Amid corn mazes, pumpkin patches and petting farms, fall agritourism visitors are introduced to Alabama’s largest and most important industry—agriculture.
Bullock County farmer Cathy Ellis and her husband, Tom, fulfilled their dreams by opening Dream Field Farms in 2007 on Alabama Highway 82 near the Montgomery County-Bullock County line.
“Our first farm tour was 22 years ago to Kentucky, and we fell in love with the idea of agritourism,” Cathy said. “The concept was in the back of our minds for all those years, but we didn’t have a location. In 2005, we bought the 100 acres this farm sits on.”
Alabama Farmers Federation Horticulture Division Director Mac Higginbotham said combining tourism and agriculture helps farmers educate the public, share their love of farming and boost farm income.
Sometimes the rewards are simple. Seeing a child’s face light up with excitement makes laboring in the hot summer worthwhile, Cathy said.
“We have a passion for children,” she said. “Children now feel their food comes from Walmart or Winn Dixie. They don’t have a clue that farms actually grow food, and it comes from the soil. That’s something most of them would never get an opportunity to do in their day-to-day lives.”
Cathy said each year their farm focuses on a different part of the food chain. Last year, they concentrated on vegetables that grew underneath and on top of the ground—carrots, potatoes and cucumbers. This year, visitors will get a chance to make butter.
LeAnna Brothers, a teacher at Forest Avenue Academic Magnet Elementary School in Montgomery, said her school takes 120 kids to Dream Field, and it reinforces classroom education.
“One of the things we do at Forest Avenue is Ag in the Classroom,” Brothers said. “The commodity we focus on is pumpkins, so we spend a lot of time on pumpkin growth. When you can take them out into a field and actually show them how pumpkins are grown, it’s something they’ll never forget.”
Cathy said Dream Field works all summer to open in October, but the tourist season spills into November with extra tours and rescheduled visits.
The farm is divided into six sections—hayrides, hay mountains, inflatables, animals, cow train ride and learning center. Groups of 60 tourists visit each section for 30 minutes to control crowding.
While agritourism isn’t a huge income for the farm, there’s more to it than money, Cathy said.
“There’s lots of obstacles with a business like this, but it’s worth it in the long run,” she said. “At the end of the day, when a kid comes up to you and says ‘this is the best day of my life,’ I go home with a smile and know it’s all worth it.”
The Alabama Farmers Federation worked for passage of legislation that protects the Ellises and other farmers interested in agritourism by limiting the lability they could incur.
“Agritourism is an untapped resource many landowners could benefit from,” Higginbotham said. “The majority of the public has never been to a farm, and many are willing to pay to share that experience. Agritourism provides a glimpse of the passion and care farmers have for their animals and land. The agritourism law helped open the door for landowners to consider this as an option for their farm.”
Click here to download a full list of Fall agritourism locations.