It’s Fall, and for many, a favorite time of year. The weather gets cooler, people get nostalgic about the holidays that lie ahead and we all start to think about places to go that remind us of rustic places, pumpkin harvests and seasonal foods. Harvest time is a great time to connect with Sarasota and Manatee County’s second biggest industry – agriculture. It is such a big part of our local scene that agritourism and “farm to table” dining is becoming increasingly popular and fun. More and more local farms are finding ways (beyond the fresh, delicious produce) to get people to come out and enjoy a day on the farm! This past week I visited 3 local farms and loved it! Here is what is going on this Fall/Winter on some amazing local farms!
Mixon Fruit Farms: Known as “Florida’s Sweetest Attraction”, Mixon’s has been a family owned and operated farm for over 79 years and has been voted Florida’s #1 Orange Grove Attraction!
It’s the start of Florida’s navel orange (and citrus) season and if you’re a lover of fresh oranges and juices, then Mixon Fruit Farms is the place to be. Stop in for some of the freshest and tastiest orange and lemon juice you have ever had as they squeeze it fresh in the onsite gift shop and packing house. You can also purchase it to enjoy at home. (It is terrific in mimosas too – trust me!) When in season, people from all over come to Mixon’s and get their fresh oranges and citrus and have it shipped right from the farm to friends throughout the country and beyond. You can find their juices in many local establishments throughout Bradenton, not only because locals love shopping local, but it happens be the best orange and lemon juice in the land!
Fresh oranges, orange juice and lemonade are not the only great things to enjoy at Mixon Fruit Farms. Mixon’s is fun for the whole family. Take a Tram tour through the Orange Grove and Mixon Wildlife Preserve. Be sure to bring a camera! The tours are hands-on fun and educational. The cost is $5/children and $10/adults. Be sure to visit the Gift Shoppe with gourmet treats including marmalades, local honey, homemade fudge, toys and souvenirs as well as the Groveside Café serving delicious BBQ, Cuban sandwiches, fresh salads and more. Mixon’s even serves great Florida wines (that you can sample). Believe me, Florida wines really taste great due to our Florida climate and soil that can truly make a grape suffer to perfection! (You know what I’m talking about!}
Additional features include a huge children’s play area with games, activities, mazes, bounce houses and tons of fun! Enjoy a Garden Oasis with a Pavilion, large Gazebos (some adorned with chandeliers) and a Butterfly Garden – all perfect settings for Weddings, Birthdays, Reunions, Office parties and Corporate Events. The scenic Pathways, Rock Waterfall and Koi Pond are beautiful backdrops for all your events.
Take a trip to Mixon Fruit Farms this fall (or anytime) and see for yourself how wonderful it is. They have special events and educational seminars for all throughout the year. Mixon Fruit Farms is open all year Mon-Sat/10-3. They are located at 2525 27th St. E, Bradenton, FL 34208. For more information and to view their special events calendar visit mixon.com.
Hunsader Farms: Family founded in 1967, this amazing farm is probably best known for hosting the best darn Pumpkin Festival around. I have seen many pumpkin festivals across the country and this one is a “must do” every year for me.
Before we get to the festivals and Country Christmas, let’s talk about the U-Pick/They-Pick fun and fresh produce you can expect to see during Fall harvest season: U-Pick items starting in Sept/Oct and running through June include black-eyed peas, okra, eggplant, tomatoes and much more. They-Pick fruits and vegetables include watermelon, cucumbers, FL sweet onions, squash and sweet corn – just to name a few. December marks the start of strawberry season and you won’t want to miss the chance to come and pick your very own, fresh strawberries. Homegrown vegetables are picked daily and always fresh. Oh – and did I mention PUMPKINS?! More on those pumpkins (and pumpkin fun) in a minute!
