By Kathy Goodman
Wisconsin Great River Road
The Wisconsin Great River Road along the Mississippi River runs through one of the most vibrant and interesting farming regions in the Midwest. You'll find a number of outstanding ways you can experience this agricultural abundance while on your next Mississippi river road trip.
Visit orchards, cheese factories, gardens, nurseries, tree farms, farmers markets, museums and more to learn about the region's flourishing farms and hardworking residents. Taste the locally produced and processed meats, cheeses, fruits, vegetables and other goods produced in the region. See innovative farms, many of them organic and adhering to sustainable practices. Meet the people who work the land and make the products that end up on your dinner table.
Fruit and Seasonal Produce
Savor the lush bounty of Wisconsin's Mississippi River region. From fresh berries and homemade jams to vegetables, greens, pumpkins and corn, farms throughout the region produce a hearty assortment of healthful foods.
Rush River Produce in Maiden Rock is famous for its blueberries, with 14 varieties available in June and July. They also offer red currants, white currants and gooseberries — perfect fixings for an old-fashioned pie. In the summer, you'll find strawberries, tart cherries or raspberries at Hillcrest, West Ridge and Kickapoo orchards.
Many communities along the Great River Road offer farmers markets during the week; you can't get any more locally sourced than buying direct from the person who grew the produce.
Be dazzled with "four seasons of fruiting, flowering and decorative branches from Wisconsin's Driftless Region" at Star Valley Flowers in Soldiers Grove, which bills itself as "the largest entirely field-grown cut flower producer in the Midwest." Stockholm Gardens is a plant nursery specializing in perennials, herbs and landscaping. Located on an old farmstead in Stockholm, the center of their sales area is a historic barn and shed surrounded by a large display garden and greenhouses. A local favorite, their plants are sought after by many travelers.
In an era when people are increasingly conscious about the food they're eating and how it's produced, organic farming has gained a firm foothold in Wisconsin's agricultural industry. Organic farms adhere to strict guidelines, ensuring that crops and products are produced without the use of man-made pesticides and fertilizers.
Along the Great River Road, you'll find of number of outstanding organic farms. Visit Organic Valley Farms in La Farge, one of the largest organic producers in the world. Suncrest Gardens Farm in Cochrane sells their veggies through CSA shares, but you can enjoy them on a wood-fired pizza on Thursday and Friday nights. Come and relax in the serenity of Yaeger Valley and experience their farm while dining among the gardens and barnyard animals.
The hillsides and hilltops of the Great River Road region support dozens of orchards. The climate, soil and elevation of the region are particularly suited to growing apples. Maiden Rock Orchard in Stockholm offers cider apples and antique/heirloom varieties. Ecker's Apple Farm in Trempealeau grows more than 20 apple cultivars, but their Honeycrisp is a favorite. It's so good, Ecker's holds a bluegrass festival, the Honeycrisp Hootenanny, in its honor each fall.
Orchard Ridge, located in the "Apple Capital of Wisconsin" of Gays Mills, offers produce from nine orchards. Its apples have won first place at the Wisconsin State Fair and a national apple show in New York. Don't miss the Gays Mills Apple Festival the last weekend of September.
A working permaculture site on the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River, Kinstone in Fountain City is a land restoration and human rejuvenation project featuring Kinstone Permaculture Farm and Kinstone Academy of Applied Permaculture. Visit their stone megalithic garden, labyrinth and sculptures on weekends or during one of their open houses. Started in 2010, the infrastructure at Kinstone is maturing. The site is stunning, unique and full of functional beauty.
A number of museums in Wisconsin's Mississippi River region feature exhibits and artifacts relating to the state's history of farming. But the must-see museum is the State Agricultural Museum in Cassville. Stonefield houses Wisconsin's largest collection of farm tools and machinery. Visit their authentic 1900 farmstead, explore a recreated rural farming village and tour the estate of Wisconsin's first Governor, Nelson Dewey.
For anyone who's ever wondered where their food comes from, visiting these authentic attractions is an entertaining and rewarding experience. Just as farm life follows the turning of the seasons, the farm attractions available along the Wisconsin Great River Road change throughout the year. Visit the Wisconsin Great River Road in winter, spring, summer and fall, and you'll enjoy totally different experiences.