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It's a sultry June afternoon, and you have made yourself a solemn promise: Hurtful as it may be, you will not, WILL NOT watch (for the 168th time) the videotape of the Green Bay Packer Superbowl victory. No. You're going to hang that cheesehead on the closet hook and get out of the house. Where are you going? To the country, where you can savor life without commentary by John Madden. Where the great bounty born of hard work and good earth is everywhere to be seen. Ah, the country! Down southwestern Wisconsin way.
Be sure to carry a copy of Farm Trails 1997 Road Tours as a guide. This handy brochure and map lists more than 20 small farms open to visitors. Each farm operates a cottage industry and sells the products made at the farm. Here are a few:
Hankering after a buffalo burger? Then go where the buffalo roam – Buffalo Falls Ranch near Potosi, where you can view pasture-raised buffalo and talk to owners David Sullivan and Jeanne King about purchasing various cuts of meat. Need a little mustard with that buffalo? It's a short trip to Martha's Hot Mustard, home of Martha McLean's famous yellow scorcher.
Angora goats and rabbits, and border Leicester sheep make the wool go 'round at Wefarmasmidgen near Bloomington. Shepherds Sally Bridgham and Mary O'Leary teach spinning, weaving and knitting, and sell hand-spun yarn.
Plants and textiles have a natural affinity at two farms: Rediscover the lost art of tatting with Marian Horner, then select daisies and delphiniums at Potosi's Plenteous Perennials, her shop located just across from the St. John Mine. Alpine Gardens near Stitzer sells rare alpine plants, native wildflowers, prairie plants – and quilts.
At the Life O' Riley Farm near Boscobel, you'll find birdhouse gourds plain and painted, flowers fresh and dried, and one-of-a-kind natural gifts in a restored schoolhouse. In the same area, the Russian Orthodox monks at the monastery of St. Isaac of Syria Skete manufacture icons.
Jean Murphy, coordinator of Farm Trails, says all the participants listed on the map are owner/producers, living on the land they work. "Some of our stops look like regular retail places, but many are based right inside the home, meaning you'll follow a driveway into a farmyard that might have dogs, chickens and wash on the line," she notes. "If you really want to get off the beaten track and meet the real folks that live and work in rural places, Farm Trails is for you."
You can call ahead to the farms you want to visit – phone numbers and hours for all farms are in the brochure. Or, if you prefer, you can take your chances and drop in unannounced; someone may or may not be home to greet you.
Murphy offers this additional lure to curious travelers: "Because our members are so familiar with the areas in which they live, they can direct visitors to other places nearby – for instance, we can recommend cafes, shops and natural settings that you might not otherwise know or hear about." (One thing – when you find that roadside cafe with the bottomless cup of French Roast, would you please let the TRAVELER know? Thank you.)
TRAVELER'S Tip: The 1997 Farm Trails Road Tours brochure is available at all Wisconsin Information Centers. Or, you can write Farm Trails, 4478 Riley Rd., Boscobel WI 53805, or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org