Beautiful weather and a record 19 participating agribusinesses attracted record crowds of sightseers to the fifth annual Kaw Valley Farm Tour Oct. 4 and 5 in northeast Kansas.

Alpacas, apples, buffalo, Christmas trees, vineyards, goats, sheep, bees, chocolate making, gardens and horticulture all shared the spotlight.

Jennifer Smith, Kansas State University Extension horticulturist for Douglas County, said, “The purpose of the tour is to educate people about the different types of farming in the area. It began as an annual event five years ago in this area and has grown steadily in the number of farms opening their doors to the public and also in the number of people who seem to enjoy getting out in the area and seeing what is being produced.“

The tour is planned by representatives of the agri-business farms, the Community Mercantile in Lawrence, the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau, Bill Wood, who is director of the Kansas State Extension Service in Douglas County. The participating farms were located in Douglas, Franklin, Osage, Jefferson, Johnson and Leavenworth counties.

Host farmers explained how they produced their products and how the products were made available to the public. Part of the program at each stop included some activities for children and many let the visitors participate in the chores associated with the farm.

Three vineyards, Davenport Orchards and Winery and Bluejacket Crossing Vineyard and Winery of Eudora and Holy-Field Winery of Basehor, explained the history of their wineries and the process of raising and maintaining the grape vines and making the wine. Davenport and Holy-Field are two of the oldest wineries in Northeastern Kansas.

At Davenport, visitors boarded hay racks to ride through the 18 acres of grape vines, some still laden with bunches of grapes. The winery has 20 different kinds of grapes for wine-making. Guests got to pick and taste grapes and try their hand at pruning grape vines. In the processing room, volunteers who assist owner Greg Sipes with the wine making explained the process.

“After the grapes are picked and made into wine, our work continues,” Sipes said. “The grape vines must be pruned and the grass and weeds removed out of the rows (a tedious process even with a special machine) .

Visitors were welcomed in all of the wineries' tasting rooms .

One of the most unusual tour stops was at the Prairie Moon Waldorf School Market Garden, north of Lawrence. The 50 pupils in the private school, pre-school through fifth grade, have a large vegetable and flower garden which serves as an outdoor classroom. Volunteers oversee the teaching project which is financed through grants. The children sell the produce and flowers locally to the organic foods market, independent natural foods restaurants and the Farmer's Market in Lawrence. Irrigation is from rain water collected off the roof of the school.

Another unusual tour stop was Sleepy Jean's Convections. Jean Younger, makes chocolate from imported cacao beans. She demonstrated chocolate making and shared samples with the visitors. Her convections are sold locally and on the Internet.

Several other farms featured animal husbandry.

The Ad Astra Alpacas, owned by Claudia and Bob Hey, first came to the Baldwin ranch five years ago.

“We bought our first alpacas five years ago and the herd has grown steadily,” Claudia said.

“We have all colors, white, brown, light tan and black,. You never know what color a baby is going to be, regardless of its parents. Sometimes I just can't wait for one to be born so we can see its coat.”

“The gentle alpacas are raised strictly for their fiber,” Claudia continued. “We have them sheared in late April. I clean and grade the fiber and then send it off to Phillipsburg to be made into yarn. Then the yarn is sent to companies in Illinois and New England to be made into hats, gloves and scarves.”

She opened her retail shop a week ago and expects to sell some products on the Internet.

Down the road from the Heys on U.S. Highway 56 near Overbrook is the Lone Star Bison Ranch, owned by Don and Teri Gibbs. The ranch was easy to locate– the buffalo herd, led by a huge bull, were roving the inside perimeter of the eight-foot fence, while visitors poked bunches of hay through the woven wire to the eager animals. The smell of buffalo burgers cooking filled the air, and attracted visitors to the small shop filled with salsa, sweet spreads and soy candles.

