My in-laws recently sent an article out of the local paper concerning a family that started an ice cream barn and zoo behind the barn. A closer look at the picture and there was my old dairy barn all decked out with lines of people waiting to be served.

Across North America, this segment of agriculture is in the growth phase, similar to what is happening across the pond in Europe. An estimated 80% of Americans are two generations away from the farm and ranch. In today’s world of cell phones, instant messaging, etc., consumers seek a balance through people willing to share the agriculture story.

Working with the National FFA, one of the fastest growing areas is agricultural entrepreneurships ranging from corn mazes and haunted barns to petting zoos. Families, such as the one described in the newspaper article with my old barn, are finding that operating ventures is one way to teach people skills, work ethics, discipline and value systems related to agriculture, economics and more family time together. A recent Wall Street Journal article indicates that over 1,200 corn mazes have been started since 1996, with the visitors ranging from 4,000 to 5,000 in number.

Keys to success in these enterprises:

  • People skills and patience with a non-farm public
  • Safety and security are job number one
  • A good risk management program ranging from insurances to preventive and proactive health and safety programs
  • A program that encourages consumers or participants to utilize their natural senses: smell, touch, hear, sight and taste
  • Time management and human resource requirements
  • Creativity – reinvent 20% annually

Agri-entertainment may be a way to add to the bottom line and involve the family, but with most things worthwhile, it takes a lot of time and effort.

Editor’s note: Dave Kohl, The Corn And Soybean Digest Trends Editor, is an ag economist specializing in business management and ag finance. He recently retired from Virginia Tech, but continues to conduct applied research and travel extensively in the U.S. and Canada, teaching ag and banking seminars and speaking to producer and agribusiness groups. He can be reached at sullylab@vt.edu.