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The Group Travel Leader Small Market Meetings Going on Faith

A Cayuga County Sampler

What pairs well with award-winning wine and sweeping views of crystal-clear lakes? How about a bite of  a scrumptious apple cider doughnut, homemade raspberry ice cream or a ripe, just-plucked strawberry ?

To be fair, these tempting local goodies would couple well with almost anything, but they especially delight groups seeking a local culinary experience in Auburn, New York, and surrounding Cayuga County. Set amidst the gorgeous scenery and popular wineries of New York’s Finger Lakes region, Cayuga County offers many decadent local flavors at farms and shops that are part of the county’s Sweet Treat Trail.

From tasty pancake mixes to apple wines, these five farm-to-table stops allow groups to pamper themselves.

Strawberry Field Hydroponic Farm

Succulent red strawberries in flawless condition await hungry visitors from June through October at the Strawberry Field Hydroponic Farm. The fruit is not picked from plants grown in the ground. Their lengthy season and spotless condition result instead from the hydroponic growing system that supplies the plants with the necessary nutrients through the watering system.

Groups equipped with scissors can wander through the vertically stacked pots of strawberries and snip the berries while standing. Since the plants hang at arm’s length, seniors and handicapped guests can pick the strawberries without bending over.

Linda Eldred, the owner, leads group tours at the site with stories about how she first decided to try hydroponic farming in 2009. She can arrange a chocolate fountain for groups to dip their freshly picked strawberries, serve strawberry-infused lemonade or hand out miniature jars of strawberry jam.

“The farm also has a wonderful shop with strawberries and other local, seasonal products,” said Meg Vanek, executive director of the Cayuga County Office of Tourism. “It’s a really popular stop among groups. I’m local, but I go there because I love their products.”

Local honey, cheese, produce, artisan oils and baked goods help showcase the delicious culinary offerings of the area.

Owen Orchards

Every year, apple cider doughnut enthusiasts flock to Owen Orchards for a taste of the farm’s famous baked good. However, this heavenly treat is only part of the experience.

“They are known mainly for their apples, but they also have pumpkins and gourds,” said Vanek. “They have wagon rides that go back into the orchard. It’s beautiful scenery. Groups can arrange their own wagon rides around the farm.”

During the fall season, visitors can browse the 15 varieties of trees in the orchard on the hunt for the perfect apple or pick one out in the on-site farm store. The shop offers homemade apple-based baked goods alongside local produce, condiments, cheese and preserves.

At the shop, the orchard displays its apple cider press to demonstrate how all-natural apple cider is made. The cider press produces more than 10,000 gallons of apple cider each year for eager customers.

The farm also showcases its original 1920s tractors to illustrate how Owen Orchards has grown tasty apples for five generations.

New Hope Mills

In the 1850s, 15 water-powered industries flourished along the banks of Bear Swamp Creek. Today, one of those companies still operates because of the enduring love of a carefully crafted pancake mix.

New Hope Mills continues to produce celebrated pancakes mixes and other flour mixes as it has since 1823. Although the company now grinds flour in a larger facility in Auburn, New York, groups can visit the New Hope Mills Cafe to taste the renowned pancakes for themselves.

“New Hope Mills is very popular with groups,” said Vanek. “You can arrange to eat their pancakes in the cafe. They also provide tastings of local products.”

The cafe serves some of the company’s baked goods, locally roasted coffee, specialty drinks and more. Groups can also enjoy the company’s attached shop, which offers local products such as soaps, pottery and handmade photo cards.

Reese’s Dairy Bar

When customers taste the delectable creaminess of a frozen treat from Reese’s Dairy Bar, they know immediately that this isn’t your ordinary store-bought ice cream.

“You can tell it is homemade ice cream,” said Vanek. “You can tell the difference. All of their ice creams, ices and dairy products that they are most known for are really wonderful.”

The staff makes ice cream, sherbets, Italian ices, French custards and other indulgent sweets by hand using local ingredients. Flavors change with the seasons to stay fresh. Guests can tell when raspberry season has started because that’s when that flavor of ice cream becomes available.

Reese’s serves comfort foods like hot dogs and burgers, as well as desserts. Groups can either come for a full meal or stop by for the mouthwatering desserts crafted from family recipes tweaked over the years since the shop’s opening in 1973.

The Apple Station

Participants sample various wines to determine which ones contain the boldest apple and blueberry flavors at the Apple Station. The farm combines a winery, an apple orchard and an old country store for an indulgent group stop.

“They grow apples and blueberries, and then use those to create wines,” said Vanek. “If a group wants to add a wine tasting to their journey, this is a good way to do it.”

The Finger Lakes region draws guests every year for its acclaimed wine offerings. This winery adds an agritourism element, allowing groups to explore and pick their own apples. Just walking on the grounds surrounds participants with gorgeous scenery that attracts weddings as well as tour groups.

Open from March to December, the family-owned business sits at the north end of Cayuga Lake. Visitors can sample fruits, wines, sweet cider and baked apple cider doughnut produced on-site; they can also buy regional goodies like jams and cheeses from the country store, designed to mimic a filling station.