Sebring, Florida

Down to Earth

Down to Earth

Get ready to experience an engaging slice of farm life while being educated and entertained.

By Mark O’Brien

From sugar to spirits

Sugar Sand Distillery has adult beverages to sample, all mixed with an upbeat, informative explanation of how sugarcane is squeezed and distilled to create rum. The distillery offers real moonshine, too.

The 10-acre farm grows sugarcane, a grass that produces juice and sugar. Unlike most distilleries, because Sugar Sand grows its sugarcane on-site, people can see the crop and taste the results at one location. Sugar Sand uses a smart blend of machinery and mashes to produce the liquor. A “Taste and Tour” gives up-close looks at all aspects of the land and the complex distilling process.

Samples are available in small cups, with detailed descriptions of the ingredients offered by the bartender. If you like the taste, you can buy a full-size, colorfully decorated bottle to take home.

Sugar Sand Distillery tasting room

U-pick ‘em

Homegrown wine is just one of many items available at the classic country store at Henscratch Farms Vineyard & Winery. The cozy store is stuffed with pickles, eggs from the farm’s free-range hens, wine, gifts, jellies and jams. Folks will also find strawberry jam, blueberry dressing and many other special items.

Agritourism blends the best of Old Florida with the newest innovations in farming, food and drink.

Nearby vineyards produce muscadine and scuppernong grapes. Visitors can walk through vineyards, select eggs from an assortment of 200-plus chickens and buy raw honey produced by Henscratch hives. U-pick seasons let children and adults alike pick sweet, fat strawberries and juicy grapes. Strawberry season, from December through March, showcases strawberries in shakes, with shortcake and dipped in chocolate.

The vineyards also generate infused grapeseed oil, an increasingly desired byproduct of winemaking. Henscratch presses the seeds for use in dipping and sauté, and many people also praise grapeseed oil for improving hair and skin!

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Wallabies to whitetail deer

Zebras, a camel, spotted llamas and furry wallabies are among the residents of LaLa Land. At this private 50-acre farm, they mingle with chickens, a mule, cows, potbellied pigs and horses in dwarf, miniature and standard sizes. The mixture of pasture, fishponds and stands of oaks draw whitetail deer, Osceola turkeys, great blue herons and other wildlife, offering fabulous shots for nature photographers. Visitors also can fish for tilapia, bass, bluegill or bream.

LaLa Land’s owner, Terri Lynn Crutchfield, leads all tours, which are by appointment only. She uses the admission fees, which are tax-deductible, to help underwrite monthly visits to senior care centers and nursing homes, where she brings many LaLa Land animals to visit the residents.

Oranges at Maxwell Grove

Sit for a spell

While there’s plenty of food, drink and gifts inside, some people start their visit to Maxwell Groves by sitting for a spell on the rocking chairs on the huge front porch.

The business began in 1935 as one of many small open-air fruit stands that once dotted Florida roadsides. Now it has a sprawling packinghouse and a huge assortment of merchandise. Many visitors rave about the food, especially the fresh-squeezed orange juice and homemade orange ice-cream served in a cone, ideal for slurping while enjoying the porch.

The business carries fruit, wine, jams, jellies and a wide assortment of citrus—navel, Valencia and tangelo oranges, plus grapefruit and tangerines. You won’t leave hungry or thirsty.

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Serious sustainability

Bald eagles, Florida panthers, peregrine falcons and wood storks take refuge on Buck Island Ranch, an unusual property with approximately 10,500 acres of land serving as both a working ranch and a real-life laboratory. These threatened and endangered species are just a few of the many hundreds of animals you may see here.

The ranch also supports 439 plant species, 168 species of birds, 17 species of fish, 53 species of amphibians and reptiles and 32 species of mammals.

Bald eagles, Florida panthers, peregrine falcons and wood storks take refuge on Buck Island Ranch, an unusual property with approximately 10,500 acres of land serving as both a working ranch and a real-life laboratory.

In addition, Buck Island is among the top 20 commercial cow-calf producers in Florida; the 3,000 cows provide much of the ranch’s revenue, and research there helps scientists seeking ways to make Florida ranches more sustainable economically and environmentally.

To tour Buck Island, contact Archbold Biological Station, which has fun attractions of its own including low-stress, self-guided trails and other chances to see nature up-close.

Spice it up

Take your taste buds for a walk on the wild side—or the mild side—at Everglades Foods. Its seasonings offer a multitude of tasty delights, creating plenty of friendly debate among aficionados over how to use them to spice up steaks, ribs, chicken, pork and venison, not to mention potatoes, veggies, pasta, rice, grits, fish and eggs

Everglades Foods, which got its start in the 1940s, also provides good-natured videos and down-home advice on how to season almost anything that appeals to the palate. Then choose from Everglades All-Purpose Seasoning, Cactus Dust Barbecue Rub, Fish and Chicken Seasoning, Heat Seasoning, Moppin’ Barbecue Sauce and Pre-seasoned All-Purpose Breading Mix.

Camel at LaLa Land

Caladium capital

Lake Placid is the hub of the nation’s caladium market, and one big reason is Bates Sons & Daughters, a third-generation caladium farm. The colorful ornamental plants are popular in gardens, homes and patios, where their leaves add eye-catching shades of red, pink, rose, white, green and chartreuse.

Emmett and Mildred Bates were the original founders in 1945, and the business still remains in the family. Now Sheri and Terri Bates not only produce caladium bulbs, they have operated a pre-finished potted caladium greenhouse for 20 years.

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