Posted August 2, 2017 – Narrated by Carmen.
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Side-roads are our preferred routes. Early morning drives on those iconic country roads winding through pastures and farmland … sipping coffee and looking for homemade signs advertising fresh eggs or peaches … Nothing better. Our favorite LIB moments are spent following tractors at 5 miles-per-hour and breaking for chickens.
Diversions from interior highways to busy interstates are usually either to fuel-up or to visit “Candyland”: Corporate malls with Costco, Target, Best Buy, Trader Joe’s, Petco and, of course, Cracker Barrel Old Country Store for dinner and a complimentary overnight stay in their parking lot.
Most RV’ers know that Cracker Barrel, Walmart and most truck stops, rest areas and even some hotels allow stealth dry-camping for those passing through – but very few travelers we’ve met are aware of Harvest Hosts – a model that joins old-world hospitality to grass-roots commerce.
Harvest Hosts is a member-club that provides access to family farms, wineries and museums that offer RVers dry-camping spots on their privately owned grounds, based on availability. With a mere $40 annual membership fee and a little prearrangement by phone or email, we are invited to pull into one of their participating locations. The only requirement is adherence to the code of conduct which involves some level of commerce – whether it’s to stock up on artisan cheese, fresh farm eggs, experience a wine-tasting, dinner, or tour a museum.
Now that the quality of our full-time travel is vastly upgraded through Harvest Hosts, we stock up on top-notch local produce and wines (FYI: Beauty has a 20-bottle wine cellar) and enjoy epic snoozes nestled deep in the comfort of America’s cradles of agriculture.
Another obvious benefit of Harvest Hosts is ready access to the local network. Our hosts often say, “Don’t tell anyone you got it from me, but there’s a swimming hole …” or view spot, boon-docking, hot springs, or festival, etc. Also, they fill you in on the back-country routes, advise on what areas to avoid due to road construction, wind or ice – and even open the map to point out where to find the cheapest fuel and best diners.
Harvest Hosts is a sweet, sweet find …
We’d like to share seven of our favorite Harvest Hosts sites.
Twice, we’ve visited Snyder Winery in Buhl, Idaho. On our first visit on September 19, 2016 we arrived when the restaurant was closed, but at least the tasting room was open. Claudia Snyder, the owner, invited us to occupy any available space in her gated parking lot – since her entire property is so lovely, the choice was difficult.
On our second stay, May 27, 2017, we reserved a table for dinner. Snyder’s is also a top-notch steak house with a casual french-country atmosphere offering dining on the outdoor patio, sunroom and also, indoors. We wanted a casual dinner, so we chose the sunroom with a spectacular vineyard view. As long as they’ll have us, we’ll return to Snyder’s whenever we visit Buhl.
DelMonaco Winery – Baxter, Tennessee – October 8th, 2016
We can’t say enough about the southern hospitality we received at DelMonaco Winery in Baxter, Tennessee. The quiet seclusion of this area on the outskirts of Nashville, provided needed solitude for our aching heads after an arduous ten-hour journey involving Nashville traffic. Comforted by generous pours from Alex, our sommelier, and nourished with a light dinner of fresh, local cheese and pickled okra – which we purchased from the DelMonaco store – we retired to our trailer before dark. The gravel parking lot beside a seldom used railroad track which runs through the kudzu laced forest served us well for the night. Rails trigger my imagination, so sitting outside at dusk as the lighting bugs commenced beneath the half-full moon, I finished off a half-empty bottle of southern wine and took notes for the next great American novel.
Arriving on a busy Harvest Host weekend, the owner, Rob Livingston moved earth to make certain-sure we had a space by the pretty creek behind the property. Now, that’s hospitality!
This wine and brew pizza tavern is a traveler’s haven! We enjoyed a beer-tasting, excellent pizza and memorable conversation among the guests and staff. This place is supposed to be fun and they really pull it off! An ideal meet-up destination with other Harvest Hosts members to fuel up and par-tay!
Wilde Prairie Winery – Brandon, South Dakota – July 1, 2017
Wilde Prairie Winery, really took us by surprise – not only the wines but the location right inside the vines where we were invited to set up camp. To visit this family farm and vineyard is like entering the film set of a prairie romance. The preserved vintage dairy barn-turned-winery and tasting room was in itself mesmerizing – definitely worth the look-see as we sipped on chilled LaCrescent Rosé.
