HAL­LOWEEN A GOOD TIME FOR FARM VIS­ITS

On-farm at­trac­tions of­fer po­ten­tially lu­cra­tive, if chal­leng­ing, ad­di­tion to some lo­cal op­er­a­tions

The Woolwich Observer - - FRONT PAGE - FAISAL ALI

IT’S A PAR­TIC­U­LARLY CHILL­ING time of year for those liv­ing in the Water­loo Re­gion, and not just be­cause of the un­sea­son­ably cold weather. Hal­loween is around the corner; and com­bined with the fall har­vest, it’s a time of year that is ripe with op­por­tu­ni­ties for the en­ter­pris­ing farmer seek­ing ad­di­tional sources of rev­enue.

Crops and pro­duce are, of course, the main­stay of any agro-busi­ness. But there is a po­ten­tially lu­cra­tive, if chal­leng­ing, mar­ket out there in the re­gion for on-farm at­trac­tions as well, par­tic­u­larly amongst city-dwellers. From the clas­sic corn maze to the pick-your-own pump­kin patches, to pet­ting zoos and Hal­loween-themed ex­pe­ri­ences, fam­i­lies are keen to visit and en­joy the agrar­ian at­trac­tions of the coun­try­side.

Lo­cal farm­ers, for their part, have taken no­tice of that de­mand, like the Wil­mot-based Shantz Fam­ily Farm, lo­cated on 1544 Bleams Rd., Mannheim, which each year opens its gates and in­vited the pub­lic un­til the end of Oc­to­ber.

Eschew­ing with the Hal­loween ac­tiv­i­ties, the Shantz Farm aug­ments their farm-busi­ness with pub­lic at­trac­tions such as the “kid­die-sized” straw bale maze, wagon rides and pump­kin patches. They also of­fer school tours specif­i­cally geared for Kin­der­garten­ers and Grade 1 stu­dents, giv­ing kids a fun look at life on the farm.

“We have eight chil­dren, and we found grow­ing up that stuff was quite ex­pen­sive – to take them out and do­ing out­ings,” ex­plains owner Kevin Shantz, of the im­pe­tus be­hind of­fer­ing on-farm at­trac­tions.

“And so they missed out on quite a few things, and we don’t want fam­i­lies to miss out on the op­por­tu­nity to visit farms. So we try to open up our farm to the pub­lic free of charge, and we make our rev­enue from the pro­duce. We don’t charge our ad­mis­sion for our corn maze or to see the farm an­i­mals. But we’re hop­ing peo­ple will buy pro­duce.”

It’s a good way to bring in cus­tomers and build con­nec­tions be­tween farm­ers and their con­sumers, but Shantz cau­tions that op­er­at­ing and man­ag­ing the at­trac­tions is a heav­ily in­volv­ing and costly proposition as well. Farm­ers look­ing to spur on more vis­i­tors to the farm with at­trac­tions and the like need go into the busi­ness with both eyes open, he says.

Li­a­bil­ity in­surance alone can run into the thou­sands of dol­lars, while ex­tra staff are needed on site to su­per­vise vis­i­tors. Then there are the costs of equip­ment used in the at­trac­tions to fac­tor in, as well as a heav-

ily weather-de­pen­dant de­mand.

“It’s a tough,” says Shantz, on whether he would rec­om­mend the farm at­trac­tion busi­ness to his peers. “I pay over ten grand on your li­a­bil­ity for peo­ple to go through my corn maze and for me to drive them around the farm. So you have to be a cer­tain size to han­dle the in­surance cost of it, and the li­a­bil­ity of go­ing out on the farm.”

The points are mir­rored by Hugh Nau­man, of the St. Cle­ments-based Nau­man’s Farms. Co-run with his wife Anne at 3250 Hessen Strasse, Nau­man’s of­fers a va­ri­ety of on-farm at­trac­tions, from the large corn maze to the pump­kin sling­shot and “Straw Moun­tain.”

Like Shantz, Nau­man’s also opens their farms dur­ing the sea­son, and closes af­ter Oc­to­ber.

“You couldn’t have ev­ery other farm do it,” says Nau­man.“And I don’t think a lot of peo­ple want to deal with the pub­lic and that kind of stuff. And then you have to have park­ing. It’s just not a thing that ev­ery farm wants to do.”

“There’s more to this then peo­ple re­ally re­al­ize,” he adds.

But weath­er­ing the chal­lenges, Shantz says the at­trac­tions also of­fer a great way for the lo­cal farm to ad­ver­tise to the larger com­mu­nity.

“We’ve used the same sig­na­ture bale with the happy face on for 18 years now, and of course we have our name right be­hind that. So peo­ple get their pic­ture and we get free ad­ver­tis­ing when­ever they take a pic­ture, as well,” says Shantz. “We ob­vi­ously en­cour­age peo­ple to take pic­tures around the farm, and we find that a good form of ad­ver­tis­ing.”

Nau­man for his part doesn’t dis­cour­age any­one from open­ing their farm to vis­i­tors ei­ther, by of­fer­ing tours and ac­tiv­i­ties, but he does of­fer ad­vice: be pre­pared.

“I would never say no to some­one, but they’d bet­ter be pre­pared with, like, deal­ing with the pub­lic. That is prob­a­bly the big­gest [chal­lenge],” he says. “If they’ve never dealt with the pub­lic, they bet­ter be pre­pared to live with it. That’s go­ing to be the big thing.”

[VERON­ICA REINER / THE OB­SERVER]

St. Cle­ments-based Nau­man’s Farm opens its gates to the pub­lic each year with an of­fer­ing of sea­sonal at­trac­tions and ac­tiv­i­ties in the fall. While a good source of ad­di­tional busi­ness, though, op­er­at­ing on-farm at­trac­tions are not with­out their chal­lenges ei­ther.

Pick-your-own pump­kin patches of­fer a fun way to en­cour­age farm-gate sales.

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