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HUDSON, Iowa --- Following directions from an Iowa farmer, especially if you're not one, can be like trying to find a needle in a haystack.

"Turn left at the big red barn past the place with the tall, blue silos. Go right by the creek, and it's the second place on the left with several grain bins."

Those headings describe how to get to nearly every farm in the state.

Jay and Jeanne Hansen have an easy way to direct people to their rural Hudson dairy farm and creamery.

"Stop at the white domes," Jay said.

Three rural skyscrapers --- silos --- do tower above the Hansen farm just west of town off County Road D35. However, it is two monolithic domes, serving as the couple's new home and Hansen's Farm Fresh Dairy Tour Center, that stand out.

The Hansens hosted an open house to show off the concrete structures on June 30. About 350 visitors got an up-close look at the domes and toured the farm and milk processing facilities.

Despite road construction in the area, people easily found the farm located at 8617 Lincoln Road. Since agritourism is a big part of the family's business, Jeanne said being unique is important.

"It's different. We're not like every other farm in the state," she said. "We stepped out of the box when we started processing milk, so we decided to step out again for our house" and tour center.

The Hansens, along with sons Brent, Blair, Brad and Blake, started marketing their own milk in 2004 to boost revenue so the family could farm together.

In addition to several varieties of fluid milk, the family sells ice cream, butter, cheese curds and other products from their own retail outlets in Waterloo and Cedar Falls, on the farm and in area grocery stores. Numerous eateries and institutions are also customers.

In the 1980s and '90s, the Hansens hosted a handful of tours a year. As the popularity of the family's milk products exploded, so did the demand for tours.

About 1,000 people toured the farm and creamery eight years ago. Last year, more than 3,000 paid $10 for a hands-on experience or $6 for walk-through tours. Kids 3 and under are free.

"It's kind of a circle," Jeanne said. "People go to the store, and they want to go to the farm to see where their food comes from."

The farm's repair shop previously doubled as a tour center and store. For safety and efficiency reasons, a dedicated tour center was necessary, equipped with a full kitchen that can also be rented out as a banquet hall.

Plus, Jay and Jeanne needed a new home because their previous farmhouse is being used by one their sons and his family.

The Hansens said they heard about concrete dome buildings from a friend. After a little research and a trip to Italy, Texas, to check out a company specializing in them, the couple decided to build domes.

Each circular structure has roughly 1,500 square feet of living space. The home and tour center/store share a common wall. A large garage, which houses vehicles and the tour trolley and tractor, and an exercise area is attached. A geothermal heating and cooling system was installed.

Jay said the cost was roughly the same as similar-sized stick-built structures. Plus, he said, the domes are more energy efficient and safer.

"They're pretty much tornado proof," Jay said. "The geothermal is probably a waste. It hardly runs."

Tour groups meet at the center, filled with educational displays and information about the family. A tractor-drawn trolley ferries people around the farm. Jeanne or other tour guides talk about dairy farming, equipment and people see cows and calves up close. Some get the chance to milk. Guests also meet the farm's wallaby mascots.

After the tour, which lasts about 1 1/2 hours, guests make butter and are treated to ice cream.

Andrea Geary, of the Northern Iowa Food and Farm Partnership based at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, said a visit to the Hansen farm visit is a must.

"At the basic level, the Hansens include an education component with their tour. They consider it their responsibility, and they do it very well," Geary said.

She said CNN ranked the farm as one of the top five ice cream tours in the nation.

"We (host) people from all over the world," Jeanne said.

The on-farm store is open daily from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. For tours, which are by appointment, call 939- 2187.

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Ag business reporter for the Courier

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