Local Agritourism: Cultivating Profit
Aug 01, 2018 08:30AM
● By Jason Huddle
Local Agritourism: Cultivating Profit
THAT’S THE HOPE, ANYWAY. FARMING IS TYPICALLY NOT A LUCRATIVE BUSINESS, BUT IT’S A PASSION SHARED BY THOSE WHO PREFER TO WORK IN ACRES – NOT HOURS.
In Cabarrus County, there are currently six farms listed as members of the North Carolina Agritourism Networking Association (NCANA). As such, these farms are provided with advocates, grants writers, local government collaborators and continuing education.
“We are a nonprofit, 501(c)3 organization that promotes networking between agritourism professionals, works to grow the agritourism industry by public education and promotion of agritourism, and education to our dedicated members, governmental and elected officials and policy-makers,” according to the CNANA website.
For newer faces in the farming and agritourism business – like Zack Almond – it’s a resource worth its weight in watermelons.
Almond Farm, LLC, can’t be missed if you travel up and down Highway 601 at all. Just south of Flowes Store Road in Concord stands Almond’s great-great-uncle’s homestead, circa 1850s. “There’s a date on the fireplace but we can’t read the last number. It has to be 1852 because 1859 would be right before the war. After doing the math, we believe 1852 is when the chimneys and underpinning were added. If we are correct, the house would have been built in the late 1700s or early 1800s by Uncle Marvin’s family,” he says.
Five years ago, Almond proposed to his family that he farm the four acres surrounding the home. Eventually combining his father’s 40 adjacent acres, he got serious about growing and selling fresh produce. In 2015, he moved into the old two-story farmhouse with his fiancée, Cori Brumbles.
At only 28 years old, Almond – owner/operator – is still learning the logistics of farming: timing the plantings, the whims of Mother Nature, environmentally-friendly ways to nurture the soil and keep pesticide usage to a minimum, and what works well for him in implementing agritourism. But he’s got support.
Each winter, the N.C. Agritourism Networking Association hosts the N.C. Agritourism Conference. Held in February in Winston-Salem this year, Almond and fellow agritourism farmers came together, provided with education, best practices, network opportunities and a farm tour.
Annie Baggett, agritourism marketing specialist with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services (NCDA&CS), spoke about agritourism activities and events; customer service; hospitality; employee management; marketing and social media; law and insurance; and the farm as an event venue.
And, last September, Almond and Brumbles attended the Farm School Summit at Mountain Horticultural Crops Research and Extension Center, near Hendersonville. Sponsored by North Carolina State University, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences; N.C. Agricultural Research Service; the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service, the N.C. Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services; and the North Carolina Tomato Growers Association, this event fell on Tomato Field Day, providing farmers with valuable information about new varieties, and disease and insect control for their tomato crop.
Almond currently grows about 500 tomato plants, so these opportunities are certainly not lost on him. He says Baggett’s dedication and accessibility has been important to him, as he relies on her and N.C. Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler when he needs advice or has questions, whether they be about signage or liability.
In the summer months, Almond puts tomatoes, corn, cucumbers, okra, squash, cantaloupes, watermelon, etc., out for retail sale at his produce stand. “Every year is different, but we know at July 4 we’ll have something on the table,” he says.
He also sells local/regional products that he doesn’t necessarily grow himself – eggs, peaches/nectarines, cabbage, onions, raw peanuts and so on. That’s another facet of agritourism
and farming that Almond likes: the interconnection of farmers. “I had an old man tell me that there’s enough pie for everyone to have some,” he says. “We work as a community.”
His hours of operation are technically dawn to dusk, but he utilizes the honor system when he doesn’t have someone to man the stand.
“We do this full-time. As the business grows, we can bring in family, but it’s as a volunteer at first. My aunt and my sister work certain days. My nephew is three now, so I’ve told my sister he’s ready,” he laughs.
Combined with his agritourism is philanthropy. If Almond has produce with blemishes or it’s getting too ripe to sell, he’ll set it aside and arrange to get it to food pantries. Additionally, local churches place orders, pick up the produce and give it to those who need it most. The farm welcomes bake sales, lemonade stands, arts & crafts sales and the like – piggybacking with other groups’ fundraisers, which also brings customers to his stand.
“I like to grow it and be in the field, and by the end of the day we’re feeding somebody. We also have a food drive once a month,” Almond adds.
As part of the learning curve, Almond has come to recognize that autumn is his most lucrative season. Agritourism in the shape of a pumpkin patch as well as a corn maze bring the most traffic to his farm.
“This will be the third or fourth year with the hayrides to the pumpkin patch where kids can pick their own,” he explains. “We grow the Cinderella pumpkins, the Utopias that you stack on each other, little ones for little kids…we have two-mile hayrides all through October.”
Two to three acres of sweet white corn is harvested at the end of June, giving way to the planting of some 20 acres of field corn that grows tall – perfect for mazes.