At the Vesecky Family Farms near Baldwin visitors saw a wide variety of animals, poultry and garden products. Flocks of pasture-raised turkeys, guineas, geese and chickens surround the farmstead some in moveable pens to provide fresh grass daily. Horticulture products included strawberries, blueberries, asparagus, tomatoes, sweet corn and all are sold in-season, some u-pick. The most unusual feature at the Veseckys is the red elk, including a tame one who was a crowd favorite.

Screamin' Oaks, a goat farm near Tonganoxie, also is the home to a menagerie of animals including a miniature horse, burros, calves, poultry, guinea fowl and doves. Roxane McCoy, the owner, says her 30 goats and other animals attract school, church and scout group tours, “that I hope teach the children to be kind to animals.” She sells goat milk from her Alpine, Oberhasli, LaMancha and Toggenberg goats.

She also makes and sells ice cream, cheese and soap.

Part of her business is selling goat meat, mostly for ethnic customers. A special guest at her farm for the tour was Russell Ehart of Kansas City, Kan., a Kansas chainsaw carver who had a display of his art and gave demonstrations throughout the two days.

At Maggie's Farm, Barbara Clark led the groups out to see her Shepherd's Dozen, 13 Suffolk-Menerio-cross and Lincoln sheep. A spinner for 35 years, Clark utilizes the wool for her spinning and garment making projects.

The smallest creatures featured on the tour were at the Blossom Trail Bee Ranch, north of Baldwin and owned by Richard Bean, who has been keeping bees for 20 years. His assistant, Mark McKinney, gave visitors a detailed lesson in beekeeping and the intricacies of maintaining healthy hives. At Bean's home place he has about 20 hives and many more at different locations.

Tour participants at the Landeria Farm at Olathe saw one of the few Grade A dairy goat facilities in the area. Kathy Landers showed her dairy and microcreamery producing farmstead, cave-aged goat cheese from registered Alpine goats. Part of her program was showing how the goats are milked and how cheese is made.

Animals are used as an incentive for families with children to visit the Henrys' Plant Farm Earth Flowers near Lecompton. Roy and Marcia Henry, assisted by their son, display a half-ton pig named Alfie, the largest animal, but there are donkeys, chickens, ducks and numerous other animals for children to view and pet. While the adults browse among the large green houses filled with plants, children can play in a shelled corn bin, travel through a maze and ride the “horse,” made of corn stalks fastened to a saw horse. Adults and children alike enjoy visiting the water garden, and climbing the short tower to view the butterfly-shaped flower garden.

It's apple picking time at the Fieldstone Farm near Overbrook, and the tour participants competed for space with “u-pick” customers who came to roam among the 50 varieties of trees and browse the country store, filled with apples, cider, Asian and European pears, pecans and heirloom tomatoes. Owner Ken Krause made it a special occasion with a live band and an outdoor picnic.

Hamills' Country Gardens, established 14 years ago southwest of Baldwin, displayed its specialities- greenhouse plants, chrysanthemums, pumpkins, gourds and autumn decorations for visitors. Lawrence Landscape with its 43-acre tree farm provided pumpkin painting for children and made detailed explanations on why local trees are the most hardy and how trees grow.

Another tour stop was on the Prairie Elf Christmas Tree farm owned by Kathy Heeb. She has a stand of Scotch, Austrian and White Pines that were planted in 1994. She began cutting trees ten years ago and is now experimenting with establishing a stand of fir trees. Kansas State Forest Service demonstrated a portable saw mill and provided information on forestry.

Near Olathe tour participants visited the Kansas State Horticulture Research and Extension Center where they learned about improving local food production. On display were high tunnels that extend fruit and vegetable seasons. Visitors also viewed result comparisons between organic and conventional methods of cultivation on a variety of crops.

At the Pendleton's Country Market near Lawrence, visitors toured a diversified family farm growing vegetables, bedding plants, cut flowers and commodity crops. Of special interest was the Butterfly Bio-Villa where butterfly habitat.

Recommended for you