Abilene, Kansas is mostly known for being the hometown of President Eisenhower, but this small town has plenty more to offer than just a visit to his historic home and library.
I know you are thinking, what in the heck is there to do in this middle of this nowhere Kansas town. I thought the same thing until I had the chance to spend a weekend in Abilene. It was absolutely charming and with only being a couple hours away from Wichita or Kansas City, makes it a fun getaway from life in the big city.
I had the chance to visit in early December and enjoyed the Night of Christmas Magic. I loved watching the hustle and bustle of the families enjoying activities and the children’s faces when santa arrived. It was wholesome and some what nostalgic. Something I think many cities are missing these days.
I also went on the Homes for the Holidays Tour, which features beautifully decorated historic homes. Abilene features many activities throughout the year, so there is a reason to visit every season! Keep reading to see what season you will want to plan your visit!
Starting with spring, visitors can enjoy watching or participating in the Eisenhower Marathon in early April. Awards are presented by members of the Eisenhower family at the Eisenhower Presidential Library, Museum & Boyhood Home Visitors Center.
The Saturday of Easter weekend, Washington D.C. has the White House Easter Egg Roll and Abilene does too! Thousands of eggs are placed on the lawn of the Eisenhower Presidential Library, Museum & Boyhood Home and children rush to find them.
Reitz & Rust Vintage Market & Vintage Camper Show. This event held in late April, features more than 200 vendors and dozens of vintage campers. It is labeled a must see event by Southern Living magazine.
Other spring activites include the Arts & Ales craft beer sampling and the Abilene Antique Fest.
In June, summer brings the opening of the Great Plains Theatre which was established in 1995. It is the only live professional theatre between Denver and Kansas City on I-70. The theatre features comedians, magicians, chart topping musicians and Pulitzer winning Broadway shows.
Celebrate Independence Day with an Old Fashioned 4th of July celebration. Activities include a variety of fun runs, pedal power tractor pull, sports tournaments, mud and sand volleyball, baby beauty contest, frog and turtle races, band performances and of course, a stellar fireworks display! Abilene is named one of Smithsonian Magazine’s “Top 20 Best Small Towns to Visit.”
The first weekend of August brings Central Kansas Free Fair and Wild Bill Hickok Rodeo, which was named one of the Top 5 Medium-Sized Rodeos by PRCA.
October brings Heritage Days complete with historic reenactments, activities for kids, farm machinery demonstrations as more! It is also your last chance of the season to catch the Excursion Train. This 10-mile excursion train ride through the Smoky River Hill Valley features a 100 year old wooden coach dining car and other vintage equipment.
December brings the Annual Homes for the Holidays Tour, where you can tour a number historic beautifully decorated homes though out the town. Along with homes tour is the Night of Christmas magic, usually the first weekend in December and is fun for the whole family. Activities include Santa’s workshop, craft fair, lighted Christmas parade, games, lighting of the historic Union Pacific Depot and more.
For Valentines Day in February, couples can plan a romantic getaway and stay at one of Abilene’s quaint bed and breakfasts. The Victorian Inn allows you to step back in time while still having access to all 21st century conveniences. Or you can pamper yourself at the Windmill Inn which offers in room massages.
Year around visitors can enjoy the variety of museums, including the Greyhound Hall of Fame. Abilene is full of history and 21 structures in town are on the National Register of Historic Places, including the Seelye Mansion.
The Dickinson County Heritage Center depicts life on the plains during the American pioneer movement and westward expansion periods. It also houses the Museum of Independent Technology which shows the telephone system history through exhibits of antique telephones. It also tells the story of The United Telephone Company, which is now Sprint, that was formed in Abilene by C. L. Brown in 1922.
Children and parents both will enjoy a ride on the original 1901 C.W. Parker Carousel which is located at the Heritage Center as well.
Abilene is also home to the worlds biggest spur!
If you are a foodie or just a tired traveler along I- 70 looking for a bite to eat, Abilene offers plenty of great choices. The Brookville Hotel which traces back to the 1870’s became famous for serving family style fried chicken dinners, which still continue to this day. Reservations are highly recommended.
Another hot spot in town is Three one one and is labeled the “Key West of the Midwest.” This spot is family owned by Chef John Shaft from Florida and gets rave reviews about his fish tacos.
