DIVERSITY FUELS THE FARM
CULTIVATING AN ENTREPRENEURIAL SPIRIT LEADS TO NEW FARM ENTERPRISES.
When Mitch and Dawn Lazenby took over their family’s cotton farm in 1990, the price of cotton was poor. In their community near Auburn, Alabama, farms are small and crop diversity is often limited. The Lazenbys knew they needed to broaden their horizons in order to stay on the farm.
“In our part of the state, our weather can be very wet or it can be very dry,” says Mitch Lazenby. “We needed a diverse crop rotation in order to spread our risk.”
They experimented first by adding winter wheat and peanuts to their cotton farm. They had enough success with a three-crop rotation to add more crops. Today, the Lazenbys’ rotation on 2,000 acres includes cotton, winter wheat, soybeans, corn, peanuts, and sesame seeds. They grow cover crops besides.
Their efforts to diversify didn’t stop with crops. Imagination combined with a watchful eye took over, and the Lazenbys opened the doors of opportunities as they appeared.
In addition to their diverse cropping operation, they run a cowherd of 150 head, and with a partner, they operate a bull-development center. Besides these enterprises, their farm features agritourism activities offering recreation, on-farm weddings, and educational events.
“We’ve always had an open mind-set right from the start,” says Lazenby. “We’ve tried never to say no to opportunities as they have come along. Diversifying has helped us continue farming and living a lifestyle that has much intrinsic value.”
Beyond reaping the economic benefits of diversifying into agritourism, the Lazenbys believe this enterprise offers a way to model to a nonfarming population the core values ideally inherent in family farms; namely, integrity, a work ethic, and respect for others.
“Our agritourism events give us a nice tool to tell our story and to advocate for agriculture,” says Lazenby. “It also gives us a way to secure a place – a presence – in the life of our community.”
The Lazenbys started their agritourism enterprise by offering a pumpkin patch for visitors to pick their own pumpkins during the month of October. The patch also features a children’s playset, which Lazenby crafted from an old cotton picker.
Building an on-farm event center broadened the Lazenbys’ agritourism opportunities. The heated building offers 9,000 square feet of space, a kitchen, bathrooms, and a large rock fireplace. To keep construction costs affordable, the Lazenbys did most of the work themselves.
The center, combined with a manicured pecan orchard backed by a seasonally picturesque cotton field, gives the Lazenbys the resources needed to host 50-some weddings annually. They have depended only on word of mouth to grow this particular business activity.
“We also work with Auburn University, which books our event center for some of its training seminars,” says Lazenby. The university is only about a 15-minute drive from their farm.
The Lazenbys have further diversified the use of their event center by holding a livestock auction that serves to add value to their bull-development enterprise.
“Inside the event center, we held a video sale for bulls,” says Lazenby. “Before the sale, we sent out DVDs and sale catalogs telling about the cattle. We got a huge response. A lot of prospective customers attended, and the sale went well.”
The black Angus bulls come from the Lazenbys’ herd and the herds of the breeder-cooperators who have their bulls custom-
Mitch Lazenby believes a range of enterprises, including peanuts (far left), cotton (left), wheat, soybeans, corn, cover crops, sesame seeds, cattle, and agritourism, cuts risk for his farm.