled sampling of Florida farm tours and agritourism experiences divided by regions of the state, with links to more comprehensive lists. Call ahead to each venue to plan a visit and check on what’s in season.
Northwest Florida offers a bevy of farm tours and agritourism experiences, from honey festivals to antique tractor drives to tours on dairy farms, goat farms, pecan orchards and cattle ranches.
· Every fall near Tallahassee, the Annual Farm Tour called “Farms, Gardens and Ranches,” includes free tours on about 30 farms, ranches, gardens, and farm-to-table restaurants. Coordinated by the Millstone Institute for Preservation, the tour gives visitors a chance to pet livestock, enjoy hayrides, sample food and take workshops on everything from composting to growing fall vegetables and using cover crops.
· Coldwater Gardens, about an hour northeast of Pensacola, is a working farm combining small-scale agriculture and ecotourism. Visitors can explore its aquaculture and hydroponic productions as well as honey bees, shiitake mushrooms grown on oak logs, free-range chickens and botanical gardens and learn about longleaf pine forest restoration. Paying guests can book a stay in a treehouse, cabins or glamping facilities while enjoying hikes, biking on 7 miles of mixed-use trails, or swimming, kayaking, canoeing or paddle boarding in Coldwater Creek. It also hosts weddings and yoga retreats. Call before visiting.
· Serenity Acres Farm, in Pinetta, a little more than an hour east of Tallahassee, gives visitors a behind-the-scenes peak at a goat dairy farm. On a farm tour, you’ll visit the goat pastures, the dairy barn and the chicken village and get a chance to hug the goats. In the dairy barn, learn about the farm’s array of goat milk soaps and all-natural body products and other goat milk treasures for sale.
· Smiley Honey, at the hub of the nation’s tupelo honey production in the small town of Wewahitchka, welcomes visitors to check out its bottling facility and load up on raw honey. Located almost an hour east of Panama City, Smiley Honey is one of several vendors in the area specializing in the golden gift from nature, which is celebrated every May during the Wewahitchka Tupelo Honey Festival. (Smiley Honey offers not only tupelo honey, but also different honey varieties as well as beeswax skincare products.
· Ocheesee Creamery in Calhoun County is a family-owned, third-generation dairy farm and ice cream shop about an hour northwest of Tallahassee. Visitors can tour the dairy farm and meet its happy cows, who produce whole milk on a diet of fresh, green pasture grass. In the storefront, guests can watch the milk get bottled and enjoy farm-made dairy treats – including ice cream with inventive seasonal flavors, from pineapple habanero to merry mint and peppermint mocha.
From Jacksonville to St. Augustine and the outlying countryside, farm tours abound in Northeast Florida. Whether it’s a blackberry U-pick farm to an urban edible garden to a buffalo dairy farm, potato farm or the famous datil pepper, Northeast Florida has a farm experience for everyone.
· At Congaree and Penn in Jacksonville, enjoy a tour with your tastebuds at this beautiful 350-acre farm and restaurant. Growing from four acres of rice patties into a vibrant spread of orchards, the grounds offer U-pick experiences of Ouachita blackberries, Muscadine grapes and Arbequina olives. Guests can also partake in farm tours, goat hikes, wagon rides, and field-to-fork culinary experiences at the restaurant, with seating both indoors as well as out on the elegant patio, with a bar serving a selection of wine, beer and Farm Cider.
· Eat Your Yard Jax is all about urban edible gardening and seeding the agricultural revolution. Adults and kids will learn plenty about sustainable agriculture techniques during tours and workshops. Learn about and see a variety of fruit trees and berry bushes, perineal vegetable plants; worms from their vermiculture operation, breeder tilapia and plants historically used for healing.
· Backyard Buffalo, in Ponte Vedra Beach, southeast of Jacksonville, is a small Buffalo diary milk farm, whose owner, with roots in India, offers farm tours as well as Buffalo milk products and cilantro chutney, pickled carrots and jalapenos, and granola.
· Gyo Greens in Ponte Vedra Beach is a sustainable Fish-Farm-Fork operation combining traditional aquaculture with hydroponics. Enjoy a farm tour and learn about their organic practices, specialty greens and vegetables like Swiss chard and baby radish, microgreens and edible flowers.
· Mayhem Datil Pepper Farms near St. Augustine grows the famous pepper unique to the region on 125 acres of land fed by the crystal clear spring waters of Mirror Lake. The farm’s owners welcome visitors to walk through some of their 1,000 heirloom datil pepper plants, possibly buy one along with a bottle of Mayhem “Original” Datil Pepper Hot Sauce. If you’re in the area in October, attend the annual Datil Pepper Festival and Home and Garden Show in St. John’s County, where you can enjoy hot sauce contests; plant sales; master gardener clinics and more.
