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How Midwestern Pumpkin Patches And Corn Mazes Help Bring Visitors Into Rural Areas

Colt and Cori Musick, owners of Round Top Farm in Port, Oklahoma, opened a pumpkin patch for the first time this year.
Colt and Cori Musick, owners of Round Top Farm in Port, Oklahoma, opened a pumpkin patch for the first time this year.

Agritourism, which includes farm tours, U-pick fruits, and pumpkin patches, is booming.

Pumpkin patches and corn mazes are common on the outskirts of cities, but even more rural areas are getting in on the action. 

There are about 30 pumpkin patches across Oklahoma, according to the state. Agritourism revenue across the country tripled between 2002 and 2017, reaching almost $950 million in 2017 according to an analysis of datafrom the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

This season, Cori and Colt Musick of Port, Oklahoma hopped onto the agritourism train. Alongside growing crops like cotton, wheat and alfalfa, the Musicks, who own Round Top Farm, opened a pumpkin patch, complete with a zipline and a petting zoo. For Cori Musick, opening a pumpkin patch has been a dream years in the making. She says the idea was inspired by her childhood in Virginia and Tennessee.

“You know, growing up my best memories are pumpkin farms and Christmas tree farms … picking up pumpkins, taking them home,” Musick says.

Colt Musick says they found the perfect spot, an acre of land right by a creek, and started planting about 1,000 seeds in June. Colt has been farming since he was 15, but he says Mother Nature wasn’t always cooperative. 

“It was a little bit of a challenge to keep them going because I was just watering out the creek to kind of give them a low irrigation between rains, and then the creek goes dry,” he says. “So then I tried to do a well, and the well goes dry, so then I was stuck hauling water to them.”

The pumpkins did end up growing, and Cori helped get the word out through a Facebook group page. She says business has been pretty good. 

“We've gotten a lot more business than we expected,” she says. “Especially being in this rural area, we really didn't think that we would have all the attention that we've had.” 

Oklahoma isn’t a top pumpkin-producing state, like Illinois. But even here, some farmers have left traditional farming to do agritourism full time. 

Loren Liebscher, owner of P Bar Farm, comes from a family that has farmed for nearly a century. About 20 years ago, he switched to agritourism full time with a corn maze and pumpkin patch. He says it’s harder for farmers to get into agritourism now. 

I think because the people that started 20 years ago didn't have to do it all in one year, you know, infrastructure, completely built in one year if you want to get into agritourism,” Liebscher says. “People don't perceive it well when they come out in the field and the chicken house is the concession stand.”

Liebscher says his activities are pandemic friendly, so he’s been busy. He says his biggest loss is field trips. Usually, about 3,000 kids and 2,000 parents come to the maze with school groups.. 

The Musicks are also hoping they get that boost from schools next year. Cori Musick says this year they are focusing on breaking even. She says it cost money to get everything set up. 

“We've paid for animals. We’ve paid for lumber to build our barn,” she says. “We built all-new pens for our animals and all kinds of things. So right now, we're just paying ourselves back.”

But ultimately, Cori says what’s more important is connecting people with rural life. 

“When you live in a small, small rural area like this, it's just nice to have something like this that kind of draws others to this part of Oklahoma,” Musick says. “Because if there wasn't, you know, cool things to see in these little towns, nobody would ever pass through here.”

Cassandra Holmes came to the pumpkin patch with her 2-year-old daughter. She says in rural areas, there’s not a ton of things for children to do. 

“Especially in rural areas, it's kind of hard to come across something like this,” Holmes says. 

That’s why Holmes says she hopes the farm will be open next year. And that’s what the Musick family is planning -- planting the seeds of what will become a long-term business.
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Seth Bodine
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