Pizza farms bake up homegrown joy

If you're hungry for a slice of rural life this summer, think "pizza" and start driving.

Midwestern farmers are making, baking and selling hundreds of pizzas each week, using ingredients they grow and products from neighbors. Locally milled grains, from-scratch sauces and just-picked veggies are part of the recipe.

So are wood-fired brick or stone ovens that heat a pizza in less than five minutes, but when baking happens one or two pies at a time, the wait may exceed an hour or two.

"Every week we see friends reuniting, couples out for a date, families unplugging and spending an evening outdoors," said Emily Fradenburgh, of Sawmill Pizza in Clear Lake, Wis. "We are thrilled that our guests enjoy the pizza and the experience."

What you buy is more than a meal because of the often scenic drive, remote location and come-as-you-are mindset. The typical pizza farm is not a restaurant. Pizza might be served only three or four hours per week. You don't reserve a table and aren't necessarily guaranteed a place to sit.

So the outing is more like a picnic where you bring plates, napkins, utensils, side dishes, beverages, lawn chairs or blankets — and maybe even a card table and Frisbee. Pack garbage and recycling bags too, and expect to clean up after yourself, as though visiting a state park.

Play it conservatively: Expect to pay in cash, leave the dog at home, don't let the kids run wild, and don't assume alcoholic beverages are sold or permitted.

Be respectful: These working farms are not petting zoos, farm equipment is not for climbing, and wire fences might be electrically charged

And despite the no-frills setting, expect to pay gourmet prices (as much as $30 per 16-inch pie) for a mix of conventional and unorthodox pizza choices.

"Don't be afraid to try a pizza that is outside of your regular comfort zone," advised Cliff Van Till, of Van Till Family Farm Winery in Rayville, Mo., where pizza offerings include Pesto Chicken Pear and Fire Roasted Apple Bacon.

Arrive early to avoid the disappointment of not getting fed. "We often sell out within an hour or two," noted Jeff Hawkins, of J.L. Hawkins Family Farm in North Manchester, Ind.

Don't be in a rush to leave. Plan to linger until sunset.

"This is a very casual dining experience that often feels more like a family get-together than a restaurant," said Pam Taylor, of The Stone Barn in Nelson, Wis.

"We view our pizza nights as a way for us to give back to the community," said Nate Sumner, of Heritage Prairie Farm in Elburn, Ill. "We get to enjoy the flavors and views of our magical farm each day. On pizza nights, we open our doors to share it with the world."

Who's serving what and where? Here is a quick look at options.

A to Z Produce and Bakery

N2956 Anker Lane, Stockholm, Wis.

Pizza nights began in 1998, making this farm among the first to bake and sell pizzas made with homegrown ingredients.

Popular: Also baked in the brick oven is sourdough bread, for sale at nearby food co-ops and grocery stores.