Garden Variety: Kaw Valley Farm Tour chance to connect with agriculture

What is a farm? The bulk of the U.S. population, who grew up in or is growing up in cities of all sizes, has little understanding of the word or about the connection of farms to food. Statistics about the disconnect between agriculture and food production are rampant, with even a lack of recognition about what food products are derived from plants and animals in many cases.

In the Lawrence area, a group of farmers, agricultural supporters, and educators wants to change that. They created the Kaw Valley Farm Tour, an event that works to connect consumers with local farmers and food and to provide an understanding of farm practices. The 13th annual Tour is next weekend, Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 7 and 8.

The Kaw Valley Farm Tour is self-guided with many different farm options, so attendees can pick and choose which farms they wish to visit and when they want to do so (within tour hours). For example, a family with young children might only be interested in attending 2 or 3 farms between their children’s nap times, while a group of young adults attending the tour might opt for more stops and a farm winery or two.

Saturday’s tour hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday’s tour hours are noon-6 p.m. Tickets are $10, and one ticket admits a carload (no limit on number of people) to as many farms as the group would like to visit.

This year’s tour has 33 participating farms from which to choose, and attendees are encouraged to plan their stops as different farms will appeal to different people. Farms are listed on the tour’s website, and in ticket booklets. Advance tickets are available in Lawrence at The Merc Co+op, 901 Iowa St.; Lawrence Visitors Information Center, 402 N. Second St.; or K-State Research and Extension-Douglas County, 2110 Harper St. Tickets can also be purchased online through the tour website or at any participating farm during tour hours.

As always, the Tour boasts featuring everything from “alpacas to zucchinis.” That includes fruit, vegetable, and herb production; farm wineries; hay and alfalfa; hops; small grains; soybeans and corn; alpacas, bees, cattle (beef and dairy), chickens, donkeys, ducks, geese, goats (meat and dairy), guineas, horses, pigs, rabbits, sheep, and turkeys.

At each farm, farmers and farm helpers will be on hand to talk about their production practices. Some farms have semi-formal tours with a guide leading you around or even providing a tractor ride to check out the site. Other farms offer a more casual setting where visitors can walk around and view fields and animals at their leisure.

Many farms will have products for sale. Attendees may wish to bring a cooler for perishables.

One highlight of this year’s tour is the 1st annual Farm to Table Dinner at Clearfield Farmhaus in Eudora on Oct. 8 to wrap up the Tour. Tickets for the dinner must be purchased in advance. Chef TK Peterson of Merchant’s Pub and Plate is preparing a multi-course meal featuring food from Farm Tour farms. More information about the dinner is available on the Tour website.

Another new addition to the tour is the “Heritage Tour.” This tour is in conjunction with the Kaw Valley Farm Tour but is coordinated by the Douglas County Heritage Conservation Council. The Heritage Tour includes points of interest that the Farm Tour’s website describes as “a reflection of rural lifestyle in the agricultural community.”

Heritage Tour stops include the Historic Vinland Area, with the Vinland Grange and s Privy, the Historic William and Gertrude Barnes Farmhouse and Apple Barn, and Coal Creek Library; Clearfield Schoolhaus and Vesecky Family Farms in Baldwin City; and Blue Jacket Crossing in Eudora. More information about the Heritage Tour and specific locations is available on the Farm Tour website.

The Tour is sponsored and organized by K-State Research and Extension — Douglas County, The Merc Co+Op, the Community Mercantile Education Foundation, and participating farms.

Ticket fees provide support for printing of maps, marketing, promotion, and organization of the tour.

— Jennifer Smith is a former horticulture extension agent for K-State Research and Extension and horticulturist for Lawrence Parks and Recreation.