If you’re a closet farmer or just a fan of off-the-bush produce, Sumter’s family owned U-pick farms and farmers’ markets are a must-see/must-do. Start bright and early at the Brownwood Farmers’ Market, open Saturdays from 9am to 1pm. Take I-75 to Exit 329. Head east toward Wildwood for a couple of miles and then turn left on Main Street. The market is a little more than a mile north, on the right hand side of the road.
Berry season is April to June, so if you’re here with us for the spring, you’re in for a treat. Head back south on 301 for about 9 miles, then turn left on 471, which runs through Sumterville. In 7.2 miles, turn left onto Highway 48 and take it through Center Hill for 4.2 miles. Turn right onto County Road 702. About a mile down on the left you’ll find the Center Hill Berry Patch, a great U-Pick farm with big, juicy blackberries and four different kinds of blueberries. You can also see llamas, sheep, horses, cows and donkeys grazing in the fields, and ostriches and emus doing whatever ostriches and emus do.
After a couple of buckets of berries and a few snapshots with the emus for Facebook, head over to the Cypress House Ranch B&B. This rustic little inn is more than just a place to sleep. It offers trail rides, riding lessons, a swimming pool and breathtaking scenery. All the rooms are upstairs, so you’re guaranteed a good view. They’re closed from June 1st-August 15th, so plan accordingly.
For dinner, take a quick trip back up to Bushnell or try one of the local restaurants like Critic’s Choice, a quaint local establishment with a Hollywood motions picture theme. Then spend the evening socializing around the ranch’s huge fire pit.
Wake up bright and early and head downstairs for some breakfast. It’s going to be a wild day. The Florida Bass Conservation Center is a fantastic place to learn about Florida’s efforts to protect our freshwater ecosystem. It’s open Monday-Friday from 9 AM to 3 PM, and self-guided tours are available all day. There’s an awesome aquarium that overlooks the hatchery itself that allows you to get up close and personal with Florida’s famous largemouth bass. There’s even a catch-and-release stocked pond if you want to try your hand at catching a few. Just go back to Bushnell, continue west on County Road 48 and turn right onto County Road 471. You’ll drive through Webster. When you cross County Road 50, the Conservation Center is about 5 miles south on the left.
The Conservation Center is smack in the middle of the Richloam Wildlife Management Area. The WMA has hundreds of trails, great hunting and fishing, and some of Florida’s best wildlife watching. Grab your picnic basket and go exploring. Be careful! The WMA is open to hunters, so check with the Fish and Wildlife Commission to be sure of the safety rules (http://myfwc.com/media/2516248/Richloam.pdf).
You can easily spend the whole day enjoying the WMA, but if you’re looking for variety, there are frequent shows and events at the Sumter Equestrian Center, one of Florida’s up-and-coming equestrian showplaces. This beautiful, family owned facility is host to everything from hunter/jumper and dressage competitions to 4-H shows and draft horse pulls. Travel back north on 471 to 48, turn left and go back to Bushnell. Turn left at the flashing light at Seminole Avenue. The Equestrian Center is about seven miles on the right.
If it’s Saturday, you’ll want to check out the Florida International Teaching Zoo in Bushnell. They’ve got amazing animals, a rookery filled with migratory birds, tours throughout the afternoon and a predator feeding at 4pm. The zoo is north of Bushnell, about 15 minutes from the Equestrian Center and the Cypress House Ranch.
After two full days of wild adventure, catch a bite to eat in Bushnell and hit the hay in one of the nearby hotels or the Bushnell Bed and Breakfast.