“I want it simple,” Almond notes, referring to pricing during his fall events. “It’s all-inclusive; we use wristbands. A family can take a hayride to the pumpkin patch, each person can pick one pumpkin and then go through the corn maze, all for one price.
“In the years to come, we’ll have a watermelon festival. I’d also like to have a farm-to-fork dinner – prepare BLTs, roasted corn, stewed squash,” he shares.
You can see the wheels turning. He’s even created a catchphrase for Almond Farm: “Where food and family come first.”
For upcoming events and harvests, check out Almond Farm, LLC, on facebook.
The Farm at Brusharbor
When Erin Porter Conser’s grandfather (Thomas Porter Sr.) and father (Tommy Jr.) began their farming enterprise in Mecklenburg County in the early 1970s, it was with just five head of Hereford beef cattle. The men soon added corn, soybeans and small grain they grew on rented land.
The family moved to Concord in the mid-1980s when they purchased acreage for their cattle. Conser’s grandparents and her own family (parents and brothers Derek and Jared) lived on the first 200 acres.
The 1990s saw the construction of pullet and layer houses for poultry, a hog operation and the purchase of another 272 acres for expansion of their cattle business.
“Porter Farms is home to a little over 630 acres where we raise hogs, cattle and poultry. Last year we started growing sunflowers, pumpkins, watermelon and cantaloupe in hopes to expand our agritourism opportunities,” Conser explains.
Enter The Farm at Brusharbor. Purchased in 2012 and located off Mauney Road in Mt. Pleasant – just two miles down the road from the family farm – these 500 acres are home to a herd of cattle as well as a rustic venue for weddings/receptions in its barn or on the grounds.
“By hosting weddings and other agritourism events, it has allowed our family the opportunity to bring additional revenue to the farm and allowed (us) to be able to stay at home and raise (our) children.
We also believe that it is important for people that do not have the availability to be on a farm know farming and experience our way of life,” Conser says. “Agritourism allows us as traditional farmers the ability to diversify our operation and expand our reach to encompass more people who otherwise would not have any exposure to a farm.”
Now a new barn venue has been added to the mix: The Farmstead. Also off Mauney Road, Erin, Derek’s wife Amy and Jared’s wife Colleen run the wedding and agritourism venues. They’re also marketing the barns for “family reunions, corporate events, spiritual events, social gatherings or any other reasons to get together with your friends and family.”
Conser says, “We are very open about our family dynamic and how it is intertwined in our business, and many of our couples are attracted to the fact that not only are they supporting a small business but they are also directly supporting a family business that they can see and develop a relationship with. We pour our hearts, soul, sweat and tears into not only our farm but also the daily work we do with our couples, planning and hosting weddings.”
Like Almond Farm, The Farm at Brusharbor is a member of NCANA. “The N.C. Agritourism Networking Association allows people that are involved in agritourism to have an outlet to network, gather information and help each other be successful in pursuing various types of farming to attract the general public to learn and experience farming,” Conser says. “The membership allows you to be exposed to people like you, looking to educate on farming as well as expand the success of their agritourism ventures. Their website serves as a great tool for the general public to search for different agritourism opportunities throughout the state of North Carolina.”
The family also maintains its farming connective by hosting events like the 12th annual Cabarrus County Voluntary Agricultural District Celebration, on August 1 at Brusharbor this year.
“The county invites the guests based off of involvement with the Voluntary Ag districts,” Conser explains. “It is an evening of simple food, homemade ice cream from a Hit n Miss antique tractor engine and socializing with their neighbors.”
Porter Farms is getting in on the agritourism action as well; the farm’s obstacle course has become host to the Spartan races and the BoneFrog Challenge.
The spring Spartan races can cover three to 10 miles with obstacles like walls, ladders, rope climbs, Atlas ball carries, sled drags, spear throwing and barbed wire. The BoneFrog, held on November 10 this year, is owned and operated by U.S. Navy Seals. It’s nine miles long with 36 obstacles.
Thomas Porter Sr., 97, must wonder at all that has taken place on his land over the years. Working on the farm every day, he’s surrounded by his family members, who have built their homes here and work to keep it successful.
“Farming has always been a way of life for our family and we have raised our children that way,” Conser shares. “To us, it is important that our farmland is preserved so our future generations are able to live the same lifestyle and our family values are passed on. It is not only the way we make our living but also it is a way of life. We are strong believers that farming still remains a viable profession because it is critical that we are raising food and fiber right here in the United States.
“Our family strongly believes in agritourism as a vital part of our family farm and farms across the state. Without this additional diversification many farms would go under and be turned over to development. Agritourism has provided an opportunity to bring all of our children and their spouses back to the farm and has ensured a future for the continued growth for generations to come. Agriculture serves us three times a day!”
For more information, visit The Farm at Brusharbor, The Farmstead and Porter Farms on Facebook.
Article By: Kim Cassell
Photos By: Almond Farms, Busharbor Farms, Bonefrog & Michael A. Anderson Photography