Apr 7, 2007Pumpkin Farm Expands Its Options
Twenty-five years ago, Ralph and Janice Jutte bought Pigeon Roost Farm in Hebron, Ohio, about 25 miles east of Columbus.
They bought the farm because they wanted to provide their three kids with a strong work ethic. Ralph Jutte grew up on a farm, and he wanted to share that experience with his children.
“We started a farm market,” Jutte said. “Our children sold vegetables in the front yard. It gave them an opportunity to interact with people and make some money.”
The 80-acre farm wasn’t large enough for commodity crops, so the family chose to go into specialty crops. At first, the farm grew mostly melons and vegetables, but it changed direction when the kids grew up and moved out, he said.
Pigeon Roost maintained its specialty crop approach, but changed its focus to the Halloween marketing season, now the second largest marketing season after Christmas, Jutte said.
The farm now grows 20 acres of fall-related produce, including 15 acres of pumpkins and two acres of squash and gourds. There are 17 varieties of pumpkins, and a variety of squash and gourds. Popcorn and Indian corn also are grown.
“We have heirloom squash, the ones you can’t find in the supermarkets,” he said. “They’re used for decoration as well as eating.”
Almost all of the farm’s pumpkins are sold retail. They were originally separated and sold by size, but the farm switched to selling by the pound last year, which makes harvesting easier, Jutte said.
“Hard-shelled gourds are really popular right now,” he said. “People come from 100 miles away to get these.”
The farm started another evolution when Jutte retired from his full-time job in 1997. He and Janice joined the North American Farmers’ Direct Marketing Association and finally had time to expand the farm’s services.
“You get just a host of new ideas,” he said. “People in our business are pretty willing to share.”
By expanding its agritourism activities, Pigeon Roost has more than tripled its business since 1997. According to Jutte’s estimate, 20,000 to 30,000 people visit the farm during the six-week period between mid-September and Halloween.
The farm’s focal point is the huge, old barn, filled with farm antiques. Another big draw is the Great Pumpkin Fun Center, which is still growing. The center includes a corn maze, straw tunnel, slide, large rocking horses, a Conestoga corn box, play areas and rabbits, geese, ducks and goats, according to the Web site, www.pigeonroostfarm.com.
“Produce sales have started to level off,” Jutte said. “We’ve been concentrating on entertainment activities.”
All the activities were originally mixed together, but the Juttes recently separated them into different theme areas to add value. They broke off the entertainment area from the rest of the farm and started charging admission. The farm itself is still free.
The last few years have seen continued growth. A new building went up last year. The farm’s retail area was doubled and play areas have been expanded. There are live bands and plenty of food.
“It’s a working farm,” he said. “It’s a good experience for families.”
Two years ago, Pigeon Roost started hosting corporate outings. It can hold daylong events of up to 1,500 people. Jutte would like more time to devote to outings, he said.
According to the Web site, the farm was named after the passenger pigeon, once the most abundant bird in the world, but now extinct.