Fall agritourism helps Weld County farms stay afloat in unpredictable ag industry | MyWindsorNow.com

Fall agritourism helps Weld County farms stay afloat in unpredictable ag industry

Katarina Velazquez

Huddles of tiny children dressed in thick, puffy jackets and oversized mud boots hopped out of their parents' cars in the parking lot of Miller Farms on a cool, autumn morning. There were about 150 of them from Tiny Tots Preschool, and they were the first of several school groups Miller Farms would have that day at their annual Fall Harvest Festival.

On Wednesday, from just the school visits alone, Miller Farms had about 800 kiddos participating in its activities, which range from picking fresh veggies straight from the ground to stacking pumpkins into wagons from the pumpkin patch. The children were wide-eyed and giggling as they used their little hands to pull carrots and potatoes from the ground, most for the first time. They howled and beamed when Jake, the big 13-year-old farm Labrador retriever, hopped in the back of one of Miller's tractor hay wagons with them. They posed for pictures with stretched smiles and rosy cheeks for their parents.

For Miller Farms, that's just a normal Wednesday afternoon in October, owner Joe Miller said. It's the farm's peak time for its annual Fall Harvest Festival, one of its largest agritourism events of the year, which started in 1996. It has since grown and evolved into about 120 acres of fall-time fun. Miller said the farm sees up to 1,000 people a day, sometimes more, and it attracts schools and attendees from around the state.

Miller Farms is just one of many farms in Weld County that benefits from fall-themed activities, such as corn mazes or pumpkin patches, as a means of additional revenue. These farms incorporate fall agritourism to stay afloat in the often-unpredictable agriculture industry.

Darren Hankins, manager of Hankins Farms, 26745 Weld County Road 17 in Johnstown, said Hankins Farms started its corn maze and pumpkin patch about four years ago as a way to keep the family farm's legacy alive. The farm sits between Loveland and Greeley — a stretch of land that's being heavily developed — and Hankins said he had to find a way to involve the community with his farm to stay viable and to keep it from being developed. Hankins uses about 30 acres of the farm for activities and attracts between 1,500 and 2,000 people per weekend throughout October.

"We always get a good response," he said. "We have a smaller venue that's not as crowded maybe as some of the other places."

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Hankins said farmers have had to evolve their farms into agribusinesses and find means to make money other than just relying on crop sales. Kathy Rickart, a co-manager at Tigges Farm, 12404 County Road 64 ½, in Greeley, agreed with that sentiment.

"People don't expect a farm visit just to be a farm visit anymore," she said. "They expect a little more now."

Rickart said her family's farm parking lot is overflowing with cars every weekend in October. Between the pumpkin patch and the educational exhibits designed for young families, senior citizens and more, she said adding seasonal agritourism has been one of the best decisions for the farm financially.

"Without it, if we were just plain farming, we'd have to do something else in some way to help," Rickart said. "Switching to the agritourism part, and working on it and building on it has helped increase income for us."

Miller said about half of his profits come from his fall agritourism. That also seemed to be the case for Glen Fritzler, owner of Fritzler Corn Maze, 20861 Weld County Road 33, in LaSalle, who said 50 percent of his farm's profits come from his annual corn maze in September and October.

Fritzler is in his 18th year of doing the maze, and he said he makes sure to change up activities each year to keep people coming back. He said he started the maze in 2000, after many disappointing and financially unsustainable years in the '90s.

The maze still is weather-dependent and an awful lot of work like farming is, Fritzler said, but it's worth it, especially since the corn maze has been around long enough now to become tradition for certain folks in the region.

"We get calls everyday from people saying it's become a family tradition for them," he said. "They first came maybe when they were students at UNC or CSU, and now they're back married with kids."

Fritzler is in the heart of his busy season, which is usually early to mid-October.

"There isn't a busier two weeks," he said. "You can't put a value on what it's done for us. Without the corn maze, we probably wouldn't be farming still."

Miller also said he loves getting to see all sorts of folks from around the state have fun on his family's farm, which has been around since his parents started it in 1949. But the profits he makes from Labor Day through mid-November helps his business stay afloat tremendously. He's grateful for that.

"It saved our farm," Miller said. "Financially, and probably emotionally, too."

Where to go

» Miller Farms’ Fall Harvest Festival is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily at 13912 Weld County Road 19 in Platteville, through mid-November. Harvest your own vegetables, wander through the corn maze, stack pumpkins and more. For more information, go to http://www.millerfarms.net.

» Fritzler Corn Maze and Scream Acres is open from 6-9 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 5-10 p.m. Fridays, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturdays and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays (no Scream Acres on Sundays) at 20861 Weld County Road 33 in LaSalle. Last day is Halloween, open from 6-9 p.m. Various corn maze options, you-pick-it pumpkin patch, zombie paintball and more. For more information, go to http://www.fritzlermaze.com.

» Hankins Farms’ fall attractions are open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays at 26745 Weld County Road 17 in Johnstown, throughout October, weather permitting. Two corn mazes, pumpkin patch and more. For more information, go to hankinsfarms.com.

» Tigges Farms is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily throughout October at 12404 Weld County Road 64 ½ in Greeley. Pumpkin patch, wagon rides, farm equipment museum and more. For more information, go to http://www.tiggesfarm.com.

» Pumpkin Pickin’ Paradise is open from 1-6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on the weekends at the corner of Colo. 257 and Weld County Road 52 in Milliken. For more information, go to http://www.facebook.com/pumpkinpickinparadise.

» Anderson Farms is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays, 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturdays and 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays at 6728 County Road 3¼ in Erie. For more information, go to andersonfarms.com.

Pick the perfect pumpkin

When selecting a pumpkin, choose a gourd that is heavy for its size, clean and well-shaped with no cracks in the rind. Avoid pumpkins with soft spots or decay. Pumpkins can be used for decoration or nutritious consumption, as they are filled with Vitamin C and Vitamin A.

Source: Colorado Department of Agriculture