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City art, food, and culture

We decided to enjoy a “staycation” in Downtown Lancaster from Sunday to Monday at the end of June. Since we both love art (in fact, Stephen is a local artist), we thought it would be cool to sleep in an art gallery – and we actually did. The Lancaster Arts Hotel is a hotel and an art gallery in one.

Sunday morning after breakfast, we walked to our favorite block in the City – the 300 block of Queen Street. Our first stop was Art & Glassworks. Just looking at the front of this colorful storefront is amazing. There’s art, glass globes, trinkets, jewelry, pottery, and more to discover. Wandering through this incredible display takes time. It’s like a gallery; you can’t rush through it. Before we left, we had to stop to pet the store cat, as that is a tradition, despite the fact that we are both allergic to cats. There was a “Fairy House Workshop” going on in the garden patio behind the store where, on First Fridays, you can sit and enjoy a bottle of wine (BYOB) and listen to local musicians under the stars. Tres cool!

Just across the street and under an awning made of many doors (seriously, check it out!) is Mommalicious. Alicia Byler is the owner and an artist in her own right. She’s hip, fun, and also sports the best of hairdos. Her store is filled with fun and funky stuff from yesterday – from vintage dresses and hats to deer antlers, maps, and retro toys.

Intersecting Queen Street is Walnut Street. At 24 Walnut Street you find Annex 24 which specialize in exhibiting artwork of this area’s emerging artists. During any given month, you can find 15 to 20 different artists’ work on display in their bold and edgy gallery. We just have to mention that over 45 of Stephen’s works of art were on display at the time we visited.

Later that evening we enjoyed an outdoor concert at Long’s Park. The Long’s Park Summer Music Series is every Sunday evening from June-August. After the show, we were exhausted, but we had a restful night surrounded by artists’ work on the walls of our luxurious room at the Lancaster Arts Hotel.

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Stephen and Sandy Gambone live in Lancaster. When Stephen’s not immersed in Fusion – ART, www.Etsy.com/shop/FusionARTfurniture, he enjoys being a personal fitness trainer. Sandy works for a local advertising company and loves to cook, spend time with her “grand puppy” Bella, experience art, culture, food… and, of course, wine.  

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Bikes and a day Downtown

We were up early to enjoy our complimentary continental breakfast at the Lancaster Arts Hotel. We wanted to fuel ourselves for what we had planned as our Monday outing… on bicycles. Yes, the Lancaster Arts Hotel offers guests full use of bicycles for the day. How cool is that?

We rode down streets and up alleys and discovered interesting architecture, quaint cafes, and beautiful parks. While riding, we came upon the final resting place of the very famous Lancastrian, Thaddeus Stevens. He was actually born in Vermont, but we like to think of him as “one of our own” as he was first a member of the US House of Representatives who later became a successful lawyer in Gettysburg before moving his home and practice to our fair city. This ardent supporter of African-American rights and abolitionist is buried in Shreiner Concord Cemetery, a historic landmark on Mulberry Street.

Then we made a stop at the Pennsylvania Guild of Craftsmen. Their gallery features craftsmen’s pottery, jewelry, furniture, fabrics, and so much more. We were totally enamored by the purses, necklaces, bowls, and even clothing creations of a guest Japanese craftsman, Yoko Ohbayashi, who creates washi paper crafts - all made of paper!

At this point, we had worked up an appetite, so we stopped at one of our favorite spots – Prince Street Café. Snagging a table at the front window looking out at the Fulton Theatre, we enjoyed steaming cups of coffee, a Thai chicken burrito, and a caprese sandwich on a toasted ciabatta roll. Yum! Prince Street Café is always filled with locals who know a good thing when they find it. The food, coffee, and free Wi-Fi make this choice for lunch a no-brainer.

On King Street, we discovered one of the many pianos placed around Lancaster City. These pianos are part of Music for Everyone’s “Keys for the City” Piano Tour. Twelve pianos are located around the city and are decorated by local artists and sponsored by area businesses and organizations. At any time, you can catch children or adults playing the ivory keys of these colorful instruments.

