When fall colors and mountain vistas beckon to visitors, it can make for a magical and profitable combination for farmers. A U.S. Department of Agriculture study has found agritourism can add as much as $24,000 to a farm’s bottom line in a year.
That means fall is harvest time in more ways than one for some, said Sue Shelor, owner of Mountain Meadows Farm and Craft Market. “Because everybody wants to have a bale of straw out there, have some cornstalks on their front porch, get those pumpkins, get those gourds,” she said. “It’s like the last colorful hurrah before winter sets in.”
The latest USDA Census of Agriculture found 212 Virginia farms where pumpkins were grown on 2,310 acres. Almost all of them were raised for retail sale by growers like DeWayne Cassell of Patrick County.
“We start out the year with broccoli. We grow probably 8 to 10 acres of broccoli in the spring,” Cassell said. “We’ve got acres of blackberries we do in the middle of the summer, and then pumpkins and potatoes we do for our fall crop. We actually grow about 40 acres of pumpkins, from the little small miniatures to the 70-pound to 80-pound stuff. We sell maybe 15 percent of them here retail, and the rest of them are sold commercially.”
Shelor has been creating art from dried local gourds for several years. “I’ve got a serious passion for gourds,” she said. “There are no two alike, and they are fascinating to grow and watch what shape they are going to become. The colors are fantastic. You never know what you’re going to get.”
In addition to popular fall decorations, many farmers offer on-farm activities for visitors. Shelor also runs a fall music and craft festival with a self-designed corn maze as the centerpiece. There are vendors, music and plenty of pumpkins at the event, but it’s the corn maze that attracts children and adults alike into the fields, she said.
“We plant it late so it stays greener as long as possible. We come up with a design, and we start cutting it out in July. This particular year it took five days. We’ve always kept it musically themed because my husband is a musician. He’s been playing banjo since he was 5 years old.”