Victoria Wilde, the owner, studied winemaking in California, and Wilde Prairie is now a destination on the South Dakota wine trail. The bucolic house, barn, and grounds are not countrified for tourism. Friends meet here for conversation on a hot day, locals get married in the barn. This is pure South Dakota.
Wilde wines are complex and robust. We took some bottles with us – the Frontenac, deep-dry cherry notes, edgy and earthy – like an episode of Deadwood – introduced us to South Dakota wine. Wilde Prairie’s excellent sommelier gave us a tour that deepened our appreciation for the joy and care that is invested in truly handmade wines.
With the Wilde’s permission, we strolled among the vines with our wine and watched the moonrise …
and we slept well … Oh yeah. Real well.
Garvin Heights Vineyards – Winona, Minnesota – July 2, 2017
Owned by Linda and Marvin Seppanen, Garvin Heights Vineyards is a popular retreat for residents of Winona. This is a friendly neighborhood winery where locals meet on the spacious deck to talk about community events, like the Great River Shakespeare Festival.
We were greeted by Marvin who kindly reserved a place for us down the slope near the end of the driveway in the vineyard. Even in July, there was no need for air-conditioning.
After our tasting, we took a bottle of crisp dry Rosé outside where a cool river breeze hinted of rain. After a perfect nights rest – and before the downpour – we drove about ¼ mile downhill from Garvin Heights Vineyards to a viewpoint where asphalt-paved trail winds down the side of the bluff into Winona where – prior to western expansion – was home to an established Sioux community. Winona is on an island in the Mississippi River Valley. Through binoculars, we viewed cycling paths, kayakers, waterside dining, parks, and campgrounds … How had this place escaped our radar? Wishing we could stay, but on a damned schedule (we must stop making those) we consoled ourselves with a bag of scones and cinnamon rolls from Bloedow’s Bakery (best pecan scones we’ve ever had) and hit the road promising to return and spend some serious time exploring lovely Winona.
LaClare Farms – Malone, Wisconsin – July 3, 2017
Nothing says, “Wisconsin” like cheese and Larry and Clara Hedrich are saying it beee-eee-eeest at LaClare Farms. We love goats (we even kept one when we lived in Spring Valley) and we love goat cheese! Reservations were made several days ahead and we were really looking forward to this visit.
We were shown where to park and even invited to put out our awnings – another great benefit of Harvest Hosts over stealth camping in Candyland. We were also invited to watch the handlers perform the daily goat-milking in LaClare’s air-conditioned goat-viewing theatre with comfortable seating.
Later, we sat down to a cheese tasting, had a small dinner and chèvre cheesecake for dessert … I have no words for that cheesecake except, gimme-that-recipe. The chef advised to just sub chèvre in my favorite cheesecake recipe. Okie-Dokie. Gonna do that.
LaClare more than met our expectations. We were smitten with the farm and the entire area – and I discovered a new favorite source for sending food-gifts.
RV/Motor Home Hall of Fame Museum – Elkhart, Indiana – July 15, 2017
On our way to the Airstream Factory in Ohio for service, we passed through Elkhart, Indiana to spend the night at the RV Hall of Fame parking lot. We arrived an hour before closing with plans to view the collection in the morning. The employee at the front desk greeted us and encouraged us to have a pleasant night in their nice, level asphalt parking lot. Since the weather was so pleasant, we chose a space with a large lawn and tree. By nightfall, there were two motorhomes camping beside us and everyone exchanged friendly greetings during the evening dog walk. Next morning, we spent more than two hours immersed in the remarkable history of “living the dream” in America.
Since joining Harvest Hosts almost a year ago, we haven’t even begun to exploit the possibilities. Now, with our solar and inverter installation, Harvest Hosts is putting, even more, beauty into LIB. These agricultural side-trips are an elegant alternative to private campgrounds which can be over-priced, noisy and run down. And, more personally, Harvest Hosts sites tend to harken memories of my granddaddy’s farm in Alabama and the pleasure of being in the country, turning the soil, picking and pickling, shelling and shucking – all of the best things about life here on planet earth.