· Blue Sky Farms in Elkton continues four generations of family farming – growing everything from purple sweet potatoes to yellow, white, red, SunLite, Violet Queen, and French fingerling potatoes. Located about 30 minutes southwest of St. Augustine near Hastings – a former national hub of potato and cabbage production – Blue Sky Farms has hosted farm tours and participated in Farm-to-Table fundraisers.
Central West Florida
From horse farms to corn mazes, from vineyards to citrus, strawberry and blueberry U-picks, Central West Florida is a mecca for agritourism adventures.
· Ocala, known as the Horse Capital of the World, is dotted with the serene spread of pastures surrounded by brown and white board fences. Farm Tours of Ocala offers an insider’s view of Ocala’s working horse farms, including a chance to see one of only four major thoroughbred centers in the world. The three-and-a-half hour tours will bring you on beautiful drives through the heart of horse country, with at least three stops at horse farms and facilities.
· At Uncle Donald’s Farm in Lady Lake, you can hand-feed cattle, pet a pig, milk a goat and then watch for llamas and ostriches on the hayride. Located about 40 minutes southeast of Ocala, the farm welcomes visitors all times of year. In the fall, it opens its Pumpkin Patch and hay maze and night “Walks on the Wildside,” when you can spot owls and other nocturnal animals.
· At Cannon Farms in Dunnellon, come take a dreamy meander through 30 acres of sunflowers or partake in a U-pick of peas and sweet corn. Then stock up on daily fresh-picked watermelon, cantaloupe and garden vegetables.
· Along the hills of Clermont, rolling through Lake County minutes northwest of Disney World, you will find enough farm fun to keep the whole family entertained. Showcase of Citrus – a 2,500-acre estate – offers everything from U-pick citrus to monster truck tours of the ranch to gem mining to shopping for jams at the Old Time Country Store. If blueberries, peaches and strawberries are your passion, head up the road to Southern Hill Farms for more U-pick fun; sweet treats of blueberry cobbler and biscuits; and a farm tour via wagon ride or a double-decker cotton harvester called the Blueberry Express. Cap it all off by trekking farther north up the road to wash down the day’s delights with a wine tasting and tour at Lakeridge Winery and Vineyards.
· Get lost in a 5-acre corn maze at HarvestMoon Fun Farm in Masaryktown, about 50 minutes north of Tampa. The petting farm welcomes visitors to get to know the barnyard’s rabbits, pigs, goats, chickens and miniature horses. Pick a pumpkin from the pumpkin patch or take a ride on the cow train.
· During a farm tour at Dakin Dairy Farms, you can meet the grass-fed cows, make your own butter, feed the livestock, watch the milking, tour the bottling plant, take a hayride, and finally get a taste of some chocolate and whole milk. Located in Manatee County’s Myakka City outside of Sarasota, Dakin Dairy also has a café with a wide menu that includes farm-fresh ice cream.
Central East Florida
From tea leaves to oysters, pickles to peaches, the East Coast of Central Florida will surprise you with the variety and bounty of farm tours and agricultural activities.
· On its organic property in New Smyrna Beach, Yaupon Brothers American Tea Co. sustainably harvests leaves from the only naturally caffeinated plant native to North America, the Yaupon Holly. An antioxidant with no tannins, the plant produces leaves that employees hand pluck, dry or fire-roast, grade and mill – creating a selection of sumptuous teas with flavors ranging from lavender coconut to revive mint, American green, fire roasted and Florida chai. A new 8,000-square-foot factory in Edgewater, complete with a café and retail shop, will be open for tours.
· Indian River Oyster Company, located in New Smyrna Beach in the Indian River Lagoon, is a “tide to table,” endeavor, with two-hour farm tours by kayak. Acquire an education on their farming craft, followed by an oyster tasting.
· At Vo-LaSalle Farms in DeLeon Springs, fourth-generation citrus farmers have expanded into homegrown vegetables in the farm's hydroponic U-pick garden. Visitors can select their own heirloom tomatoes, green beans, sweet onions, lettuces, peppers, cucumbers, squash, Swish chard, herbs, eggplant, cauliflower and more.
· Deer Park Peaches in St. Cloud provides visitors with a U-pick experience of tree-ripened Florida peaches. Also for sale are farm fresh brown eggs, young hens, native bald cypress trees and other nursery plants; and plain or Cajun-style boiled peanuts.
