Apr 23, 2012
Virginia farm focuses on fall entertainment

Fall is prime time for Belvedere Plantation.

The Fulks family, which runs the Fredericksburg, Va., farm and agritourism enterprise, spends all winter, spring and summer preparing for the busy season – when about 50,000 people visit the farm between late September and early November, said Donnie Fulks. He runs the business with his wife, Donna, and sons Ryan and Ian.

The plantation, which sits on 645 acres today, goes back to the 1760s. During the American Revolution, Col. William Dangerfield, who owned Belvedere at the time, supplied George Washington’s army with provisions from his farm. The colonial militia trained there. In the 1860s, several Civil War battles were fought in and around Fredericksburg, according to Donnie.

McKendree Fulks, Donnie’s grandfather, purchased Belvedere in the 1960s. Planting strawberries, he transformed it into a u-pick operation in 1972. Donnie started managing the direct-marketing side of the farm in the 1980s. At the height of the u-pick operation, there were more than 20 acres of strawberries. That part of the business closed down three years ago for economic and labor reasons, Donnie said.

The family first planted pumpkins in 1983 as a way to extend direct-marketing sales. The pumpkin business has since grown to be the centerpiece of the farm’s crops. The family grows about 30 acres of pumpkins today, along with some grain crops, he said.

Most of the farm’s visitors come from Fredericksburg and other parts of northern Virginia, with some from Richmond and some from Washington, D.C., which is about an hour away. Fredericksburg is a popular area for Civil War tourism, Donnie said.

The Fulks hire about 200 employees in the fall, mostly for the market and agritourism stations. They also host school tours during the week, which can mean visits from up to 1,500 kids per day, Donnie said.

When members of the North American Farmers’ Direct Marketing Association visited Belvedere in February, employees Barbara O’Gara and Joell Palmer gave an example of how they keep kids occupied.

There’s the “pollination station,” where they show children how plants and bees work together to pollinate pumpkins. On top of the science lesson, the kids get to dance like bees and pretend to pollinate a flower. At the end, they get a free pumpkin. The whole process takes 10 minutes at most and keeps the kids moving – exactly what they need, Palmer said.

The plantation offers many other agritourism activities, too. Visit www.belvedereplantation.com for more information.

By Matt Milkovich, Managing Editor

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