In addition to all the produce picking fun, this farm is great for the entire family. There is so much to see and do all season long including a marketplace full of jams, jellies, fresh canned veggies and fruits (like the way grandma used to make), an antique barn, a classic outdoor bandstand, a petting zoo, picnic areas and more. I can’t stop there, beginning in 2014, Hunsader built a mini country town, complete with an old-fashioned western saloon that is so beautiful inside – with white holiday lights, natural wood and character – it is no wonder people flock to the farm to celebrate weddings and special occasions. This is the place that celebrates a Country Christmas that you won’t want to miss either. There are picture opportunities throughout the farm that you will want to take with your whole family.
But oh boy, nothing tops their annual Pumpkin Festival, now in its 27th year!. The 2018 dates run for 3 weekends from 9-5pm – October 13-14, 20-21 and 27-28. There is a festival admission fee that is well worth it! You can expect to find a Pioneer Trades Village* • Hayrides* • Pony Rides • Chainsaw Sculptor* • Corn Maze • Scarecrow Displays* • Homemade Ice Cream • Farm Roasted Sweet Corn • Food Galore • Pumpkin Pie • Rock Climbing Wall • Power Jump • Petting Zoo* • Barnyard Playground* • Face Painting • Children’s Train Ride • Big Train Ride • Juggler* • Fresh Produce • Butterfly Experience • Frog Jumping Championship* • Zip Lines, a Pumpkin Catapult, Magic Shows, the Walker Brothers Circus, a Car Show, Derby’s and Live Music from great bands played on their rustic outdoor country farm stage set in the shade of beautiful oaks. (I’m practically out of breath just reading about all the fun!) Oh, and before I forget…PUMPKINS! PUMPKINS! PUMPKINS!. Huge ones, small ones, fat ones, tall ones. Be sure to get fall pics of your cutie(s) in these piles of pumpkins. I could go on and on with this but you just have to come and see for yourself. Check out their Pumpkin Festival event page on their website to see it all. (*these activities are free, most fees for other fun activities are very affordable).
Open late September – Early June – Mon-Sat/8-4, Hunsader Farms is located at 5500 C.R. 675, Bradenton, FL 34211. For more information on Hunsader Farms visit hunsaderfarms.com.
Dakin Dairy Farms: Just a short jump around the bend from Hunsader Farms you will find Dakin Dairy Farms. This is the only dairy farm in Florida open to the public that produces and bottles their own milk right on the farm!
When I first arrived at the farm I was greeted at the entrance by adorable baby cows nibbling on fresh green grasses. When I got to the parking area, two of the cutest goats stopped what they were doing to smile at me and tiptoed over for a closer look. Dakin Dairy Farms products are 100% locally produced. You can even see (and taste) the freshest butter as it is made. (Best butter you will ever have!) Dakin Dairy cows are grass fed, making the milk so amazing that any local who has had it will get jealous, especially when you mention the chocolate milk. When I was there this week, (and this is no lie) – I saw a man bring in a huge box and load it up with 8 half gallon jugs of the chocolaty deliciousness. His wife asked, “honey, are you sure you will be able to drink all that milk?” He looked at her as if to say “Are you crazy, woman! Of course I’m going to drink it all – where do you think we are?!” That look was all it took.
In addition to the fresh milk, ice cream and butter, you will find freshly made cheeses and cheese curds (that you can try), a gift shop, indoor and outdoor picnic areas and a Farm Market Café that serves hot picnic lunches. Dakin also offers guided educational farm tours, hayrides and birthday parties. The Farm Market offers fresh Dakin milk, cheese and butter and cute gifts and souvenirs. Children can have fun playing in a hay maze, swinging and sliding, digging for fossils and feeding the goats and sheep
Dakin Dairy Farms opens the first Saturday in October with a Festival “4 Life” and concludes the first Saturday in June with a “Dairy Day” Festival, honoring National Dairy Month. The Farm Market is open all year round. Dakin Dairy Farms is located at 30771 Betts Rd, Myakka City, FL 34251. For more information on Dakin Dairy Farms visit dakindairyfarms.com.
Photos courtesy of Deb Wing.