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Farm trend: Agritourism

Show seminar will discuss pros, cons of inviting visitors to property

The farmhouse is now a funhouse.

Growers nationwide are delving into the amusement business, adding attractions to create industry awareness – and extra revenue. Hayrides, mazes, animals, carnival food stations and similar lures are all part of what is called “agritourism.”

The trend has grown so much so that farmers will discuss it during a seminar at the 24th annual Fort Wayne Farm Show, which takes place Tuesday through Thursday at Memorial Coliseum.

VisitFortWayne, the area’s tourism agency, estimates the three-day event contributes nearly $2 million to the local economy. Organizers say the Fort Wayne exhibition is one the top five agricultural showcases in the country, based on the number of booths and attendance.

The agricultural extravaganza boasts 400 exhibits and other activities that occupy about 90 percent of the more than 211,700-square-foot Coliseum. Some 30,000 people attend annually.

Austin, Minn.-based Tradexpos Inc. runs the event, which some farmers are using to attract future visitors and not just gawk at the latest combine.

Charlie Presley is founder of Agritourism World in Salem, Ohio. The organization has tracked the industry for seven years and estimates that agritourism is a $700 million annual business.

“We became very aware that people will go to Orlando, New York, Vegas and take cruises, but there also is a large segment out there that wants to do something different, something simple and less hectic,” Presley said.

“Large parts of the nation’s population live in metro areas and have never been to a farm. What we discovered that while on vacation in other places, people wanted to visit farms.” is a database of farms that offer activities for the public.

“There wasn’t a central location people could go to find out which farms do this, so that’s one of our purposes,” Presley said. “For a lot of farms, agritourism is kind of a cash crop.”

Decatur farmer Chris Steele is one of the scheduled panelists at the Farm Show’s agritourism seminar. He grows corn, soybeans and pumpkins on 160 acres. Steele offers a corn maze, barrel train rides and a straw climbing mountain.

“We didn’t have the capital to become a big farm, but we love farming and want to keep doing it. So, we decided to capitalize on what we had.”

For the past four years, Steele and his wife, Marah, have added attractions each season and open their farm to the public for five weeks in the fall. They make $5,000 to $10,000 a weekend with up to 1,500 visitors.

“It’s great. The expense is very little because we already have most of the equipment, so we don’t need a lot of capital,” Steele said.

For example, erecting a straw climbing mountain is pretty easy when you have tons of hay on hand.

“We used to worry about harvesting corn, but now we worry about harvesting (visitors),” Steele said.

Farmers endeavoring to insert amusements, though, should know it’s not all fun and games, said Roy Ballard, a Purdue University extension educator who is the agritourism seminar moderator.

“There are things a farmer thinking about adding activities needs to know,” he said. “There are challenges they need to be ready for; like safety, convenience, restrooms and other things you didn’t have to worry about before but now you have people on your property.”

Liability insurance and similar issues have to be considered, Ballard said.

Steele said his annual insurance premiums have increased by $1,200. Although some farmers may have a hard time grasping agritourism, he thinks the benefits are worth it.

“We had a barn dance last year and we also do school tours,” he said, adding that classes are charged $5 per student. “It’s just a matter of learning to think a different way.”

If you go

What: Fort Wayne Farm Show
Where: Memorial Coliseum
When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday; 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday.
Admission: Free
Parking: $4 main lot; $8 preferred lot

Seminar highlights

11 a.m. Tuesday – “Crop Insurance & Marketing Options” in Appleseed Room A at Memorial Coliseum
11:30 a.m. Wednesday – Lunchroom event, “Federal Policy Effects on Agriculture” in Appleseed Room B
1 p.m. Thursday – “Agritourism” in Appleseed Room A

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