One of my favorite holiday activities is discovering the perfect gift for the special people on my list. My sister and I like to make an event out of holiday shopping, checking out downtown stores on "Small Business Saturday" to support local shops and find one-of-a-kind gifts.
If you're like my family and want to make holiday shopping not only tolerable, but actually fun, then plan a road trip out to the country to visit the Iowa apple orchards, pumpkin patches and tree farms that extend their season for holiday visitors.
In addition to holiday trees and decorations, many of the following Iowa agritourism destinations offer pies, homemade candies, jellies and jams and other holiday food gifts that are always appreciated — and always the right size.
Center Grove Orchard, Cambridge. It’s a hugely popular fall destination in central Iowa, but Center Grove Orchard also offers fun holiday events for families.
Special events at Center Grove Orchard include brunch with Santa, where kids can enjoy a pancake breakfast, horse-drawn sleigh rides and a photo with Santa; pajamas and stories with Santa, an evening event where kids can come to the orchard in their PJs and listen to Santa tell them stories; and ladies nights, where friends can gather to create holiday-themed crafts and enjoy a comfort-food dinner.
The Center Grove Orchard store and coffee shop are also open through the holiday season. Find locally made jams and salsas for gift-giving, as well as pies and the orchard’s famous apple cider doughnuts.
For more information and to order tickets, visit http://www.centergroveorchard.com/.
Harvest Barn Marketplace, Osceola. With a pumpkin patch and corn maze in the fall, the Harvest Barn Marketplace transforms into a winter wonderland during the holiday season.
Jason and Amy Boyer renovated the 1930s-era barn into a gift shop to sell the family’s pork and beef products, including their popular beef sticks, which they also sell at the Des Moines Farmers Market.
Visitors can also find holiday-themed home décor in the Harvest Barn’s hayloft. Other popular items include locally made jams, homemade fudge (which Amy makes herself) and baked goods.
The Harvest Barn also carries gourmet cheeses from Milton Creamery. The cheese is a delicious addition to the Harvest Barn’s Breezy Bacon Burger, a hamburger patty studded with Prairie Breeze cheddar and bacon. Visit www.harvestbarnmarketplace.com/ for more information.
Barn Happy, Cedar Falls. The renovated white barn just west of Cedar Falls with the "Barn Happy" sign out front offers a little bit of everything for holiday shoppers.
It’s a bakery with made-from-scratch rolls, pies and treats. It’s a coffee shop with fresh roasted java. It’s a café with soups, sandwiches and other Midwestern lunchtime favorites. And it’s a gift shop with crafts, food and home décor from Iowa farmers and artists.
Owner Kris Boettger says she likes to promote Iowa-grown foods by selling local popcorn, honey and candies. Barn Happy also ships out Iowa-made gift boxes to anywhere in the country during the holiday season.
During the holiday season, Barn Happy offers its best-selling “Java Jingle” coffee, a blend of pecan, cinnamon, vanilla, rum and caramel flavors. Check out http://www.barnhappy.net/ for more information.
Deal’s Orchard, Jefferson. Visitors to Deal’s Orchard will find more than apples, especially at Christmastime. Beginning Thanksgiving weekend, they can choose and cut their own Christmas tree.
Jerald Deal set out the first 750 Scotch Pines in 1999 and has since expanded the offerings to include 4 acres of Scotch Pine, White Spruce, Canadian Fir and Douglas Fir. In addition, he offers Fraser Firs from out of state, where the popular holiday tree varieties grow better.
The Apple Barn features holiday gift baskets (also produced on a pre-order basis) and other gifts. Kids can get their photo taken in Santa’s sleigh. And, of course, everyone needs to treat themselves to an apple and a cup of cider. Deal’s Orchard remains open for Christmas shopping until Dec. 24. For a full list of holiday events, visit http://dealsorchard.com/tree-farm/.