Aug 5, 2010
North Carolina farm sells an experience

By Derrek Sigler, Assistant Editor

“You’re not just selling fruits and vegetables anymore, you’re selling an experience,” said Doug Carrigan of Carrigan Farms in Mooresville, N.C. “I could sell a gallon of strawberries, but if I sell an experience, that is what will bring that person back and get them to tell everyone they know about their experience and get them to come too.”

Sounds like good advice from a farm that, like many others, has seen its share of ups and downs – but, lately, is seeing things get better.

“Farmers don’t farm to get rich,” Carrigan said. “They farm because they love the land and love farming. We’re just trying to make a comfortable living and get by. So far, we’re getting by pretty good.”
How does he do that? By being good at reading people. Take his ponds. A while back, someone commented on how pretty his two irrigation ponds were. One thing led to another and he opened his quarry to the public.

“There aren’t many private parks people can rent for functions,” Carrigan said. “We cleaned out a rock quarry on the backside of the property that had filled with water. It was very scenic and is very private. We now host weddings and other private parties.”

One day in June, there was an office picnic going on back in the quarry. Doug grilled chicken and pork while directing his employees to get the food services set up for the party. Carrigan Farms also provides catering. It’s just one more way of meeting his customers’ needs, he said.

“I was letting any caterers come in for the parties we were booking,” he said. “As people were leaving, I’d hear them say that the place was beautiful, but the food was awful. That got me to thinking that we should either cater the events ourselves, or only allow in a few caterers who were better than we were.”

Doing most of his own catering gave Carrigan a new way to sell his crops. Instead of selling a gallon of strawberries from his fields, he can now get the same amount of money for a serving. The same goes for his tomatoes and asparagus.

Another part of the experience that Carrigan Farms sells is pick-your-own fruits and vegetables. He has strawberries, asparagus, pumpkins and apples.

“The apples are not the latest and greatest varieties,” Carrigan said. “I have Red Delicious and Golden Delicious and have had for a while. I still do well with them because I focus on making what I have taste great. Those apples didn’t get to be so big in the market at one point in time by not being great-tasting apples. Sometimes, people just need a little reminder.”

Along with taking care of his trees and produce, Carrigan takes care of his land. He is strictly no-till and has very sparse equipment.

“I don’t even own a plow,” he said.

His pumpkin patches are grown on land that is allowed to grow wild with weeds. He then sprays that and kills it all back. Just as the weeds start to make a comeback, he brush-hogs the field, giving the pumpkins a fresh bed of organic mulch to grow on. This gives him nutrient-rich soil.

The pumpkins are a great way to get people in the door.

“A lot of people come out to pick a pumpkin with their kids,” Carrigan said. “Then the kids have kids and bring their kids back. And while people are here, they learn about the quarry and the other things I offer. It just keeps spreading by word of mouth. Ensuring quality in everything we do here comes first, and that builds the reputation.”

If you show Carrigan a market he hasn’t tapped into yet, he’ll try to find a way to do it. Take the haunted trail, for instance. He had some land that wasn’t really good for anything other than being scenic. He turned it into a haunted trail to capture the teen and 20-something market. They come out later with kids of their own and pick pumpkins – or get married at the quarry.

“It used to be just farming,” Carrigan said. “We ran a dairy farm here when I was a kid. Then I started selling produce at the side of the road. That turned into a farm market, which then spawned what I’m doing now. This is agritainment.”

So what’s next for Carrigan Farms? He felt that was the most important question and one all growers should be asking themselves on a daily basis. For Carrigan, it’s a rough timber barn that he’ll use to expand the amount of people he can hold for private parties, as well as give him an option for winter events.

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