Agritourism in Monroe County
Story reprinted from Monroe Evening News
By Alex Alusheff As of Friday, October 24, 2014, 02:09 p.m
This time of year, thousands of people are getting lost in corn mazes for a few hours, carving jack-o’-lanterns or fending off the cold with some warm apple cider. For some local farmers, these visitors are providing them a steady income to help make it through the winter season. Right now, 100 percent of John Webb’s business is selling gourds, corn maze tickets and hayrides until he can harvest his corn after Halloween. “It would be good enough to live on all year if we could do it all year,” said Mr. Webb, who is the owner of J. Webb Farm at 4262 Post Rd., Newport. Mr. Webb has two corn mazes this year — one more family-oriented and one more difficult. The first one is in the shape of an owl sitting on a branch while the second is a skeleton. “One year no one made it through the second maze, and I thought I did my job well,” he said. It takes Mr. Webb three days to make a maze by himself, which includes mapping the field to scale, marking the field with posts and cutting the corn with a lawn mower when it reaches knee level. The mazes sit on a combined 15 acres, which he will harvest and sell after the season ends Nov. 2. He also grows soybeans and raises livestock, but the animals are used to feed his family only. Mr. Webb originally started the corn maze 12 years ago to teach his kids how to run a business. It costs $5 to go through for adults 13 and older and $4 for children 4 to 12. Mr. Webb said the industry is relatively new. “When I was growing up, we had trick-ortreat and that was it,” he said. “I’m surprised how big of a holiday it has become. I think it’s because it’s the last hurrah of summer before the weather gets bad.”
Monroe County’s agricultural tourism, which includes greenhouses, petting zoos and orchards, made $587,000 in 2007, according to the most recent data from the National Agricultural Statistics Service. The industry has been expected to grow since, and factors like location could contribute. “Monroe County is ideally suited for agricultural tourism,” said Mark Mathe, vice president of the Monroe County Farm Bureau. “ We have urban areas to the north and south of us so we’re at a good location to be a rural area.” Mr. Mathe said agricultural tourism can be beneficial for farmers to branch into because it makes people aware of their products. It also can make them money during a time when there is little production. For some farms, this season makes up all of their business. Farmer Charlie’s Kackleberry Farm in Monroe is open from September to October each year and relies on an array of entertainment and attractions to sustain its business, said owner Marge Helwig. During its two-month season, 24,000 people will buy farm passes a year, she said. Its most popular attractions include pig and duck races, a giant jumping pillow, hay rides and a pumpkin cannon. It also offers three corn mazes, a petting zoo and a bakery. A farm pass costs $11, which covers every attraction except the pumpkin cannon. “We know families don’t have enough quality time together, and have a hard time doing so,” she said. “ We want them to come out here to create a special memory,” she said.
Matthew Webb, 5, pets a pig at J. Webb Farm in Newport. He later will become the seventh generation of the Webb family business.
— Monroe News photo by ALEX ALUSHEFF