It was time to head back to the hotel, where they actually valet parked the bicycles (they really did!), to get showered and dressed for our dinner at the sensational nearby restaurant Fenz.

We are truly blessed to live so close to such a vibrant and cultured city as Lancaster. Our home is a mere four-minute drive away and we, admittedly, tend to take for granted the gem that is just down the street. It was both invigorating and educational to take the time to rediscover Lancaster City, particularly by bike. Don’t wait too long to do the same.

Stephen and Sandy Gambone live in Lancaster. When Stephen’s not immersed in Fusion – ART, www.Etsy.com/shop/FusionARTfurniture, he enjoys being a personal fitness trainer.Sandy works for a local advertising company and loves to cook, spend time with her “grand puppy” Bella, experience art, culture, food… and, of course, wine.  

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Check out this high-class restaurant

If you’re looking for a fine dining restaurant in Lancaster, look no further than Checkers Bistro. Recently, I had the pleasure of not only eating at Checkers for dinner, but also getting a tour of the new location on Harrisburg Avenue. I was impressed with the recent changes made to this Lancaster City staple.

If you haven’t heard, this February, Checkers moved from its old location where it spent 7 years delighting Lancaster with its delicious menu, to a brand new, and much larger location on Harrisburg Avenue as a part of Champion Forge (next to the Lancaster Arts Hotel). The new location is beautiful and boasts a much larger bar area and comfortable new seating in the dining area along with a location for private parties. The entire space received a complete remodel and the dining room now flows beautifully giving a feeling of grandeur and class.

If you’ve dined at Checkers Bistro in the past, you’ll still enjoy its staple menu favorites at this new location along with seasonal specials that never disappoint. One of my favorite menu items is the pasta Bolognese. The soft wide parpadelle pasta smothered in a rich meat sauce an accompanied with cheese is a dish that warms my stomach and my soul each time I visit Checkers.

Checkers Bistro has always been and continues to be a great restaurant for a date, but the new location also makes it even better for a drink with friends. Checkers has a small plates menu, a delicious drink menu, and a large bar that winds through the new space accommodating more customers and making Checkers a great place to meet up with friends any time of the day or evening.

Even though the new location boasts a larger dining room and more seats, you’ll still need a reservation if you plan on having dinner on a weekend. Be sure and check out Checkers’ new website which also allows you to make reservations online through Open Table.

If you haven’t been out to see the new Checkers Bistro yet, add it to your to-do list and don’t forget to end with dessert. It never disappoints!

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Thomas the Tank Engine Welcomes Percy!

Strasburg Rail Road is best known for its historic steam trains that leave soft puffs of smoke along the iconic Lancaster County countryside between the small towns of Strasburg and Paradise.

For parents and grandparents of Thomas fans, Strasburg Rail Road conjures up a different image – one bustling with excitement as the heritage railroad station transforms to welcome Thomas the Tank engine, star of the popular series Thomas & Friends. These visits happen three times a year – filling out a season of special events including Santa’s Paradise Express, Wine & Cheese Trains and on-board dining opportunities.

This September the excitement level is going way up as Thomas’ pal, Percy, tags along to join in on all the fun!

Percy makes his debut at Day Out with Thomas at Strasburg Rail Road September 13–21, before chugging along on his national tour. Little engineers and their families will meet Thomas, Percy and Sir Topham Hatt®, Controller of the Railway and take a 20-minute ride aboard one of Strasburg Rail Road’s larger-than-life trains pulled by Thomas himself.

Many Thomas & Friends-themed activities are included in the ticket price making this a full-day adventure. Children of all ages can enjoy arts and crafts, blocks and toy trains in the Imagination Station, storytelling and extra rides Percy and Strasburg Rail Road’s Pint-Sized Pufferbelly Train, Cranky Cars and Motorcar Train.

Tickets for Day Out with Thomas are on sale now and available by calling Ticketweb at 866-468-7630, or by visiting www.ticketweb.com/dowt or directly from Strasburg Rail Road at www.strasburgrailroad.com/train-schedule/events/day-out-with-thomas. Ticket prices are $21.00plus tax for ages 2 and up (service charges may apply).

