Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau hosts ‘rustic retreat’ |
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Mary Pickels

Just a few months after its May 19 “Journey of Self: A Wellness Tour of the Laurel Highlands,” the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau is planning a new farm-to-table tour.

“Rustic Retreat: A Farm-to-Table Tour” in Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands will be a full-day group tour on Aug. 24.

“Following on the sold-out success of our May wellness tour, this is sure to delight all foodies among us,” says Ann Nemanic, bureau executive director.

Bureau tourism development director Stacey Magda is planning the day’s itinerary.

Six stops are planned, from state parks to historical centers to regional farms, most in Somerset County.

“This is a fantastic and fun opportunity for folks from near and far to get out on the road and explore some places they have maybe heard of, some hidden gems” in the Laurel Highlands, Magda says.

Participants will take the scenic route to some of the region’s dairy farms and historic maple camps, and learn about the legacy of agriculture on the behind-the-scenes, educational tour.

Parks, farms and history

This farm-to-table tour is the second public tour of its kind the Visitors Bureau has organized and hosted.

First stop is Laurel Hill State Park, named Pennsylvania Park of the Year by the non-profit Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation in 2019.

“We are going to take a little hike up to the tower there. A park ranger will be with us to share a bit about the (park’s) history,” Magda says.

Its history includes creation through the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps, with men desperate for work building roads, trails, bridges and recreational facilities beginning in 1935.

According to the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the Laurel Hill Recreational Demonstration Area Historic District contains the largest collection of CCC architecture in Pennsylvania state parks.

Before the park’s Scenic View was acquired by the state as public land, it was a private property operated as a Christmas tree farm, Magda says.

“The view from the tower up there is one of the best in the area,” she says. “It’s just breathtaking.”

Have a scoop, or two

Next up is Moo Echo Dairy, a dairy, bakery and country store along Glades Pike in Somerset.

“We will do some shopping and tasting,” Magda says.

Visitors will learn how agriculture and farm goods end up on retail shelves, she adds.

Regional history

Participants will disembark at the Somerset Historical Center to learn about the area’s history of agriculture and the progression of homesteading.

“It’s all-encompassing, in terms of showing the legacy of our landscape,” Magda says.

Executive Director Mark Ware says the center is known for its re-created sugar camp and restored farmstead, as well as the Walter’s Mill Covered Bridge, opened in 1859 and still accessible to pedestrians.

It also houses the Jacob Emerick Cider Press, circa 1895.

The wooden press would have been used by several neighboring farms, the center’s website states.

“It’s really interesting. It has a 40-foot-long beam,” Ware notes.

A trio of farms

At Brantview Farms Maple Camp, an eighth-generation sugar camp near Shanksville, owner Richard Brant starts off tours with a welcome video.

Office manager Amy Brant says her father-in-law’s hobby turned into a business, and he enjoys educating visitors about the process.

Visitors can see the collection of antique farming, mining and wood milling equipment, and they also will watch a maple sugar demonstration, Brant says.

“They will see how maple sugar is made, from liquid to sugar,” she says.

Also planned is a stop at the store for maple syrup, maple candy and fudge and maple-coated nuts, all made on-site, Brant says.

At Faranda’s Farm in Hollsopple, guests are likely to have a “stinkin’ good time,” according to its website.

The farm is known for its annual garlic festival, Aug. 17-18, if you’re curious.

“We will learn about the benefits of garlic,” Magda says.

Owner Philip Faranda says garlic has a long history, going back thousands of years, as not only a food but also a medicine.

“Historians tell us if our ancestors did not eat garlic, we would not be here today,” Faranda says.

The advent of penicillin, he says, “kind of kicked (garlic) to the curb.”

Faranda says he typically talks to guest about garlic’s benefits “in a light-hearted way.”

Guests will enjoy a farm-to-table dinner, likely focusing on a grilled chicken entree and salad, and of course, featuring garlic, he says.

Native plants

A working farm tour at Friendship Farms in Mt. Pleasant Township will conclude the day.

The farm is known regionally for its variety of breads baked on-site, as well as its grass-fed beef and native plant nursery. Visitors will be able to do some shopping there as well, Magda says.

“Rustic Retreat” includes all activities, on-board refreshments, healthy snacks and two locally sourced meals for $100 per person. Participants can receive a $5 discount for commitment to bringing a reusable water bottle.

Registration closes Aug. 12.

Details: 724-238-5661 or

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