Downtown Abilene offers quaint shops such as Cypress Bridge, where you can pick up a hand poured custom scented candle, home decor items, homemade potpourri, scented oils, bath and body products for him or her and more. RHV, is a little hardware store that will have anything you need including unique products tailored just for that area. Antique lovers will enjoy browsing the many antique stores and for the Chocoholics, a visit to the Russell Stover 10,000 sq. ft. outlet store is a must. Visitors can purchase ice cream delights, along with the many other types of candies and homemade chocolate delicacies.
Lodging includes quaint bed and breakfasts, hotels and campgrounds.
For more information on planning your trip, visit the Abilene visitors website. Photos are courtesy of Abilene visitor center and myself. I wish to thank the city of Abilene for hosting my visit.
For those who have visited Abilene, please feel free to comment below on your favorite thing about Abilene.
On a recent three day farm tour across Kansas that you can read about here, gave me the chance to visit Blythe Angus Ranch.
White City, Kansas is home to one of our own bloggers on the tour Debbie Lyons-Blythe. She owns Blythe Angus Ranch. Debbie writes the blog Kids, Cows and Grass where she shares the adventures of being a cattle rancher, recipes and a mom to five kids.
Debbie along with her husband Duane and family raise high quality registered Angus cattle on the same land that has been in Duane’s family sine 1890. Debbie and her family are passionate about sustainability and are committed to leaving the land better than when they found it.
The Global Roundtable of Sustainable Beef have guidelines in place that defines sustainability for the entire world and they are that the environment needs to be protected, the animals must be treated properly and there needs to be an economic increase.
Each continent or country can then form their own Roundtable group and Debbie and Duane are founding members of the United States Roundtable of Sustainable Beef and meet with all sorts of people in the cattle and beef industry.
Blythe Angus Ranch
By using these guidelines for the past 30 years the beef industry has decreased the carbon footprint of beef in a major way. To raise a pound of beef, the industry now uses 20% less feed, 30% less land and 14% water which adds up to an 18% decrease in the carbon footprint.
Debbie along with her mom, sister and very good friends hosted an amazing evening for us showing us the beautiful registered Angus cattle and feeding us dinner. It was truly an amazing experience to be so up close and personal with these beautiful creatures. It was truly a Grazing in the Prairie event that people pay big bucks for.
Sunset at Blythe Angus Ranch
It is fascinating to hear Debbie talk about her passion for raising the best beef she can, the care and love she has for the cattle and the beauty of the prairie. We were lucky enough to catch a breathtaking sunset which gave us a taste of Debbie’s passion for this land and a beautiful way to end the day.
I recently had the chance to tour the McCarty Family Farms who supply fresh milk for Dannon Yogurt. This tour included some other farms in Kansas as well and you can read more about that here.
Located just a few miles from Colby you will find Rexford, Kansas which is home to the McCarty Family Farms, where we met Ken McCarty. He graciously shared the story of the his family farm which was started in 1914 by his Great Grandfather with eight cows in Pennsylvania.
McCarty Family Farms
Ken and his three brothers Clay, Mike and David are fourth generation dairymen who worked with their dad on the dairy farm in Pennsylvania. It came time to move the dairy if it was going to be profitable, so after searching throughout the Midwest, they settled in Rexford, Kansas in April of 2000.
They started milking 1200 cows which did not show much profit but plugged along eventually building another milking facility in Bird City, Kansas.
The McCarty’s big break came when they were approached in April of 2010 by Dannon Yogurt to produce milk for them. In order to do that the McCarty’s had to double their size and build a processing plant. They broke ground to build a new facility and had milk to Dannon in April 2012.
The McCarty’s now own four dairy’s with one in Beaver City, Nebraska and the others in Kansas including Scott City, Bird City and the processing plant/dairy in Rexford, where it processes all the milk from the 4 farms yielding about 650,000 pounds of raw milk a day. The farthest the milk travels to be processed is 80 miles which is milk from their Nebraska plant. There are about 140 employees between all the of the plants and business office which is located in Colby.
All the raw condensed skim milk goes to the Dannon plant in Dallas along with a portion of the heavy cream. The remaining cream is sent to the Daisy brand processing plant in Garland, Texas where it is made into sour cream.
McCarty Family Farms
If you check the bottom of your Dannon yogurt cup and it has plant number 48 stamped on it, most likely it is made from the McCarty’s milk which goes from the dairy to Dannon in 24 to 36 hours. I love eating local and knowing that a national brand I buy is using local milk from my home state makes me want to buy it even more!
All four dairies are certified by Validus, a major animal welfare firm that has very stringent guidelines on the care of dairy animals. They have also passed bio security audits, food safety audits and enviromental audits.