For more information and directions, contact www.strasburgrailroad.com or 866-725-9666 and share your experience at facebook.com/StrasburgRailRoad and twitter.com/StrasburgRR

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Victoria Hill is the Social Media & Public Relations Specialist at Scheffey Integrated Marketing.

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Roadside Stands & Local Farmers

Growing up in the farm country of Lancaster County. Moving to suburban Philadelphia and New York City for 20 years. Working on Wall Street. Traveling the world as a consultant.

Moving back to Lancaster County gives one an interesting perspective. Of course, even though we lived and worked in New York City and Philadelphia, we’d make frequent trips back to Lititz where my wife and I grew up to visit family. It always felt like a step back in time – more simple, relaxed, friendlier.

I’ve crested 55 and lived here again for just over 10 years. Our youngest daughter goes off to college in a few weeks. Those 20 years out of the area were our family and career building years, not only full of excitement and adventure but sky-rocketing stress, high anxiety and a struggle to master the world. It wasn’t until I got laid off from a very good job, that we decided we wanted a simpler life and moved back to Lancaster County.

One of the things I love about Lancaster County are the roadside farm markets. They’re all over the place. I intentionally drive past my favorite stand on the way from home from my current job at Garden Spot Village. Sometime I’ll stop and simply get a homemade whoopie pie for less than a dollar. That’s right – less than a dollar! Often I’ll pick up fresh fruits or vegetables that came out of the fields surrounding the stand. It’s amazing.

Dinner last night was salad topped with shrimp so I stopped for fresh greens, peppers, carrots and broccoli to add to the shrimp in the fridge. It’s great to know that what you’re eating is organically grown, fresh and wholesome. And this particular weekend, Friday and Saturday, held a special surprise! Fresh Peach Sundaes for .99 cents. Oh yeah! Three scoops of Turkey Hill Ice Cream, topped with fresh peaches that were just washed, peeled, sliced and finished off with a swirl of whipped cream. It was heavenly. Is that crazy or what? Where else do you find fresh hand-dipped sundaes for .99 cents? Certainly not suburban Philadelphia or New York City, I can tell you that!

Having grown up in Lititz, roadside farm stands were just a common thing, something I drove past and ignored. It’s only been in the last several years that I’ve discovered how amazingly incredibly they are. Not only are the baked goods, cheeses and produce wonderfully farm fresh, the families that run them are extremely friendly and helpful. And sometimes they do crazy things like fresh peach sundaes for 99 cents.

If you live in Lancaster County or you visit regularly, do yourself a favor and add visits to local farm stands into your routine. If you’re visiting be sure to stop and check some out. You’ll be glad you did. If you’re feeling like life is too complex, full of unreasonable responsibilities and way too stressful, you might want to do what we did: take a step back in time and make Lancaster County home. For us life got a lot simpler and happier and Lancaster holds that same potential for you. And then, well, maybe a roadside farm stand might be right next door! Imagine the possibilities and adventure of a simpler life!

To read more about Garden Spot Village, go to www.gardenspotvillage.org/blog.

 

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Zip line your way to adventure and fun

Refreshing Mountain is a family-friendly, all-inclusive retreat facility with a large outdoor pool, sports fields, sand volleyball courts, indoor gyms, hiking trails, high ropes courses, zip line courses, a giant swing, archery, paintball, and more. While everything about this place is amazing, my goal was focused: to conquer the high ropes and zip line courses.

The Zip Line Canopy Tour at Refreshing Mountain has two courses from which to choose – the Challenge Adventure Course and the Aerial Excursion Course. The Challenge Adventure Course consists of five zip lines and the Aerial Excursion Course has seven zip lines, three sky bridges, and a surprise ending (you’ll have to experience it for yourself to find out). I went for the Aerial Excursion Course; I had to go big.

First things first, I signed the waiver and was fitted for a helmet and harness. Our tour guides seemed calm, cool, and collected… of which I was none. Though I love adventures, I always get nervous before hand… especially when heights are involved.

