Discover farm life: Agri-tourism is alive and well in the heartland of Sonoma County. This popular brand of California travel comes in a variety of flavors — farm stays, farm tours, produce picking, cooking classes, and more.
The experiences are designed to give visitors an inside look at what life is really like on the American farm. They are open to everyone; in many cases, they cost no more than $20 a person.
Small farms have turned to agri-tourism in recent years as a method of supplementing income and raising awareness about rural America. Depending on the farm, most of these experiences include destination history (many local farms are family owned), interactions with animals, and some form of tasting at the end.
The traditional farm tour at McClelland's Dairy just east of Petaluma is a 90-minute experience that begins with a history lesson in front of the farm’s original milking parlor. You’ll learn how the farm has been family-run since 1938. You’ll also learn how three generations of McClellands have run the operation.
Next, visitors walk through the nursery to meet some of the newest cows on the block. From there, guests tour a pasture or two, and learn about how the farm recycles water.
The tour concludes in the milking parlor itself. Guests get to watch cows being milked (the ranch’s 1,000-plus cows are milked for 20 of 24 hours daily); then visitors get to taste the farm’s signature product: European-style artisan organic butter. Private tours are available year-round; public tours are offered in October, in connection with the farm's Pumpkin Patch. Check their tour schedule for more details. 6475 Bodega Ave., Petaluma, 707-664-0452
In the spring and fall, Sebastopol’s Redwood Hill Farm — a goat dairy — offers farm tours on selected Saturdays. Meet the goats, cuddle baby goats, learn how to milk a goat, and experience sustainable farming first-hand, from the tracking solar array and rainwater catchment tanks to the pioneering use of tagasaste, an innovative goat fodder crop. This Certified Humane farm also includes chickens, beehives, olive and fruit orchards, and more.
Farm tours start at 11 a.m. and last for about 90 minutes. Bring a picnic, and enjoy the farm after the tour ends. Redwood Hill Farm produces award-winning handmade artisan cheeses, including chevre, feta, and crottin, as well as goat milk yogurt and kefir. Tour reservations required. 5480 Thomas Road, Sebastopol, 707-591-3389
In the rolling hills about four miles southwest of downtown Petaluma, the Achadinha Cheese Co. offers 90-minute farm tours and cheese making classes. Achadinha is a family-operated ranch where they milk their cows and goats and then make their own farmstead cheeses, along with raising beef cows, pigs, sheep, horses, and chickens. 750 Chileno Valley Road, Petaluma, 707-763-1025
Also south of Petaluma's downtown area, Tara Firma Farms produces grass-fed beef and pastured poultry and pork, and offers free visitor tours on Saturdays and Sundays. You’ll witness a “fully operational example of what sustainable farming looks like.” Its farm store is open daily. 3796 I St. Ext., Petaluma, 707-765-1202
The 140-acre Green String Farm east of Petaluma has long been an influential player in sustainable farming, focusing on assisting natural processes that help grow healthy fruits and vegetables. The Green String Institute, founded in 2000, offers a certification program that promotes sustainable practices. The farm's store is open daily, year-round; in addition to whatever delicious fruits and vegetables are in season (they post a list online), it always offers fresh eggs (you can walk over and see the chickens who laid them), preserves, organic honey, and Red Bluff beef and pork. 3571 Old Adobe Road, Petaluma, 707-778-7500
This family farm outside the Russian River Valley town of Forestville produces a wide range of specialty, natural, and gourmet foods, and the retail store on its property is open daily. Here you’ll find old fashioned jams, preserves, jelly, no-sugar-added fruit spreads, fruit butters, gourmet mustard, berry vinegars, marmalade, salad dressing (made with canola oil or with no oil added), barbecue sauce, steak sauce, Cioppino seafood sauce, and chipotle grilling sauce. The farm’s bakery produces a large selection of fruit pies, including apple pie made with organic Gravenstein apples grown by the Kozlowski family. 5566 Gravenstein Highway N., Forestville, 707-887-1587
Located in northern Sonoma County in the Dry Creek Valley near Healdsburg, Dry Creek Peach & Produce is a small, family-run farm that prides itself on producing some of the best organic peaches in the world. All its fruit is organically grown, tree-ripened, hand picked, and hand packed. Its farm stand is open Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday afternoon from July to mid-September (call ahead to confirm store hours). They grow a variety of peaches, as well as nectarines, plums, and pluots, and offer organic peach jam. 2179 Yoakim Bridge Road, Healdsburg, 707-433-8121
Of course, the places mentioned above are just a few of the Sonoma County farms that welcome visitors. For more than 40 years, members of Sonoma County Farm Trails have opened their farms and ranches to the public. The group sponsors a number of agriculture-related events each year: for 2019 they're offering the Spring Tour: Blossoms, Bees and Barnyard Babies (April 27-28, 2019); the Gravenstein Apple Fair in Sebastopol (Aug. 17-18, 2019); and the Fall Tour: Weekend Along the Farm Trails (dates TBA). And all year long you can follow a Farm Trails map to experience life on the farm.
For more ideas about how to experience Sonoma County's agricultural abundance, read Sonoma County's Farmers Markets, The California Cheese Trail in Sonoma County, and Gravenstein Apples — Sonoma’s Other World-Famous Crop.