I was a bit concerned about going to a farm that produces milk for a major company thinking that the cows would be laying on top of one another covered with muck, but just as the case with the other farms on this tour this was totally not the true.
Newborn Calf at McCarty Family Farms Dairy
Spreading the cows over 4 dairies gives them the freedom to roam and the McCarty’s the space and resources to care properly for the cows. The baby calves are kept in separate pens to avoid being trampled, hurt or killed by any of the larger cows in the heard. Their spaces are kept clean and tidy with plenty of food and water. The larger cows are free to roam around in various pens around the dairy until they are taken to be milked.
McCarty Family Farms Calf
The cows are milked three times a day. Once milked which only takes 11 minutes, are then out free to roam again. Clean, comfortable and happy cows produce more milk and the McCarty’s work hard to ensure the cows meet that criteria. The cows are checked daily, the holding beds are cleaned three or more times a day, the cows are given plenty of space to freely move around and are fed a nutrient rich diet. The cows are NOT given RBST and only an antibiotic if it is medically necessary. If a cow then happens to need one her milk is not used until the medicine is out of her system.
McCarty Dairy Cows
Finding out the McCarty Family Farms is considered a “factory farm” totally changed my perspective on things. I am sure there are exceptions to the rule but I certainly will not have nightmare visions anymore when I here the term factory farm. I have so much more respect for the farmers as they go above and beyond to ensure the cows are well taken care of and the procedures they go through to make sure the milk is the highest quality as possible.
Be sure to check out the videos on the McCarty Family Farms website where you can watch how the cows are milked and learn more about the farm.
If you happen to catch any of my #farmfoodtour pics on Instagram a few weeks ago, then you are aware of the great time I had when I was invited by the Kansas Farm Bureau to spend three days traveling across Kansas visiting local farms. All of these farms are impacting our nation as they supply their goods all across the country and beyond. I also learned many lessons about how are food is raised and truly had an eye opening experience.
I love writing about local food and love meeting the farmers behind the food so I was excited to have the opportunity to experience this.
The trip consisted of a handful of writers and bloggers from the Midwest along with our hosts which was a representatives from Kansas Farm Bureau and The Kansas Soybean Association.
There was a lot of talk on the tour about the GMO controversy and although, I get the need for GMO for world hunger, the need for pesticide and virus resistant crops, etc…, I am anti GMO in the foods I eat, against factory farming and am adamant that our food should be labeled if it contains GMO.
So before the tour I have to admit I am the one who only listened to one side of the story and spent too much on organic produce.
There is still much debate on this subject but after this tour I am a bit more relaxed about things. I learned there are only eight GMO crops; corn, soybeans, cotton, papaya, canola, sugar beets, squash and alfalfa. I also learned there is rigorous testing done to ensure safety.
In addition to what I learned on the tour, I have been scouring sources to make the right decision for what I want to feed my family. Each side has a great argument and I am not an expert by any means so it really has to come down to a personal choice.
With a daughter recently diagnosed with some allergy and other health concerns, I am probably still going to stick with buying organic and non GMO foods but won’t freak out as bad if we get a GMO in our diet every now and then.
There is research that states GMO’s don’t cause allergies there is other research that says certain allergies did not exist until GMO’s where introduced. While we are on the topic of allergies there is now talk of making a GMO peanuts that would remove the allergen. There is also talk of a GMO wheat grain that would remove the gluten. For people who suffer from gluten issues or have peanut allergies does that make GMO a good thing?
My daughter is having some gluten issues so as a mom is that something I would try to help my daughter although I have been anti GMO, I don’t know. I would certainly have to do my homework. Again so much controversy that you have to choose what is right for you.
If gluten is an issue for you, do not miss reading about day two of the tour where we visited NuLife Market in Scott City, KS. They have amazing gluten free flour as well as other products.
NuLife Market Sorghum Field
The labeling issue was another hot topic. I think it is super important for people to know what is in their food but we also need to educate ourselves as well. If you are trying to avoid GMO’s, know what crops are modified so you don’t have to fear if that cucumber is a GMO or not, because it is not one of the eight.
Before the tour I was adamant that GMO foods need to be labeled. After the tour I learned how much labeling laws would increase food cost and no one wants that. I decided that if the labeling is not going to happen then I need to educate myself on what crops are modified, and buy organic when I am not sure. There is already organic and non GMO labeling available that can probably help make the decision I need, so I don’t know that I am such a stickler on that topic anymore.
Other hot topics included antibiotic use, organic produce and crops as well as grass fed beef.