We ascended to the platform. The guides climbed like monkeys – like they were made to do this. Clearly this was second nature to them. Thankfully my harness and rope made me feel secure enough for my defenses to diminish. At all times the rope, securely connected to my harness, was attached to a pulley that road along the cable. I could pull the pulley along with me as I moved – like a dog on a leash. The pulley is key – because of that little piece of metal, we are able zip from platform to platform through the canopy of trees and not fall.

The first zip line was the scariest. Not knowing that to expect, I closed my eyes and with some hesitation, jumped. I went whizzing through the air like a flying squirrel. As I picked up speed, it wasn’t long before I saw the next platform quickly approaching. I extended my legs; my feet slammed into the wood platform. I made it. Safe and sound. One down zip line down; six more to go.

Later that day I tried my hand at the high ropes course. It was awesome! While at times I felt like I couldn’t conquer the challenge and sweat cascaded down the sides of my face, I stuck with it, and made it to the end. Nothing feels more gratifying.

My experience was incredibly exhilarating. I recommend that everyone try high ropes and zip line courses at Refreshing Mountain. If you’re afraid of heights like I am, remember, you are always strapped in and safe – so there’s no excuses.

To learn more about Refreshing Mountain or to book your aerial experience, to go refreshingmountain.com/ziplines.cfm.

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A seasoning for everything

Growing up in my household, seasoning a meal involved salt, pepper, or ketchup. (Sorry mom and dad, I know you really didn’t have time to cook.) Now that I have a household of my own and am learning to cook for myself, I am exploring new flavors and seasonings in my dishes. Enter Olio Olive Oils & Balsamics, a shop I discovered in downtown Lititz.

The entrance of this store was totally deceiving. It looks small from the outside, but it’s spacious in the inside – it has to be in order to hold the 75 different flavors of olive oils and balsamics that they sell there. Yes, you read that correctly, 75! Now I realize at this point that some of you may be thinking that seems a little overwhelming and you wouldn’t know where to begin, but the owners of the store are extremely helpful and will answer any questions you have. They even have a pairing sheet to tell you which olive oils and balsamics pair well together if you are feeling a bit intimidated.

I wanted to find something unique and surprising, so I started tasting my way around the store. Some of my favorites were the Fig, Lavender, and Honey Ginger balsamics. I also really enjoyed the Basil/Lemongrass, Persian Lime, and Herbs de Provence Olive Oils. Curious to try some of the olive oil and balsamic pairings, I decided to make another sweep of the shop. My favorite combination was the Tuscan Herb EVOO with the Fig balsamic, so delicious! There are so many unique and wonderful flavors you can combine to make your perfect pairing. The most surprising one to me was Chipotle infused EVOO with Chocolate balsamic. A steak marinated in this delicious combination would make for a unique and different meal at a dinner party.

Olio sells their olive oils and balsamic in 3 different sizes and they do not add any sugars to their products. They also carry several unflavored oils and balsamics, specialty oils, salts, sugars, pasta sauces, flavored honey, and skin care products. Not only can you shop their retail store for products, but you can purchase online as well. They will ship anywhere in the U.S. and will also make and ship gift baskets.

I got some great suggestions for recipes while I was visiting the shop. Pete, the owner suggested trying the Chocolate balsamic on ice cream for a sugar-free topping option. What a great idea! He also recommended the Honey Ginger balsamic on fish, especially salmon. I decided to purchase that one as well as the Mandarin Orange white balsamic.

The next night, I made honey-ginger salmon for dinner. It was so easy – all I did was marinate the salmon in the balsamic for about 15 minutes, then cooked it in a pan on the stove. Add your sides, and you have a really simple and delicious meal! I saved the Mandarin Orange balsamic for cocktails during girls’ night. Who knew you could infuse your cocktails with balsamics?

Olio is a great place to shop for anyone from a home cook to a pro chef. With so many options and flavors, the recipe possibilities are endless.

You can visit Olio Olive Oils & Balsamics’ website (oliooliveoil.com) for their complete list of products as well as recipes, or follow them on Facebook (www.facebook.com/OlioOliveOil) for weekly recipe ideas and events.

