Andy Wooliver would prefer to not haul his crop of pumpkins from the field by hand this season. Fortunately, he knows a lot of customers are willing to pay to do it themselves.
"Our customers are always welcome to come pick any produce they'd like. It saves us a little bit of work," Wooliver said.
Meriruth Cohenour, the Oklahoma Agriculture Department's market development coordinator, said the aspect of agritourism referred to as U-Pick is picking up consumers as temperatures fall into fall. Farmers tell her they're putting more effort into inviting people to participate in harvest, she said, and more consumers seem to be trying to connect with the source of their food.
The Journal Record reports that the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported slightly more than 33,000 farms nationwide offered agritourism and recreational services such as farm or winery tours, hayrides and hunting in 2012, the latest farm census. Another census is due this year. Producers also add value to their agricultural commodities when they process them to produce items such as beef jerky, fruit jams, floral arrangements, cider and wine, and that often leads to on-site marketing and agritourism. Nationally, 94,799 farms produced and sold value-added products in 2012, and Oklahoma was identified as one of the top five states with 3,815 participants.
Fruits at the end of summer are popular lures. Other examples of Oklahoma's U-Pick attractions include blackberries, raspberries and strawberries at Buffalo Creek Berry Farm in Mustang; herbs, vegetables and blackberries at Crestview Inc. Farms in Arcadia; and honey and blueberries at Canyon Berry Farms in Claremore. The latter recently closed public operations for 2016, owner David Patterson said.
Paul Brown at Brown Farm and Garden in Chickasha said agritourism is more labor-intensive than might be expected, particularly the U-Pick aspects. A farmer needs family or hired hands to help manage customers and play the part of happy host. He won't be promoting his 40-acre pumpkin patch much this year.
Wooliver is between U-Pick crops on his 80-acre farm right now. His strawberry patch drew hundreds of people this year, but pumpkins are still several weeks away. Wooliver said he doesn't mind customers getting in the way of work or trampling his fields a little because they can't do much harm compared with the revenue they produce - pumpkin vines are kaput anyway after they're ready to yield their fruits. Over the years, Wooliver has added a corn maze to his agritourism attractions as well.
"It's important to attract the entire family out for the day with hayrides and other fun little activities," he said. "We like for them to see the growing practices we use to bring food to the table."