What about grass fed beef? Well, all beef is grass fed because they graze in the pastures. How it is finished is the difference. This is not too much of a hot button for me as my father in law raised cattle and gave them grain and that is all we ate. He recently quit raising the cattle so now I buy organic beef, but do not necessarily focus on grass finished or not. Grass finished has more omega 3 than grain finished but not enough to make a difference in your diet, so if you are looking for more Omega 3 eat some salmon or take a supplement.
What about antibiotics? All of the farms we visited do not give their animals antibiotics just for the heck of it and Good Farm that raises pork does not use any at all. The farmers that do use them explained that they are only used if medically necessary. Just as we get sick and occasionally need one, so do the animals. I also learned that there is a stringent documentation process on what animal got, how much and when it was. There is also a waiting period before the animal can be processed after an antibiotic is administered to make sure it is out of its system.
What about organic? Before the tour I envisioned non organic produce being doused with chemicals and then picked and put on the grocery store shelves. After the tour I am a little less concerned. Farmers have guidelines they have to adhere too on many levels and pesticide use is one of them. There is a certain waiting period they have to follow before they can harvest the crop after a pesticide has been applied. Does this make the fruit any safer to eat? I don’t know but it makes me feel a little better knowing there has been time for rain-showers and other environmental elements to shake off some the residue.
I appreciate that Cal-Ann Basil Farm we visited on day one does not use any synthetic pesticides since that is the brand I buy. I was happy to learn about the waiting period process on harvesting after pesticide use but will still buy organic especially the produce listed on the dirty dozen list because that is what works for me. I will say that knowing what I do now will help me not be so concerned if I see my son eating a non organic apple or knowing my daughter is not getting organic produce in the dining hall while she is away at college.
Me photographing some basil
The last issue we will tackle is Factory Farming. When I hear the term factory farm I envision hoards of pigs or cattle crammed into a tiny pin covered with gunk and who knows what else. The McCarty Family Farms we visited that produces milk for Dannon Yogurt is considered a factory farm and it was a total 360 from what I had in mind. You can read more about the McCarty Dairy on day three of the tour.
Newborn Calf at McCarty Family Farms Dairy
I cannot say enough about everything I learned and how compassionate these farmers are to make sure the crops they are growing and the animals they are raising meet the highest quality standards. It is truly is all about family and they care for their families as much as we do ours and are feeding them just like us so they want to produce the best food possible in the best way they know how.
I wish to thank the Kansas Farm Bureau and all the incredible farmers for this amazing experience. You can read more about the farms in the links below.
Day one: Cal-Ann Farms, Good Pork Farm, Sawyer Land and Cattle.
Day two: Nu Life Market
Day three: McCarty Family Farms, Blythe Angus Ranch
Cal-Ann Farms in Basehor, Kansas was the first stop on a recent three day farm tour I took across the state of Kansas. Myself along with a handful of other writers and bloggers were given the chance to visit six Kansas farms over three days and what we saw and learned was amazing. You can read more about the tour here.
This family owned basil farm produces almost all of the fresh Living Basil plants you see in the major grocery store chains in the Kansas City metro.
Jeff and Pam Meyer of Cal-Ann Farms
Jeff and Pam Meyer use hydroponics to grow basil, wheatgrass and few other fresh herbs year around without any pesticides. Hydroponic means no soil so Cal-Ann utilizes peat to keep the plant’s roots contained and moist while the plant still receives all its nutrients from the water.
Cal-Ann is named after Jeff’s parents Calvin and Annette Meyer who originally started Cal-Ann Farms as a dairy.
From seed to delivery to the store takes about 4 1/2 weeks. The basil is hand delivered to most of the major grocery store chains in the area. Cal-Ann Living Basil is the brand I buy so it was such a joy to see where my food comes from and meet the farmers that grow it.
Cal-Ann Farms Basil
Jeff and Pam are absolutely amazing and their love for growing basil shows. The farm is organized, clean and there are many measures in place to keep the herbs safe.
Me photographing some basil
I had a great time on the tour and the basil scent was delightful. I’m also excited for a new fresh pesto product coming soon from Cal-Ann. Jeff and Pam let the cat out of the bag that they have been working on a homemade pesto using their own local basil that will be available in stores by the holidays!
Cal-Ann Farms Basil Pesto
If you have ever made pesto before it is not terribly hard but does take a food processor and sometimes tricky to get the ratios of all the ingredients right making sure the garlic does not overpower the basil. This product will be a great way to have fresh basil pesto year around without any of the work.
From Basehor we made our way to Olsburg, KS where we went to Good Farm.