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Locally Grown Tourism in the Midwest

Wisconsin Cheese Trail

Madison, Wisconsin

On the Wisconsin Cheese Trail, groups will probably taste cheeses that they didn’t even know existed: cranberry chipotle cheddar, sweet and smoky with a jolt of heat at the finish; cocoa Cardona, goat’s milk cheese encased by an edible cocoa powder rind; earthy sheep’s milk cheeses; and tangy bleu cheeses.

Fromagination and the Dane County Farmers’ Market, both located on Madison’s capitol square, make excellent first stops. One of the state’s premier cheese shops, Fromagination offers generous samples, cheese cooking classes, fondue events and gourmet lunch options with one goal in mind: to introduce all who enter to cheese and cheesemaking.

The Dane County Farmers’ Market, one of the largest in the country, bustles with shoppers on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Among the rainbow of vegetables, meats and flowers, local cheese purveyors set up booths and gladly educate first-time buyers, chat with loyal followers and offer samples. Brunkow Cheese gives samples of Finnish cheeses to visitors.

Just 45 minutes from Madison’s downtown, organic Cedar Grove Cheese has been in business more than 100 years. And Carr Valley Cheese produces a mind-boggling array of products and holds numerous trademarks. Groups can visit one of their eight stores and opt for a cooking class at the Sauk City location.

“The cheese trail is such a popular itinerary, and groups not only get to taste cheese, but learn about our heritage and history while on the trail,” said Travel Wisconsin spokesperson Kristina LeVan.

Prairie Loft Center for Outdoor and Agricultural Learning

Hastings, Nebraska

Prairie Loft Center for Outdoor and Agricultural Learning features idyllic barns and community vegetable gardens nestled between pastures and woodlands that were once part of a large working acreage. In addition to year-round activities, the center runs spring and fall festivals that celebrate planting and harvest seasons, as well as the center’s Flatwater Music Festival, which focuses on music and community life.

“Groups can rent one of three refurbished barns for a private event, or they can come during one of our festivals or weekend events,” said executive director Amy Sandeen.

The 10th annual Flatwater Music Festival, June 24-25, invites participants of all ages to learn from festival performers and from each other in workshops and guided jam sessions. Main-stage performances happen both evenings on a refurbished stage trailer with roots that go back to USO performances around Nebraska. Set between two picturesque barns and against a backdrop of cornfields and fireflies, this year’s main-stage concerts will feature musicians from Nebraska, Colorado and Oregon. New this year, a prefestival concert will be held June 23. Vendors sell home decor, jewelry, clothing and other locally made goods.

Springfest in April connects groups to nature with baby lambs, goats and llamas, rabbits and chicks. A picnic lunch or dinner is available. The Harvest Celebration in early October features a farmers market, a tractor display, hayrack rides, sheep-shearing demos, art vendors, food and more.

The Farm at Prophetstown

Battle Ground, Indiana

Located a short drive from Lafayette on 120 acres, The Farm at Prophetstown revolves around a 1920s farmstead during the era when farming was transitioning from animal to tractor power. The expansive kit house is decorated with period furniture; next door is a gift shop in a smaller home.

“Farm-to-table dinners with up to five courses are a huge hit, and menus can be customized” said Ashley Gregory, group tours and meeting manager for Visit Lafayette-West Lafayette. “The first floor of the farmhouse can accommodate up to 40 people, and in warm weather, the front porch and yard can be used. It’s especially beautiful when the prairie is in bloom.”

At this working farm, barn chores are done each day at 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. Groups can pitch in and help. The farm’s livestock includes standardbred horses, a miniature horse, heritage chicken breeds, Holstein cattle, Oxford/Suffolk cross sheep and Berkshire hogs. Horses come from Indiana Horse Rescue, and local farmers and breeders provide the sheep, hogs, chickens and cattle. According to Gregory, visitors enjoy the animals, which are tame enough to pet and feed.

The barn can be rented for events, and the staff often works with local caterers. A buffet meal in the barn can seat up to 120. Tours through the prairie are on a trolley pulled by a tractor or horses. In the fall, hayrides on the prairie are always popular.

Elizabeth Hey

Elizabeth Hey is a member of Midwest Travel Journalists Association and has received numerous awards for her writing and photography. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook @travelbyfork.