Mar 19, 2012Family farm’s future linked to agritourism
Agritourism has become a way of life for Chesterfield Berry Farm and the family that runs it.
About 10 years ago, the Mosely, Va., farm’s u-pick sales started declining, said Shannon Mangnuson, daughter of owners Aaron and Betty Goode. Mangnuson’s siblings Russ Ellis, Jake Goode and Lauren Goode help run the farm.
Trying to figure out what to do, the family started attending North American Farmers’ Direct Marketing Association conferences.
“Once we saw what everybody else was doing, we were like, ‘Wow we can do this,'” Mangnuson said.
When they held their first big fall festival, about 20,000 people showed up in one weekend.
“We were so excited,” Mangnuson said. “We knew from then on that we were on the right path.”
These days, a couple thousand people show up on weekends starting in mid-September. By the time pumpkin season rolls around in October, tens of thousands of people are on the farm. They come from all over – including nearby Richmond, North Carolina and Washington, D.C., she said.
Fall is a much busier time than spring, but they’re trying to make strawberry season just as popular as pumpkin season, Mangnuson said.
By now, the farm has all kinds of agritourism attractions. The most popular are the corn maze, paintball range and corn cannon (it’s a strawberry cannon in strawberry season). Kids like the wagon and barrel-train rides, Mangnuson said.
The family also hosts school tours, birthday parties, corporate events and, starting this year, a “behind-the-scenes” tour of the farm. The tour was Mangnuson’s idea, Aaron Goode said.
Visitors are showing more of an interest in learning how the farm’s crops are grown. They want to observe the planting, harvesting and packing processes. As a result, the family decided to transition a 7-acre plot to organic (it should take three years to become certified) and plant crops like garlic, lettuce, herbs and tomatoes. The plan is for customers to ride around the plot in a wagon and observe the life cycle of those crops, Aaron said.
They’d like to plant more organic crops in the future, and also get some free-range chickens, Mangnuson said.
The Goodes started the farm in 1983 by planting pumpkins, then progressed to strawberries and blackberries. Some crops were sold from the on-farm store, some wholesale and some u-pick. Today, they grow about 50 varieties of vegetables and fruit, she said.
After a dispute with his brother last fall, Aaron had to find a new produce market in a hurry. He found an old grocery store in Brandermill, Va., about 15 miles from his farm. It opened in November – not the best time of the year to open a new farm market, he said. Many customers were delighted with the move, however, since the new market – now in a suburban area – is closer to them.
The new market will be open year round, unlike the old market. It’s going to take some time to get used to, but the family feels good about the move. They’re looking forward to spring and strawberry season, Aaron said.
Eventually, they’d like to add a meat department, bakery and other things they couldn’t add to the old market, he said.
For more information, visit the farm website.