Ingredients for Mandarin Orange Ginger cocktails:
- 1 oz. vodka
- 5 oz. club soda
- 1 tsp. Olio Mandarin Orange balsamic (start with this amount, you can always add more to taste)
- Splash of ginger beer
- Orange slices for garnish

Step 1: Add the balsamic and vodka and stir to combine. Pour into a glass and add ice.
Step 2: Add the club soda to the infused vodka and stir.
Step 3: Top with a splash of ginger beer.
Step 4: Garnish with an orange slice and enjoy!

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Dinosaurs, planets, bones and more

The North Museum of Natural History and Science, over 50 years old and located near historic Downtown Lancaster, allows children to explore everything from outer space to precious rocks to dinosaurs. Children are encouraged to touch and investigate what’s in the museum. Behind every nook and cranny there’s more to see and discover.

My daughter, Sophia, and I started out in the Living Animal Room. We saw lizards, snakes, turtles, and more. From there we went to the Discovery Room – Sophia’s favorite place – where she was able to touch antlers, hold hooves, and see a spider legs up close. What I loved most about this room was that Sophia thought she was playing… but I knew that she was learning. This room provided a fun and safe way to interact with life and science that would otherwise be nearly impossible.

Next we went to the planetarium where many enjoy exploring the galaxy. We chose, however, to see the National Geographic special, Sea Monsters. This featured film follows one prehistoric, ocean-dwelling dinosaur family from start of their life to fossilization. The planetarium features a variety of educational movies, but you can always count on the Night Sky Tour for an awe-inspiring look at millions of stars, fascinating constellations, and unusual planets. For a limited time only, younger viewers can watch Big Bird and Elmo take an imaginary trip from Sesame Street through the starry night sky to the moon in One World, One Sky: Big Bird’s Adventure.

Many exhibits in the North Museum  - such as the Dinosaur Gallery (you can touch and examine dino claws, teeth, and bones) – are permanent, others are temporary. When we went, the temporary exhibit on display was Race: Are we so different? The exhibit confronts the misconceptions of race and investigates how human variation has shaped our culture and what the future holds for our society. The exhibit explores racism, equality, diversity, prejudice, social justice, ethnic and cultural differences, and ways to make things better.

Cabinet collections are featured on lower level of the museum. We found birds of every type and size – more than we could count. There were also minerals and precious rocks on display. Sophia enjoyed the Dichotomous Cabinet the most. From snakes to butterflies, pulling out each individual drawer revealed more surprises. In this area there’s also a Lego play station – Sophia liked that, too.

After all our exploring and discovering, we stopped at the onsite gift shop to check out souvenirs and science-related gifts. Sophia picked out a small dinosaur egg that, when submerged in water for 48 hours, will hatch. This inexpensive keep-sake will indeed remind her of her adventures at the Museum.

We had an enjoyable time and look forward to a return visit. Conveniently, the Museum is open every day of the week except Monday. For more information and pricing, visit www.northmuseum.org.

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Getting “the perfect shot”

Nearly every great, small business has extraordinary people behind it. Tashina Roberson and her business partner, Brian Donnelly, are those extraordinary people behind Studio 841, a photography studio located in Downtown Lancaster, that specializes in food, portrait, and wedding photography.

Tashina and associate photographer, Whitney Huff, have a knack for capturing candid moments – those human moments like laughter, warm embraces, and silliness that sometimes escape the camera in the rush to capture a posed, smiling face. They go to great lengths to get the perfect shot in the studio, in the city, on location, or in one of the great parks in the area.

I experienced Tashina’s passion for getting the perfect shot first hand as she took my two sons, wife, and I out to Rockford Plantation, a bucolic, historic Revolutionary-era 18th century home in the Lancaster County Central Park. With two young children (ages 5 and 1), we were just hoping to get them looking in the right direction and smiling at the same time. We got so much more.

Tashina was exceptionally patient through the entire session, mixing poses with moments for candid interactions. We posed as a family at some choice spots around the grounds. Then we just had fun, trying to get each other to smile, setting the boys free to play, and collapsing in laughter. I knew Tashina was capturing every special moment as she laid flat in the tall grass to get a photo of our boys rolling around. The entire time she remained composed and in control.

It’s clear to me that Studio 841 can meet anyone’s wishes for their photo session whether it’s a 30-minute portrait shoot, an all-day wedding, corporate head shots, or your wildest dream.

