News / USA

Halloween Pumpkins are Serious Farm Business

Rise in tourism helps struggling American farms

Farm tourism almost tripled nationwide between 2002 and 2007, when it was worth about $600 million.
Farm tourism almost tripled nationwide between 2002 and 2007, when it was worth about $600 million.

Multimedia

Audio

Farmers looking for ways to stay profitable are finding a growing source of income in farm tourists.

Especially near urban centers, welcoming visitors is becoming increasingly lucrative while raising crops and livestock are becoming less so.

Autumn is a particularly popular time for farm tourism. This weekend's Halloween celebration of all things scary draws visitors to scenic farms around Washington, DC, to pick pumpkins to carve into jack-o-lanterns.

Pumpkin picking fun

On a recent weekend afternoon, a steady stream of people takes the tractor ride out to the pumpkin patch at Brookfield Pumpkins in Thurmont, MD.

Laine Cliber is here with her brother, sister and parents. She says she is looking for "a tall, orange pumpkin with a long handle." She ends up with a squat, green one with a short handle. But she seems happy with it anyway. The family has a good time in the afternoon sun. They spend more than 70 dollars on four large pumpkins and some smaller gourds.  

It has been a good day for Mary Jane Roop, whose family runs the farm. It was a dairy farm until six years ago, when they sold their herd of 300 cows.

Business, weather challenges

Small dairy farms across the country have been shutting down. In about the last 10 years alone, the United States has lost about a third of its dairy farms.

"Many commodities in agriculture have cycles," Roop says, "but this cycle in the dairy industry has been very deep and very long, and it's been very hard on the American dairy farmer."

The Roop family now raises cows for other dairy farms. After getting out of the dairy business, the Roops switched to raising corn and soybeans. But this was a bad year.

"We had a tremendous drought this year. Our corn yields and soybean yields are down substantially," she says.

Mary Jane Roop used to run a dairy farm but now relies increasingly on tourists to boost profits.
Mary Jane Roop used to run a dairy farm but now relies increasingly on tourists to boost profits.


Pumpkin profits


But the pumpkins thrived in the hot, dry weather.

More importantly, Roop says people want to come pick them.

"The dry weather will affect the crop yields," she says, "but it will not affect the people coming to the farm."

She says pumpkin sales will make up only about 10 percent of the family's income this year. But in a year when other revenue sources are down, every bit helps.

In today's global economy, when farmers face competition from growers overseas, experts say many farmers are finding that welcoming visitors is a good way to help the bottom line.

In addition, urban encroachment on rural areas often puts pressure on farmers to sell their land for development. But some farms near Washington, DC, are capitalizing on the crowds of city folk looking for some fresh air, says Kellie Boles, who runs agriculture development programs for Loudoun County in the neighboring state of Virginia.

"If our wineries are seeing over 400 people on a single day, and our farmers are seeing 3,000 people on a weekend, that's got to be translating into financial benefit for them," Boles says.

Farms near Washington, DC are attracting city people. Farmers in nearby Loudoun County, Virginia, draw about 3,000 people each weekend.
Farms near Washington, DC are attracting city people. Farmers in nearby Loudoun County, Virginia, draw about 3,000 people each weekend.

Growing business

It's hard to know exactly how big that financial benefit is, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture says farm tourism nationwide was worth about $600 million in 2007. That's nearly triple the figure from 2002.

Boles says the growth comes as increasingly health- and environment-conscious Americans try to learn more about how their agricultural products are raised.

"The kids are going out in the fields and they're picking pumpkins and they're picking apples, and I think it inherently serves as an educational tool to the next generation about where our food does come from," she says.

That makes farm tourism good for the farmers and for the tourists, says Mary Jane Roop.

"We have families that have come back 15 years in a row," she says. "And to us, that says something: That we're meeting a special need for them, and they're meeting a special need for us."

Visitors get to enjoy a fall afternoon in the pumpkin patch. And the Roops get to continue farming.

You May Like

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

China to Open Stock Markets to Pension Funds

In unprecedented move, government to soon allow local pension funds to invest up to $94 billion in domestic shares More

Magical Photo Slides Show Native Americans in Late 1800s

Walter McClintock spent 20 years photographing the Blackfoot Indians and their vanishing culture at the dawn of the modern age More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs