The web of interstate highways that crisscross the heartland of America–Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, and beyond–provides a nearly constant reminder of America’s farming roots. The scenery we experience when driving these arteries is America at her finest: amber waves of grain that feed our families and fuel our economy. And just off one of those roads–I-65 sandwiched between Indianapolis and Chicago–is a unique celebration of this idyllic slice of Americana: Fair Oaks Farms.
Before arriving at the nation’s #1 agro-tourism attraction, you’ll “spot” it from the road. The cow-painted water tower provides a sneak peek of what one might expect from a day on the Farm–lots of animals, lots of food, and lots of fun.
From its start, Fair Oaks Farms sought to become a Disneyland for agricultural America–a place that inspires joy, here through experiences related to our most elemental industry. And despite a controversy years ago, the enterprise has learned and improved its own practices in the pursuit of promoting its values of animal welfare, environmental sustainability, and American innovation. Fair Oaks Farms has, for decades, helped real people learn and understand the best of American agriculture.
The Fair Oaks website states that “As the farming community in our country falls below two percent of the population, it’s important that we have a place like ours where families can see for themselves the care and effort that farmers put into their animals and land. In order to earn people’s trust, we need to feed their curiosity.”
Fair Oaks promises to educate visitors while inviting them to develop a direct connection between the field and the food they eat. From the early days of 2004 until now, the Farms’ vision has grown alongside the size of their team and operations. Today, over 500,000 people visit Fair Oaks annually, including countless school children. I took two of my suburban Indianapolis nieces, ages 13 and 16, both of whom loved the day in the country–as well as the homemade ice cream.
Your Adventure Starts Here
The experience is multifaceted, and families have ample opportunity to create the day or weekend they desire. There are a few main educational attractions: Crop Adventure, Dairy Adventure, and Pig Adventure. In and around each educational venue are fun activities. Mooville is the farm’s home to a Milk Carton Climbing Wall, the Flying Milk Mat, and other fun activities. There are frequent community events. Last weekend, Fair Oak Farms hosted a 4-H fair. It is often the host for other Indiana agricultural and educational events. And, the “Birthing Barn” offers a real look at animal husbandry. All this exploration and education can certainly whet an appetite for food.
Farm to Fork
One of the highlights of Fair Oaks Farms is “The Farmhouse”–a top-tier dining experience with true farm-to-table food. This is a restaurant that even a city-slicking food-snob would love (I should know). With farm-friendly service and food fresh from the fields, The Farmhouse deserves to be on every foodie’s list. Why just dine at big-named restaurants in Chicago or Indianapolis when there is an exceptional restaurant at the source?
Since this was our one meal on the farm, we really ate it up! We started with the local meat and cheese board and then compared and contrasted the three kinds of bacon on the bacon-tasting platter (the black-pepper served with local honey was the unrivaled favorite). And for the main course, we sampled the “world-famous” grilled cheese, the classic bacon-cheeseburger (with more cheese offerings than we’d ever seen), and a filet with mashed potatoes–each plate was a winner!
Moove Over for Fair Oak Farm Dairy
Our final stop was the Cowfe, because of course, we needed the locally made ice cream for the long drive back to Indianapolis. The cookies and cream shake and strawberry ice cream were both smooth and creamy. But, the stand-out was the root beer float (featuring locally made Triple XXX Root Beer!), which transported me back to my childhood as I sat with my nieces in the grass under a tree.
The experience and exploration at Fair Oaks Farms was an exciting opportunity to reconnect with the little ones in my life, recall my own childhood, and revisit the industry that founded and feeds our country.