Farms in Lake Winnebago Region Take Me Back to My Roots
I grew up on a farm in West-Central Wisconsin, so I thought I knew all there was to know about rural America’s agricultural economy. Boy! Was I wrong? A dairy farm has its own rhythm and seasons and for many it makes up the backbone of our country. As I got to know other aspects of farming and the stories shared by the Destination Lake Winnebago Region farmers, I was amazed at the variety of experiences. From alpacas to llamas to bees to apple orchards, the products we buy in the stores, at farmers’ markets and enjoy at restaurants which source local foods when possible, tell the tale of hard-working, earth-bound people of the land.
For a three-day autumn adventure with friends from California, I plotted our trip beginning south of Fond du Lac where I live. The Marshview Honey and Alpaca Farm sports a friendly, peaceful atmosphere overlooking the Horicon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge. If it were spring, we would get to see the shearing of the alpaca. This time we just learned about their feeding and care and shopped in the wool store. We made the first of many purchases of farm products with an alpaca sweater for my friend and raw honey from one of the thirteen colonies of bees for my tea. Our trunk and cooler will be full each day with our precious finds.
Our next stop was Kelley Country Creamery for fresh cheese curds and a sweet treat of Leo’s Butter Pecan Ice Cream. We’ll return on another day to stock up on “Turkey Legs,” a drumstick filled with Kelley’s vanilla ice cream, chocolate and caramel.
We make a stop in Fond du Lac at Annie’s Fountain City Café where the aroma of the Cinnamon Swirl Stuffed French Toast and Quiche are taking over my senses. We may have to stay for lunch so I can try the Cranberry Chutney Turkey Wrap. The menu features locally sourced fresh-made salad, muffins, and soup of the day when in season.
We head south again to Zedland Farm in Lomira to experience ‘Fall on The Farm’, hands-on moments with the farm animals and fainting goats! Adults, as well as the children, enjoy a corn maze, obstacle courses and giant slide. The caramel apples don’t make it into our cooler but go straight to our tummies.
We end our first day at Blue Heron Landing to take an Autumn Sights Tour on the Horicon Marsh, the largest freshwater cattail marsh in the United States. My friends and I are excited to relax and experience a pontoon boat ride with Marc Zuelsdorf at the helm. The Zuelsdorf family have been providing pontoon rides since 1963 and are great ambassadors of the Horicon Marsh.
Day two takes us north of Fond du Lac along the Niagara Escarpment. First stop is The Little Farmer for that outdoor experience at an apple orchard. We stop at the Farmhouse for a nice, warm cup of coffee and a slice of apple pie and ice cream. Who says you can’t have a piece of pie and ice cream for breakfast! We skip the hayride in exchange for time in their Craft Barn. We find treasures for the holidays and our fairy-themed gardens. Of course, we must stop at the Apple House to buy apple pies and some more of those yummy blueberry muffins to freeze for breakfast at home. My favorite, of course is the caramel apple smothered in peanuts!
From there we take a scenic drive north to Ziegler Winery located along the eastern shore of Lake Winnebago. This is my first-time here. What a beautiful setting – nestled along the hillside where Camp Winnegator, a day camp for children once stood. I’ve learned that the Ziegler family has transformed what once was horse stables into a rustic yet modern setting for wine tasting and events. I have been a beer-drinking girl most of my life, but maybe the staff here can bring out the wine connoisseur in me. A simple taste sampling proved that I can grow fond of certain wines, especially the Pink Diamante, a Rose’ Wine. We hate to leave but our tour must continue north on Highway 151 to LaClare Family Creamery. I’m excited to see what’s behind these doors since they recently completed a major renovation. We enter in to the Cheese Shoppe & Café where on display are many varieties of LaClare and Saxon Artisan Cheese products along with many more Wisconsin-made items. The large mezzanine offered us the opportunity to view the production and packaging of cheese. We couldn’t leave without a bite to eat so we took a few moments to enjoy a cup of homemade tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich. We topped it off with a sampling of ice cream made from goat’s milk. I filled my shopping bag with some of my favorite Evalon and Chandoka cheeses to share with family and friends.
On the way home we make another stop at Kelley Country Creamery – voted the best ice cream shop in the country by Good Morning America. We fill our coolers with homemade goodies and enjoy an ice cream sundae on the porch overlooking this bucolic landscape.
Day three we again head north for a brewery and winery adventure. Since we have a designated driver, we sample all the wonderful alcohol and non-alcoholic treats. We start in downtown Fond du Lac at the Hotel Retlaw for Bloody Mary’s and a healthy breakfast at Jazzmine’s Brasserie Restaurant. It’s hard to leave this art deco luxury hotel but we head out to Ripon to the Knuth Brewing Company where handcrafted artisan beer is made on-site. We’re too full for the wood-fired pizza (promise we’ll be back) so we sip house-roasted coffee and take-in the restored vintage building with its tin ceiling, hardwood floors and unique architecture. Okay, we must try the beer before we head out.
It’s time to sample the variety of wines at Vines & Rushes Winery. The Prellwitz family has focused on growing grape varieties that can withstand the cold, harsh Wisconsin winter. Our sampling consisted of white wine, red wine and hard cider. Even though we ate a large breakfast at Jazzmine’s Brasserie, it’s hard to turn down a Margherita pizza made in an authentic brick oven from Italy. One last look through the retail store to stock up on our favorites and sign up for a wine pairing dinner next spring.
Our final stop for the day on our fun-filled farm adventure is at Ledgerock Distillery. Here we sample small batch bourbon and hand-crafted gin made from grains grown on the Retzer farm. We buy bottles and spirit paraphernalia for gifts. We end our day at Waupun’s Tom Dooley’s Orchard.
Exhausted and full we realize we have only scratched the surface of the farm adventure in this area – only 24 more farms to go! My friends are anxious to return for their visit next year!
For more information about Fond du Lac and Lake Winnebago region go to www.fdl.com
Director of Group Tour Sales
Destination Lake Winnebago Region