Feb 23, 2023Agritourism convention bus tour visits central Texas farms
The Feb. 3-7 NAFDMA International Agritourism Association Convention & Expo in Austin, Texas, drew the highest turnout in nearly two decades.
More than 900 agritourism operators , including fruit and vegetable growers and farm retail store managers, attended, the highest since 2005, said Suzi Spahr, executive director.
The convention attracted participants from throughout the U.S., Canada, Britain and Australia, who crowded numerous educational sessions and the trade show floor.
More than 600 participants packed 12 buses which took them to central Texas agritourism and agritainment operations.
Click on photos to enlarge.
Sweet Eats Fruit Farm
The first stop was Sweet Eats Fruit Farm, east of Georgetown, northeast of Austin.
Sweet Eats grows peaches and nectarines as well as vegetables including romaine, iceberg, kale, parsley, spinach, celery, green and red cabbage and onions.
Jon Meredith, owner, welcomed participants in the agritainment operation’s large admissions area, which included video monitors showing the farm’s operations. Originally designed as a u-pick fruit farm in 2013, Sweet Eats began adding vegetables and agritainment as a hedge from crop risks. It attributes its large growth to its employees’ dedication and hard work.
“When it comes to the uniqueness of farming, we don’t have the family dynamics most of you have,” Meredith told tour members. “We have a strict hiring practice where we try to find the best of our area.”
Sweet Eats’ October fall festival attracts up to 70,000 visitors. Running the operation, which features an adventure farm and petting zoo, pig races, apple slingshots and u-pick strawberries and peaches, Meredith said he studied not only the best practices of the agritourism industry, but also researched amusement parks, to reach different demographics.
To discourage customer theft, Sweet Eats is moving to growing products customers can’t easily steal, including Christmas trees and flowers. It trimmed peach and nectarine production from 50 acres to 9 acres. Sweet Eats also grows romaine and iceberg lettuce, kale, parsley, spinach, celery, green and red cabbage and onions.
Sweet Berry Farm
At Sweet Berry Farm in Marble Farms, Texas, northwest of Austin, the Copeland family offers strawberry and pumpkin u-picking.
“In the spring, we grow strawberries, and pumpkins in the fall, with sunflowers in-between,” Dan Copeland, co-owner, told the group. “We started with 8 acres in 1999. Today, we have 150 acres. We are planning to do a total overhaul for the fall.”
The Texas Hill Country farm provides “good old-fashioned farm family fun” for visitors. Activities include scarecrow stuffing through a life-sized scarecrow, a scarecrow island hayride and a Texas-shaped hay maze.
During the spring, the farm hosts 6,000 public school children and 5,000 visit the farm’s fall celebration. At any given time, four generations of Copeland family members may be working the farm’s berries, pumpkins and tulips, or greeting consumers at a sunflower jungle, a goat treehouse and sand art buckets.
Robinson Family Farm
Visiting Robinson Family Farm in Temple, Texas, tour members saw how a traditional farming operation was transformed into a booming agritourism business. Brian and Helen Robinson’s family cattle farm, which dates to the late 1940s, transitioned over the years from field corn, hay and some fruits and vegetables from a garden to only cattle.
Raising five boys, the couple wanted to try something different and knew the local community needed more affordable family-oriented activities. In 2013, the Robinsons opened a pumpkin patch, attracting 5,000 guests the first season which grew to today’s 50,000 visitors.
The farm sells Christmas trees and added events including a sunflower festival. Their Easter event features helicopter egg drops. Agritainment activities include archery, hayrides, a tire mountain, playground, corn cannons, axe throwing with food trucks supplying meals.
“So many of you grow things,” Brian told the group. “We all share the same goal as our customers, to grow memories. We know at times this business can be scary for some, as change is hard and you’re not sure you’re making the right decision.”
TOP PHOTO: Agritourism is a big part of Sweet Berry Farm, a Marble Farms, Texas, strawberry and pumpkin u-pick.
Photos and story by Doug Ohlemeier