Next time you’re considering a photographer for an event or portraits, you’ll know one that will meet your dreams with a passion.

Below are photos by Tashina and her team. To learn more about Studio 841 and to see more of their work, visit them at www.eightfourone.com.

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Dairy Farming at Verdant View Farm

Summer is a wonderful time to take a trip to a dairy farm. My family did just that by taking the Farmland Fun Tour at Verdant View Farm in Paradise, PA. Located smack dab in the middle of Amish Country, Verdant View Farm offers visitors a chance to see what happens on a working dairy farm.

We met up with Patrick and Elise Fleming who give the Farmland Fun tours at Verdant View. It was a beautiful, sunny Saturday in July. Our tour was at 3:00 PM and it began right on time. Patrick introduced himself, shared the history of the farm, and then took us to meet our first animal friends of the day, the rabbits.

Another farm friend showed up around this time. We all got to meet Scooby, the farm dog. Scooby is a four year old Border Collie born whoon the 4th of July. Everyone fell in love with him. We learned all about his important jobs on the farm like keeping the goats where they belong and protecting the chickens from foxes.

Next Patrick took us on a tour of the barn where there was a special surprise - a hay maze for the children (unfortunately I was too tall to go through). The barn, built in 1923, contains no nails and all the beams were cut from just one tree. The kids learned why barns have two stories and got to feed some cows in the process.

Then Patrick handed out some corn and we went to feed the goats. We met two-day-old goat twins named Gilbert and Sullivan plus quite a few others that we were able to feed. As we were visiting the goats, the steam train from the Strasburg Rail Road puffed by. The railroad runs through the farm, so it is easy to get a good look at the train while you are visiting.

It was hard to leave the cute baby goats, but it was time to take the tractor-driven wagon ride around the farm (the wagon is wheelchair accessible so everyone can take part in the tour). We joined the folks in Elisa’s “Farmer’s Apprentice” tour as Patrick drove us to the highest point of the farm to see the “Verdant View.” Though Verdant View is not an Amish farm, it has Amish neighbors and some of the farm land is rented out to Amish farmers for growing tobacco. Patrick gave us an overview of the farm’s crops and answered questions about dairy farming.

Their Farmer’s Apprentice Program is wonderful. If your family wants more hands-on learning, you can sign up for one of four apprenticeships: cheese making, animal care, backyard chickens, and homemade ice cream. Our family did the Farmland Fun tour and not the Farmer’s Apprentice, so I can’t give lots of details about it, but I can tell you that the Apprentice group we saw got to feed the baby cows with a bottle!

After the wagon ride we met the chickens and ducks. The kids loved the chickens and even got to pick them up, but eventually we had to leave all those clucking hens to visit the heart of the dairy operation – the cows! Our kids were fascinated to see the cows up close and feed them. There was some “cow-licking” of hands, but since cows don’t have upper teeth there is no way for them to bite. (Don’t worry, there are hand washing stations at the farm so everyone can clean up real good before going home.)Our kids had so much fun feeding the cows that they forgot that Patrick said they could milk one. Down into the milking parlor we went. Anyone who wanted to try their hand at milking a cow could. Afterward, we went to see the baby calves.

After our farm tour, my daughter decided that she wanted to hold a rabbit (she was too scared the first time), my son wanted to swing from the large tree in the barnyard, and I decided to snap pictures of the Strasburg steam train as it passed by. We all washed our hands before leaving and said goodbye to Patrick and Scooby. The kids said their favorite part of the day was feeding the cows and the goats.

In addition to offering the Farmland Fun tours, Verdant View Farm is also a Bed and Breakfast. They’ve given people overnight experiences since 1967. If your family needs a quiet place to stay while visiting Amish country or Strasburg which is VERY close, this would be the place to do it. Lots of room options and a full breakfast every day except Sunday.

My family had a great time taking the Farmland Fun tour at Verdant View Farm and meeting Scooby and all his friends. We absolutely would visit again, but next time we’d like to do one of the Farmer’s Apprentice programs.

To learn more, visit www.farmlandfun.com.

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