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"I want the family farm - the backbone of our country's heritage - to thrive and survive for future generations."

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A Farmer’s Perspective of Europe

By: Jane Eckert

Remember that old saying “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder?”  Everyone views the world from their own perspective, and that’s why I believe our special agritours offer farmers an opportunity to view Europe and other distant places in our own special way.

In planning our annual Eckert Agritours, we focus on ways to connect with the local farmers, see the local scenery and enjoy some very personal and hands-on experiences that regular travelers to these destinations would often miss.  Our traveling companions are fellow North American farmers—readers of this magazine or friends who follow our website, –who have heard about the agritours. Traveling distant lands together, we have the time to create a wonderful bond and camaraderie just not possible with commercial tours.

So we are off again, and this time we’ll have two different agritours!  First, our March 2014 Agritour to Italy and the Tuscany region was such an overwhelming success I have decided to offer it again, so we’ll be going back March 3 – March 15, 2015.  And we’ve added a few interesting tweaks to the tour that will truly make this a wonderful experience.

While the farms in Italy are small by our standards, we’ll see that the farmers are just as committed to their land as we are and their families share the intention to continue their farming legacy into future generations.  On a number of farms, you’ll see that the younger generation is very actively involved in the growing and marketing of their agritourism destinations. They are most often the spokes persons, as the older generation does not feel comfortable giving the tours and defer to their children who are more fluent in English.

The villages of Tuscany and the countryside stack up in steep, farming terraces, and they truly are as scenic as what you seen in books and television documentaries.  The Eckert Agritour will take you up close and often we just take an unplanned stop to view the entire landscape. This region is known for their wines so vineyard trellises are most often in view everywhere we drive.

Of course, wine tasting is an important part of a trip to Tuscany. However, the grapes are not just used in wine but also to produce balsamic vinegars which have become a popular addition to our American diet. Tuscany agriculture is also known for their production of olives and the making of olive oil.  We will have the opportunity to sample both of these products and become quite informed in this very important value added product of the region.

An important agritourism stop will include a tour, horseback riding and lunch at a farm specializing in Chianina cattle, grains and saffron—saffron is known as “the gold of San Gimignano. Most of Italy’s farms include a culinary component as a means of extra income, and many include farm based lodging as part of their offerings.  The owners are our tour guides and proud to show us their properties and discuss pest and weather issues that impact their crops and how they compare to our issues back home.

We will have the opportunity to eat fresh from the farm and participate in a very popular make-your-own pizza experience. Locally produced cheeses are also a very important part of this region and we have the opportunity to sample these cheeses while learning the production process. We have added a fruit farm and citrus farm to the 2015 itinerary where we will be able to talk with the staff and see their cultivation techniques.

A special overnight stay is included at Agriturismo Titignano, an elegantly restored castle with a small chapel used for weddings and special events.  Titignano sits in the hills of Orvieto with a breathtaking view and old world charm.  A visit to Italy is not complete without the drive down the very famous and picturesque Amalfi coastline. We also take some time to explore Florence for a day,  and end our trip in the “Eternal City” of Rome. The dates for this trip will be March 3 – March 15, 2015.

The second Eckert Agritour offered for 2015 will depart March 17 for southern France and we begin our tour in Nice, the capital of the French Riviera. Our 10-day travel will take us westward following the Mediterranean Sea and ending our trip in Barcelona, Spain for our return flight on March 27.

In Nice, we will enjoy the famous Cours Saleya Market with is filled with flower vendors and a mix of local farmers selling fresh figs, spices, cheeses and much more. A special stop will be to visit an Alpine chamois goat farm whose milk is used to make farmhouse cheeses and natural cosmetics. Typically with every stop you can count on sampling the farm products and touring the production area.

While this area of France is known for their wine production—and we will visiting several wineries—the territory also has some other very interesting agriculture components unique to the region and new to us.  We will be hosted by local fishermen for a guided tour in the small picturesque fishing village of Cros de Cagnes, visit the local fish market and learn about aqua farming. A separate visit will be to a 30-year-old oyster farm located at one of the largest and deepest lakes in the region.

Our farm tour will include a historic old Olive Oil mill and orchard for touring and tasting. Of course, no visit to Provence France would be complete without learning more about French cooking and their use of regional farm products, so we have planned a “Cook in Provence” class to learn about the gastronomy of this local region and culture.  

Another unique stop will be in Camargue, France, one of Europe’s last remaining wildernesses  formed by a landscape of salt-marsh, lagoons, cultivated farmland and seashore. We will visit a local farm to see grains and rice fields and then travel to a “manade,”  (ranch) where we will be greeted by “gardians,”(cowboys on horseback). We will watch these cowboys work the Camargue horse, also known as the “horse of the sea,” for a cattle herding demonstration.

Our trip ends in Barcelona, the second largest city in Spain and capital of the Cantalonia region. We will visit the La Boqueria Market, touted as one of the best markets in the world, which dates back to the 12th century. We will tour the city and visit some of the primary sites of the city.  For those that want more of Barcelona, we are offering a two day post extension.

The agritour offers a very unique tourist experience, and even those who do not farm appreciate this unique view of foreign travel, rich with personal experiences and the opportunity to get off the beaten path.  For full trip details and a brochure for either of these trips contact Eckert AgriMarketing at 314-862-6288 or OR visit our website and print off a copy.  These trips are likely to sell out as did Italy in 2014, so I encourage you to look at the brochures now and see if these travel experiences are on your bucket list.