Among the most uniquely Southern agricultural animals in the South are alligators. In addition to living wild in swamps, the reptiles are raised on farms to be used for meat and leather. At Insta-Gator Ranch in Louisiana, groups can interact with an alligator and learn about the agricultural uses for these intimidating animals.
On a tour of the ranch, visitors get a look at the Louisiana alligator industry “from hatchling to handbag.” Guides show the ultralight airplanes and airboats workers use to extract alligator eggs from deep swampland and describe the process of incubating and hatching the eggs and caring for the baby alligators. From there, groups go on to see hundreds of gators of various ages and sizes from protected walkways that overlook the ranch’s clear water pools.
Tour guides will often hop into a pen of alligators and catch one by hand. After taping its mouth shut, the guides hand the creatures around for guests to hold and take pictures with, all while sharing interesting biological facts about the creatures.
During the month of August, when most alligator eggs hatch, the ranch offers a special program that allows visitors to hold a gator egg in their hands. The crew guarantees that the egg will hatch in guests' hands, giving them a one-of-a-kind experience.
Coastal Food Tours
In addition to having abundant fish and crab, Virginia Beach and the surrounding area are also fertile agricultural lands. A company called Coastal Food Tours offers groups the chance to experience some of this bounty on firsthand visits to farms around the region.
“It’s for people who really want to learn about the area and enjoy the finer things,” said the company’s Jeff Swedarsky. “The culinary history here is diverse — you’ve got the Atlantic Ocean, the Chesapeake Bay and different little places where food was brought in.”
Coastal Food Tours can provide a variety of products to cater to the tastes of your travelers. Some groups will enjoy a half-day overview of the area’s local food, and others crave a more in-depth expedition.
“One of the things that we do is a multiday, motorcoach-based tour,” Swedarsky said. “We have one called the Harvest Feast that’s a macro version of our normal food tours. Instead of just stopping at restaurants, you can go visit the farms and producers.”
During these multiday tours, participants visit farms that raise pigs for the area’s signature Smithfield ham and sample wine at a vineyard overlooking a river. There’s a lot of eating along the way, as well as opportunities to meet farming families in person.
The tour concludes with a grand dinner that would please any foodie.
“We take elements from all of the places we’ve been and bring them together in a big family-style meal,” Swedarsky said. “It celebrates the harvest, so it changes from season to season. It’s a three- to four-hour experience.”