· Long & Scott Farms west of Zellwood outside Mount Dora is a fourth-generation family farm specializing in pickle cucumbers on 800 acres plus 25 acres of sweet corn, several hundred acres of cabbage, along with collards, kale and sweet onions. Attractions include a 6.5-acre corn maze, playgrounds, a hayride tour of the farm, and a chance to check out the market, café and food vendors.
From animal education at petting farms to pineapple and tomato U-picks, Southwest Florida packs in plenty of farm experiences.
· At Rosy Tomorrows Heritage Farm in North Fort Myers, you can enjoy an elegant meal in an open-air, tree-filled dining room or sit by the fire pit with a glass of wine. Afterward, walk the grounds of the 100-acre farm, operated organically, sustainably, holistically and humanely. Spy the grass-fed Longhorn cows, pastured Red Wattle pigs and Black Australorp chickens.
· At Southern Fresh Farms in Fort Myers, you can stroll through the hydroponic operations and their fresh produce, visit with barnyard animals at the petting farm – cows, goats, a mini donkey, turkey and chickens – sit on a swing by the waterfall; or swill a cool one at the on-site brew pub.
· Inyoni Organic Farm in Naples grows 50 varieties of organically grown and harvested fruits, herbs, flowers and vegetables on 6 acres – including pineapples, a tradition begun by the owner’s grandfather who fled Poland ahead of Hitler and became a pineapple farmer in Swaziland, South Africa, later relocating to Southwest Florida. The farm offers tours and lunch on the farm, farm dinners and live music, yoga and lunch retreats.
· At Lee Queen Bee in Estero, get in on the buzz of activities when owner Claudia Silveria invites interested beekeepers to her apiary to pitch in on harvests. Private educational seminars are also done by appointment. You can also buy some of her delicious raw honey, skin products, and beeswax candles.
· At 31 Produce east of Fort Myers, enjoy a U-pick of tomatoes – the region’s famous crop – as well as strawberries. The farm also grows beefsteak tomatoes, greens and other veggies, melons, blackberries and star fruit. Go on a tractor farm tour, pan for precious stones and fossils, check out the petting zoo, or partake in farm-fresh country cooking, ice cream and pies at the Cracker Shack Café.
Southeast Florida boasts more than tropical fruits. There are also lots of U-pick egg farms, cucumbers, beans and Brussels sprouts as well as farm-based foodie adventures surrounded by Eucalyptus trees.
· Enjoy a U-pick egg experience at Marando Farms & Ranch in Davie. The farm also features pony rides; a petting zoo; an organic market; farm-to-fork café; smoothies, milkshakes and a juice bar; equestrian trails; hayrides; music events, and more. For more information about farms in the area of Davie and Fort Lauderdale, visit this site.
· Robert is Here Fruit Stand and Farm – the famous Homestead fruit stand-turned tourist destination and South Florida landmark – specializes in carambola, papaya, and exotic tropical fruits as well as a slew of special sauces and marmalades, from honey habanero barbecue sauce to Florida orange marmalade with ginger, and smoothies and milkshakes made from fresh milk and fruit. Its Animal Farm includes goats, cows, pigs and emus plus an aviary for bird lovers.
· Fresh Gardens in Redland, a family owned farm, is home to more than 1,000 tropical trees. They specialize in golden passion fruit, longans, lychees, guava, carambola and dragon fruit. Enjoy a farm tour or U-pick fruit farm experience (when fruit is available).
· Bedner’s Farm Fresh Market in Palm Beach County offers numerous U-pick experiences at different times of the year, specializing in cucumbers and also including strawberries, green peppers, grape tomatoes and sunflowers. Farm fun includes tractor rides, farm tours and a pumpkin patch. With locations in Boynton Beach, Delray Beach and West Palm Beach.
· At Kai-Kai Farms in western Martin County, walk along corridors of towering eucalyptus trees, surrounded by pastures. The farm’s 40 acres include rows of grown-in-the-ground beans, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and 80 other varieties of vegetables. The farm supplies local chefs with farm-fresh ingredients and holds farm dinners along with foodie and wine tasting events and also books farm weddings.
Additional helpful links
· For a more detailed list of agritourism operators, see www.followfreshfromflorida.com/agritourism
· For more information, visit the Florida Agritourism Association at visitfloridafarms.com/.
· For a list of Florida wineries and vineyards, see: www.visitflorida.com/en-us/eat-drink/florida-wineries.
· For a Florida statewide U-pick farm locator, see: www.fdacs.gov/Consumer-Resources/Recreation-and-Leisure/U-Pick-Farms