"Sample Sunday" at three Iowa farms

Three farms not far from Des Moines have “sample Sundays” once a month during the spring, summer and fall. It’s a fantastic family outing, especially on a day like yesterday–sunny and in the 70s, too early in the season for most bugs.

I didn’t remember the camera, so this won’t be a beautiful photo diary, but I’ll share some memories after the jump.

After picking up my older son at Sunday school and having a quick lunch, our first stop was Prairieland Herbs, a farm and shop run by a mother/daughter team. (They blog here and have lots of photos from the farm on their Flickr page.)

We always hit Prairieland Herbs first on these outings, because what they sell is non-perishable. They grow their own herbs and make lots of treats like lotions, balms, bath salts. In their shop you can also find hand-made items produced by other talented locals. I love it there, but today I didn’t have much time to browse. My kids dragged me outside to see the various cats and dogs that roam the farm, as well as the ponies (technically, “mini-horses”) they have in a pen near the shop building.

On sample Sundays the owners of Prairieland Herbs make room for a few vendors to set up in their yard. Today we saw a man spinning wool into yarn, a woman doing reflexology sessions, a woman selling hand-made jewelry, and a neighbor selling home-made jam and jelly. I did not have the guts to try her dandelion jelly, even though she assured me that she uses dandelions from her own yard, which she never sprays.

I did manage to buy some lip balm, bath salts, soap and jam before it was time to get back in the car.

The second stop, Northern Prairie Chevre, is my kids’ favorite farm to visit. We often spend a couple of hours there or more on sample Sundays. They have a dairy goat herd and make all kinds of wonderful cheeses. They were also sampling home-made breads and various dipping oils in their shop. Outside they have live music (a jazz combo today), a woman demonstrating hula hooping (sometimes it’s belly dancers), a sandbox with tons of toys, a swingset, and other vendors. Today visitors could browse and buy locally produced wine or honey, and Sheeder Farms was selling hamburgers, eggs and sandwiches. Someone was selling seeds, bulbs and flowering plants too; we bought a Jacob’s ladder plant and will do our best to keep it alive in our shady yard.

Seeing the goats is the highlight of my family’s visits to Northern Prairie Chevre. The farm’s owners let you visit the main barn, where milking goats are on one side and “retired goats and teenagers” are on the other. They answer people’s questions about the goats and the dairy operation while letting human kids feed grass and hay to the goats. Seeing the barn cat or the two Great Pyrenees dogs that guard the goats is a treat for my kids.

People can also feed the kids (39 babies on the farm this year), who love eating grass and weeds right out of children’s hands.

Lots of families were out at the farm, and I had a real blast from the past when a woman walked by wearing a “Chris Dodd for President” t-shirt.

We never leave without buying a few different kinds of goat cheese. Today we brought home a bag of cubes (I think Manchego) and a few spreadable cheeses–plain for my kids and purple basil crottin for me. My three-year-old is a chevre fanatic; he will eat it on bread, crackers and even on top of baked chicken sometimes. Today I was good and resisted the call of Northern Prairie Chevre’s goat milk fudge and hot fudge sauce.

Our last stop is always Picket Fence Creamery:

    Jeff, Jill, Jenna and James Burkhart milk 80 Jersey cows, and pasteurize and  bottle the milk onsite.  Their store offers skim, 2%, and whole milk, butter, ice cream, whipping cream, cheese curds, and their own hormone free beef and pork.  

   The store also markets foods from 80 other Iowa families offering chicken, eggs, buffalo, lamb, elk, certified organic foods, locally baked goods, jams, salsa, Iowa wines, Pella foods and baked goods and organically grown vegetables in season.  

    Picket Fence Creamery milk is 100% natural, produces without the use of artificial  hormones.  The cows live outside in the grass pastures and drink fresh and clean Xenia Rural Water.  You are welcome to see the cows, pigs and roam through the vegetable garden and enjoy the sights, smells and sounds of the farm!

My kids love seeing the cows, calves and farm cats and dogs at Picket Fence. They were a little disappointed that the maze made out of hay bales last fall wasn’t still there, but they got over that quickly. Mr. desmoinesdem and I have been cutting back on dairy, so we don’t buy as much Picket Fence milk as we used to, but I did buy a quart of ice cream and a small container of chocolate milk for an after-school treat one day this week.

I also bought organic tomato and basil plants today from another vendor who had set up outside the Picket Fence store. He had some advice that I hope will help my second attempt to grow tomatoes in a large pot on our deck. (Our yard is way too shady, and lots of deer pass through.)

We were home in 35 minutes and got the ice cream in the freezer before it melted. My kids were still chattering about the day’s adventures hours later.

It wouldn’t be easy to eat only local food for a whole month, as Iowan Rob Marqusee plans to do this June, but if I stocked up on sample Sunday, I could do pretty well.

Share your own memories of a farm field day or open house in this thread.

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