Fewer visitors but successful seasons
by Courtney Llewellyn
Wrapping up its series of agritourism roundtables last month, NAFDMA, the International Tourism Association, highlighted the success stories of three operations from the Midwest and the Northeast.The producers shared their resources, their ideas and the practical solutions that helped them not only survive but thrive in an unconventional year.
Debbie Patton of Lynd Fruit Farm in Utica, Ohio, kicked off this online roundtable. The farm offers U-pick berries, peaches, apples and pumpkins, a corn maze and a farm market. They also planted an eight-acre sunflower patch this year, and Patton said their sunflower business quadrupled, partially thanks to a successful social media campaign. They purchased a few Facebook ads and created a separate Facebook event (“S’Miles of Sunflowers”) just for their sunflowers – which garnered close to a million views.
“We went from a three-day U-pick schedule to a six-day schedule to relieve congestion,” Patton said. “Having the timed tickets worked out well. We also invested in three apple cannons, because we thought that would be a good draw, and we’re glad we did them.”
Earlier this year, they transformed their apple warehouse into a drive-thru, which was popular – even though their insurance agent wasn’t happy finding out about it after the fact. Patton recommended other producers check with their insurance companies before undertaking anything similar. They also provided a new curbside pick-up option, which they’ll continue going forward.
Lynd Fruit Farm also took advantage of outdoor space this year by relying on tents. “The tents gave us a lot of space to spread out throughout summer and fall. I recommend people start reserving them now for next year,” Patton said.
Even though they couldn’t host any large events this year – the goal was to get visitors in and out as quickly as possible – Patton noted it was a record-breaking year for them. “Most customers were just so happy we were open and so happy to have a place to go,” she said.
Farther west, Richardson Adventure Farm in Spring Grove, IL, celebrated the 20th anniversary of its corn maze business this year. In addition to “the world’s largest corn maze,” they feature zip lines, pig races, a pumpkin patch and bonfires. They have a Christmas tree farm as well. Ryan Richardson, representing the sixth generation on the farm, said this year they had to take a hard look at their traffic flow and figure out how to do more one-way traffic. Fortunately, doing so improved their efficiency and brought people to spots on the farm they hadn’t necessarily visited before, according to Richardson.
Unfortunately, being unsure of cash flow this year meant they put a lot of big larger projects on hold. As they got closer to summer, they began work on some smaller-scale projects without any major spending. “We added game-type items (jumping pillows, barrel swings, rope games) to spread out the crowds, and for the most part it went really well,” he said. “The Sanitizing Squad was a draw itself – people were taking pictures with them.” Wearing special vests and going through the farm regularly, the squad had a crime scene vibe to it. Richardson has every expectation the squad will be back in force next year.
As for Christmas tree season, the farm has moved some of their indoor operations outside under covered spaces for safety reasons. Although they’re utilizing a greater footprint using the outdoor spaces, they’re trying to maintain a similar experience as in years past for their visitors.
Finally, representing La Ferme Quinn just north of the border in Notre-Dame-De-L’Ile-Perrot, Quebec, Stephanie Quinn spoke about how the farm condensed a long-term plan into a fortnight out of necessity. Quinn Farm begins each year with its maple season before transitioning to asparagus, then U-pick berries, apples, pumpkins and Christmas trees.
“We had developed a five-year plan to overhaul our store, and we essentially did it in two weeks to give people a safe place to buy their groceries,” Quinn explained. (They’re currently investing in automatic sliding doors so customers won’t need to touch them.) They also opened an online store, which had strong sales early on. Quinn noted the farm still has people buying the majority of their groceries from them.
The space above the store would normally be full of rambunctious children’s birthday parties, but Quinn said they lost about 10% of their annual revenue without school groups and birthday parties this year – but they did see an increase in grocery sales and farm admission costs. That’s led to their profits actually being up 20% on the year.
“We decided when we took over the farm 10 years ago that we would focus on family experiences and families with young children,” Quinn explained. “This year, we shifted to a new target market – older adults with more disposable income. Now we need to figure out how to integrate those two groups together.”
Quinn Farm did manage to stay family friendly by hosting a brand new socially distant Halloween event this year, which was “hugely popular” and something they’ll definitely do again, according to Quinn.
Like the other farms, La Ferme Quinn cut back a little this year, opening only six days a week instead of seven. “We got through without being totally burnt out,” she said. But they do have questions they need to answer: Do they want to bring back school groups and birthday parties? Will they keep their regular grocery shoppers?
“We will keep the farm open over the winter with no cost of admission to give people a place to safely gather and hopefully result in some store purchases,” Quinn said.
Richardson Adventure Farm will be featured as part of NAFDMA’s Virtual Agritourism Summit in February. For more information, visit nafdma.com.