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

Mood Tense Ahead of Scotland Independence Vote

As race to persuade undecided voters continues, No voters say they believe life in Scotland will slowly improve and do not want to take a risk by endorsing independence More

South Africa’s 'Open Mosque' Admits Everyone, Including Critics

Open Mosque founder plans to welcome gay worshipers and allow women to lead prayers More

Ukrainian Activist in Despair About Future of Her Country

IrIna Dovgan, accused of being a spy and tortured by pro-Russian separatists, is appealing to UN Human Rights Council to support her country 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.
A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Wateri
X
September 17, 2014 8:44 PM
Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.
Video

Video Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Community

Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid