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Build it and they will come: Fair Oaks Farms agritourism endeavor proves the theory

Build it and they will come: Fair Oaks Farms agritourism endeavor proves the theory
Build it right and tell a good story, and people will flock to your farm to learn and be entertained.

Just in case you aren’t a movie fan or a baseball fan or both, "If you build it, he will come" is the line from a baseball-themed movie that was popular several years ago. Called "Field of Dreams," it’s about a farmer who once had hippie-type leanings who hears a voice and chases a vision. The voice tells him to build a baseball field in the middle of his cornfield in Iowa.

AGRITOURISM DONE RIGHT: Families of all shapes and sizes flock to Fair Oaks Farms to take tours, eat food and just enjoy the fun activities there.

The farmer builds it, and "he" comes. "He" is the ghost of famous baseball player Shoeless Joe Jackson, and with him come the ghosts of other great baseball players from the past, including the star character’s father. Flocks of people come, too. They want to experience something nostalgic, something American — something that makes them and their children feel good.

If you’re into hitting a ball around a baseball diamond, you can still visit the field where "Field of Dreams" was filmed near Dyersville, Iowa.

Back in Indiana, the management of Fair Oaks Farms in Jasper and Newton counties may not be into baseball, but perhaps they saw the movie. First, they built large dairy operations where there were no dairies before. Then, once the dairies were established, they built a facility that the public could visit to learn.  It proved popular, so they kept building tourist-related attractions.

Today their tourist operation includes The Dairy Adventure, The Pig Adventure, The WinField Crop Adventure, a small restaurant and a much larger, upscale family restaurant. A poultry adventure project is supposed to be in the works, along with perhaps a hotel and water recreation center. There is a gas station with the Fair Oaks Dairy theme near the facility, and even a filling station selling natural gas produced by methane digesters utilizing manure from the dairies.

They continue to build, and people continue to come.

Lessons for others

Here are five lessons that seem obvious from the Fair Oaks Farms example:

1. Attract urban and suburban people. Animals are an especially big hit and draw lots of people to Fair Oaks. However, The Crop Adventure, which opened this summer, is also drawing big crowds.

2. You can charge healthy prices if you deliver quality experiences. You don’t get into any of the Fair Oaks attractions for free, by any means. But people continue to come because the tours are top-notch. They both educate and entertain.

3. Keep young families in mind. Many displays in each of the adventures at Fair Oaks Farms are interactive, and many are aimed at young children, ages 6 or under. Other displays are for kids age 6 to 12, and still others target older visitors.

4. Don’t cut corners. The displays in all the adventures are first-class. Paying customers visit a working dairy and working hog farm, but lots of planning allowed management to set up operations that can still function as livestock farms while serving as educational pieces and tourist attractions at the same time.

5. Leave them wanting more. A year and a half ago my wife and I took our two oldest grandchildren, then ages 5 and 2, to The Dairy Adventure and The Pig Adventure. Ask our grandson, now nearly 7, where he wants to go for vacation, and it’s not Holiday World or King’s Island. It’s "the place with the cows and neat things to do." It’s Fair Oaks Farms. Hook 6-year-olds, and they will come! And they will bring parents and grandparents with them!

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