What started as a high schooler growing and selling pumpkins in a small patch has blossomed into a popular agritourism attraction in southwestern Wisconsin with thousands of visitors each autumn.
“This all got its start when I was young; my parents, Bruce and Judi, began raising vegetables to diversify their beef and hog farm,” explains Kyle Vesperman, who operates Vesperman Farms near Lancaster. “They started doing farmers markets and direct marketing back when it was the novel thing to do."
During high school, Vesperman worked on the farm and gardened, which led him to grow pumpkins on 3 acres.
"I would pick and sell them every day on my grandma’s front lawn in town," he recalls. "Once I graduated high school in 2001, I saw that people were interested in coming onto the farm. I thought it would be neat if people came to the farm and picked their own pumpkin rather than me picking all the pumpkins and bringing them to town. That year, we started giving hayrides on the farm and let people pick their own pumpkins.”
Corn mazes began appearing on the farm in 2002 and have been a big hit ever since then. Vesperman works with a Utah-based company to design and create a unique corn maze each year. The cornfield is planted twice in order to create a grid pattern. Once the corn is tall enough, the maze is laid out using flags as reference points, and corn in the pathways is eliminated. Not only is the grid beneficial for laying out the maze, but it also grows into thicker maze walls than if the cornfield were planted traditionally.
The number of activities and attractions offered at Vesperman Farms grows every year.
“We’ve taken time to do things right so that people are getting a good value when they visit,” says Vesperman. “A majority of our customers are young families with children. We offer a petting zoo, tire mountain, zip line, corn maze, pumpkin patch and hay rides, among other activities. When we first started in the agritourism business, it was just me and my parents. Now we have 50 employees during the height of our season working with the hay rides, attractions and kitchen.”
The most recent addition at Vesperman Farms is a commercial events building that was built to have an old, rustic barn feel. It offers ample room for large events, a commercial kitchen and retail space. Special events are a growing part of the business, because the new space allows the season for visitors to be extended far beyond the busy fall. Farm-to-table dinners, pizza nights and special holiday events have been hits with guests so far. The farm has also started booking parties, corporate events and weddings as far out as 2018.
In addition to the thousands of families who visit the farm each fall, about 1,500 elementary school students from surrounding schools make a trip every October. They are able to interact with plants and animals at Vesperman Farms in a fun, guided setting.
“When school groups come out to the farm, it gives them some sense of where their food comes from, how it grows and leaves an impression with them at a young age,” Vesperman explains. “You don’t realize how disconnected kids and their parents are from agriculture, even in places as rural as southwestern Wisconsin.”
Even though Vesperman is the fifth generation to manage his family's farm, his business isn’t the same as a traditional farm.
“We raise crops, but our focus is on entertaining and educating people," he says. "What makes this work fun and enjoyable is that our customers are here to have a good time. With all of the growth in this business and more people visiting us each fall, we’re excited to see where the future takes us.”
Giebel writes from Baraboo.