People have long been visiting the country to pick their own fruit.
But these days, there are many more activities enticing tourists to the farm.
Farmers are finding unique and innovative ways to attract city slickers,
not only to bolster income but also to promote agriculture and rural living.
From farmhouse bed-and-breakfast operations to winery tours, specialized
product sales and Halloween attractions, farmers are taking a chance on tourism.
At nine years of age, Jerry Howell, living on a pig and chicken farm, decided
to sell a few pumpkins from a wheelbarrow. Decades later, he's running the
Howell Family Pumpkin Farm, relying completely on revenue from visitors.
"I realized, heck at nine I'd made 28 bucks. So, the next year I asked
my dad to plant more pumpkins and that year I sold a wagon load," says Howell.
"It just kept getting bigger."
A jack-o-lantern display in the 1980s was so successful that the family
started school tours and wagon rides. They also added a 3,000-square-foot
haunted barn and a 25-foot robotic pumpkin dinosaur called Pumkinosaurus Rex.
There are pony rides, hay romps, a pumpkin catapult, animal petting areas,
pumpkin carving demonstrations, scarecrow displays, puppet shows and a corn
"This [agritourism] is now our only source of income. There are no more
chickens or pigs and we make all of our money in one month [October]," he
While the Howells rely entirely on agritourism, Mike Bose has successfully
added a corn maze component to his existing turkey and vegetable farm operation.
"My family has been farming for over 100 years and been fighting for market
share. This is a way for us to ensure viability of the farm and to bring people
back out to the farm -- to connect between urban and rural communities."
Picking unique themes for the corn maze has garnered media attention, which
Bose considers the best marketing tool.
"Ending up on the news does more good than anything and giving to charity
is another way to get attention," says Bose. His corn maze logos have included
golf, football and hockey themes, as well as a bucking bronco.
Visitors come from around the world. The maze also attracts youth and
church groups, birthday parties and other special events. "We do really big
numbers in September and October. It's big business," says Bose.
Steve and Dorothy Enger open their 1,600-acre North Dakota farm to the
public annually through the fall months. The couple expanded into agritourism
as a means of additional income.
Known as Fall Family Fun on the Farm, attractions include a haunted house,
indoor games, face painting, miniature golf and cow milking -- all to supplement
the growing of carrots and pumpkins. "It is treated as any other enterprise
on the farm," says Dorothy Enger.
And it began quite by accident.
"We were working with our church youth group and decided to have a Halloween
party at our farm to raise money for [a charity]. It seemed like a lot of
work to do for just our church for one night, so we opened it up to the public.
People came and said they liked it and asked us to do it again. It has grown
each year since," says Enger.
Adding "agri-entertainment" makes for a very busy fall at the Enger farm.
"It gets very hectic at times because the crops we raise and the fall activities
in our yard are all taking place at the same time as harvest. It makes for
very short nights of sleep and sometimes not even going to bed," she says.
Each year, something new is added and is always home-made and self-financed.
"We find it virtually impossible to get finances for this. Lenders frown
on it and so do insurance companies. One better be prepared to have the means
to start themselves," says Enger.
And while branching into agritourism has proven successful, Howell says
he sees the need to further diversify. "We've been realizing that all our
eggs are in one basket and we've had a couple of rainy Octobers, so we're
developing singing chickens as a side business."
Howell is building animatronic chickens that pop out of crates. Chick-n-motion
products will be marketed to other entrepreneurial farmers who have expressed
interest in this type of attraction.
However, he says agritourism isn't for everyone.
"It's for people who like people...because at times the large crowds can
be very stressful. It's not for all farms."
Enger agrees. "People who get into agritourism are a different-thinking
kind of people than the norm. They are energetic, creative, jack-of-all-trades
kind of people. One can't afford to hire all that is to be done.
"They need to work with and understand marketing, construction, be people-oriented
and be willing to start from the ground up and build the business just like
they did with their traditional farm," she says.
While diversification is important for added income, farmers feel strongly
that there should also be an educational component to agritourism operations.
"Seventy percent of the population used to have ties to the farm, which
was huge, but now it's just two percent," says Howell.
"We are teaching what farms are all about, how plants grow, and that we
need bees for pollination, etc. A lot of people don't get exposed to it all."
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