What do you do when you farm near a metropolitan area, surrounded by thousands of people who know nothing about agriculture? You have three choices: You can throw in the towel and look for somewhere to farm with fewer people. You can stay, and gripe about traffic and trash in your fields. Or you can turn those thousands of people who need education about agriculture into an opportunity.
Joe and Amy Kelsay, Whiteland, Ind., chose the last option. Joe notes that they decided several years ago that inviting people to the farm, even charging them to come, might just be a win-win for everyone. Years later, despite all the hard work and occasional headaches, he still feels the same way.
Amy, a former Extension educator, hosts school groups at various times throughout the year, making sure the kids enjoy themselves but also learn what it’s like to be on a real, working farm. Each year in October, the Kelsays open the farm to families on weekends and on weekdays during two prime fall-break weeks for schools. They provide part-time employment for several high school kids.
Maybe it’s not quite “build it and they will come,” the impetus for building a baseball diamond in a cornfield in the movie “Field of Dreams,” but they come by the carload, especially when the weather cooperates.
A corn maze has always been a staple in October, Joe says. The maze features a different design each year. This year it was an old-fashioned barn and silo. The Kelsays include posters with ag facts and a simple ag quiz at various spots throughout the maze.
“We’ve even had families who get competitive about who can get all the answers,” Joe says, laughing. “Some people really get into it.”
A straw bale maze, built of big bales, is a favorite for kids, along with an inflatable jumping pad. They also provide activities for younger kids.
The Kelsays sold their dairy cows in late 2018 and dispersed of dairy equipment at auction in April 2019. So, 2019 was the first fall without an active dairy to attract visitors. They still came.
“We adapted a bit, adding animals of various kinds in pens in the alley of the freestall barn so parents could introduce their children to different farm animals,” Joe explains. They also turned the former milk room that housed huge bulk tanks into a play area for younger children.
There’s also a hayride in the evenings during the fall. “We come here because it’s more than just a place to buy pumpkins or apples,” said one grandma, huddled with her grandchildren on the hay wagon. “The kids really enjoy these activities, and it’s just neat to be out on a farm.”
You think that grandmother, a consumer, will think twice before she bites on an ad bashing agriculture? I do. Advocating for agriculture is a side benefit of agritourism, if it’s done correctly.
Based on what the Kelsays report, you won’t get rich hosting nonfarm people on your farm. But it’s more than just about making money. They say it’s about spreading the message and supporting the community.
We agree. Agritourism works.
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