We are in the midst of fall festival season for area farms. From now until Halloween, farms all over Minnesota (and the Midwest) will be offering hay rides, corn mazes, petting zoos, horse/pony rides, farm-specific playgrounds and both pick-your-own and pre-picked produce.
Apple Jacks has a few unique offerings. The apple cannon shoots apples across a field. It’s loud, powerful and highly entertaining (even if you are not a gun person). There are a series of targets to hit, but the young man operating the cannon admitted that the trains were the most popular targets. Yes, TRAINS. There’s a railroad track that runs behind the farm and when a train pulls through, visitors line up for a chance to try and hit the train. I asked if the railroad had a problem with this and he just shrugged – which was when I realized that an apple isn’t going to do much damage to a train.
The corn jump is, literally, a pile of dried corn surrounded by hay bales. You will never find a more perfect example of the ways in which simple pleasures are captured and fully enjoyed by children. If you thought the fun gleaned out of a cardboard box was amazing, just sit back and watch what happens in a pile of corn! As for me: I love farms. Watching the kids leap off of hay bales into corn (over and over and over), occasionally pausing to make corn-angels and dig with over sized plastic hand-shovels reminded me of one of the many thousands of reasons why.
While walking through the apple trees and picking both apples and raspberries, I was struck by how small the trees were.
Granted, apple orchards are supposed to prune the trees regularly and aggressively. Modern-day apple orchards have small trees. The grandiose and over-grown trees covering the apple orchard once owned by my family were beautiful, majestic, and wonderfully wild. They were also bad for business – not to mention dangerous for workers. These trees could be harvested from the ground. The old family farm required ‘suicide ladders,’ which were very appropriately named.
Even without the chance to climb up into the branches of a towering old apple tree, picking apples was fun and pleasantly nostalgic.
A new normal seems to be taking over the pick-your-own farms of the Midwest. Officially discussed in various places on the internet under names like: Agri-tainment, Agri-tourism, Entertainment Farming and Agricultural Entertainment Business (among others). These business models move the emphasis away from bulk, inexpensive and quality produce to the celebratory experience of being on a farm during the harvest season.
Over the past few years, I’ve seen the agri-tainment offerings of a few different farms in Minnesota and have thoroughly enjoyed them all. I’ve also found myself vacillating between ‘is this farming?’ and ‘I would have so much FUN with my own fall festival!’
The reality is that agri-tainment is neither good nor bad, it’s just one more option for managing a farm (and paying the bills). Some farms focus on supplying large corporations, others develop CSAs, a few continue to serve the old-school buy-in-bulk-for-canning crowd, and others put on a seasonal celebration and show.
If I was lucky enough to be blessed with both a farm and the opportunity to make this sort of decision, I strongly suspect I would combine the CSA and agri-tainment business models. Why? Because I believe in CSAs (politically, philosophically, culturally) and I have a degree in communications, which is just a professional-sounding word for theater. In my youth, I aspired to work in stage management and/or costuming. As it happens, I make my living in IT (life is weird like that) and really miss the theater. Therefore, I have all of these IDEAS for a SHOW!