It’s a particularly chilling time of year for those living in the Waterloo Region, and not just because of the unseasonably cold weather. Halloween is around the corner; and combined with the fall harvest, it’s a time of year that is ripe with opportunities for the enterprising farmer seeking additional sources of revenue.
Crops and produce are, of course, the mainstay of any agro-business. But there is a potentially lucrative, if challenging, market out there in the region for on-farm attractions as well, particularly amongst city-dwellers. From the classic corn maze to the pick-your-own pumpkin patches, to petting zoos and Halloween-themed experiences, families are keen to visit and enjoy the agrarian attractions of the countryside.
Local farmers, for their part, have taken notice of that demand, like the Wilmot-based Shantz Family Farm, located on 1544 Bleams Rd., Mannheim, which each year opens its gates and invited the public until the end of October.
Eschewing with the Halloween activities, the Shantz Farm augments their farm-business with public attractions such as the “kiddie-sized” straw bale maze, wagon rides and pumpkin patches. They also offer school tours specifically geared for Kindergarteners and Grade 1 students, giving kids a fun look at life on the farm.
“We have eight children, and we found growing up that stuff was quite expensive – to take them out and doing outings,” explains owner Kevin Shantz, of the impetus behind offering on-farm attractions.
“And so they missed out on quite a few things, and we don’t want families to miss out on the opportunity to visit farms. So we try to open up our farm to the public free of charge, and we make our revenue from the produce. We don’t charge our admission for our corn maze or to see the farm animals. But we’re hoping people will buy produce.”
It’s a good way to bring in customers and build connections between farmers and their consumers, but Shantz cautions that operating and managing the attractions is a heavily involving and costly proposition as well. Farmers looking to spur on more visitors to the farm with attractions and the like need go into the business with both eyes open, he says.
Liability insurance alone can run into the thousands of dollars, while extra staff are needed on site to supervise visitors. Then there are the costs of equipment used in the attractions to factor in, as well as a heavily weather-dependant demand.
“It’s a tough,” says Shantz, on whether he would recommend the farm attraction business to his peers. “I pay over ten grand on your liability for people to go through my corn maze and for me to drive them around the farm. So you have to be a certain size to handle the insurance cost of it, and the liability of going out on the farm.”
The points are mirrored by Hugh Nauman, of the St. Clements-based Nauman’s Farms. Co-run with his wife Anne at 3250 Hessen Strasse, Nauman’s offers a variety of on-farm attractions, from the large corn maze to the pumpkin slingshot and “Straw Mountain.”
Like Shantz, Nauman’s also opens their farms during the season, and closes after October.
“You couldn’t have every other farm do it,” says Nauman.“And I don’t think a lot of people want to deal with the public and that kind of stuff. And then you have to have parking. It’s just not a thing that every farm wants to do.”
“There’s more to this then people really realize,” he adds.
But weathering the challenges, Shantz says the attractions also offer a great way for the local farm to advertise to the larger community.
“We’ve used the same signature bale with the happy face on for 18 years now, and of course we have our name right behind that. So people get their picture and we get free advertising whenever they take a picture, as well as ,” says Shantz. “We obviously encourage people to take pictures around the farm, and we find that a good form of advertising.”
Nauman for his part doesn’t discourage anyone from opening their farm to visitors either, by offering tours and activities, but he does offer advice: be prepared.
“I would never say no to someone, but they’d better be prepared with, like, dealing with the public. That is probably the biggest [challenge],” he says. “If they’ve never dealt with the public, they better be prepared to live with it. That’s going to be the big thing.”