It doesn’t get more fresh than straight from the farm!

Patricia and I were literally chest deep in Red Delicious, Gala, Honey Crisp and Fujis, the sweet, sharp apple scent combining with cider, warm apple donuts and other products as we surveyed the overloaded tables at Orchard Landing Apple Farm in Hanover, south of Galena. And Orchard Landing (take that name seriously; you can actually fly your own plane in) is just the beginning. The rolling hills all around are thick with the heartland’s trademark farmers markets, u-pick fields, roadside produce stands, wineries and a full menu of farm-to-table restaurants.

Early to midsummer is strawberry time at Terrapin Orchards. We like to make our own preserves using Terrapin’s AC Wendy, Jewel and big, unique-tasting Cabot varieties of berries. They offer discounts on pick-your-own rates when you bring your own containers, so we really stock up on the flavorful red morsels of deliciousness. But we don’t mind sharing Terrapin’s four acres of strawberries with all the families who just come out for an afternoon of fun and teachable moments —“You like strawberry shortcake, kiddos? This is where it starts.”

Not long after the end of berry season, the first apples begin to come in, and the farm store is full of their enticing scent. We start in the store but always plan a picking expedition or two to really bask in the orchard’s late-summer atmosphere, buzzing with cicadas and alive with birdsong.By fall, the baskets are full of sweet-tart Zestars, a special variety of extra yummy Gala, Wolf River, Gold Russet and, something new, Evercrisp. This is when making a choice between apples gets to be difficult, but it’s a great problem to have.

When it comes to deep roots, the folks at Dittmar Farms & Orchard have had plenty of time to grow them; they’ve been farming the same ground since 1854. Visit in the fall or try the growing-season field trips to see some of what goes into producing the great food and fun of autumn.

My wife’s favorite is the summertime sweet corn at Dittmar. For me it’s September and October’s cider, hayrides, pumpkins and corn maze. They even have a gourd-launcher that sets the kids to squealing with laughter as the plump Muscats, the bumpy Marina de Chioggias, the Kabochas and other varieties of gourds go arcing through the air, some even bursting with a satisfying, wet, PUH-LOP on impact with the ground.

But we both love finding a sunny hillside spot or a tree to sit under on the outskirts of one of the town’s farmers markets for a quiet picnic of our own, stocked with the delicious munchables offered there in such abundance. And abundance really is the key-word when it comes to Galena agritourism. In an area already famous for its history, scenic vistas, heartland tradition of hospitality and lively festivals and events, the chance to sample the harvest of fun and food is something not to be missed.

Written by Danny Lee for 

There's so much more to explore in Galena Country, browse the latest visitors guide to learn why this area is #ForeverOriginal