Farmers try paintball and other attractions

Tuesday, September 11, 2001

DAYTON, Ohio -- Buffeted by hard times in the dairy business, Gary Pettis turned his 90-acre Wisconsin farm into a motocross track. Later, he added a paintball course.

"I got all this land sitting here. I didn't want it all to grow into weeds," Pettis said. "You look at sports, and that's where the money's at."

Across the nation, farmers seeking to supplement their incomes have turned to what has been dubbed "agritainment." They're making room for corn mazes, petting zoos and nature trails.

"It keeps the land in the farm-family ownership and is an alternate way of making income," said Stephanie Olson, of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's small-farm program. "They're learning they need to incorporate these marketing approaches because there is a lot of competition out there for the food-and-fiber dollar."

For years, Tom Reidy rented out his 32-acre farm in north-central Ohio for others to grow corn and soybeans. Last year, he opened a pumpkin patch and country store. This year's addition: a corn maze.

"We traveled across the country a couple of years ago and saw some farmers who were successful in putting together an entertainment package," said Reidy, who is also a computer systems analyst for a hospital in Mansfield, Ohio. "It's profitable. I think farmers are looking to get yield from their property."

$30,000 a year

Reidy said he earned about $2,400 a year growing corn and soybeans. He expects to bring in up to $30,000 on the maze, minus costs of more than $7,000 to maintain it. He's charging $6 for adults tackling the labyrinth, $3 for children.

Charles Touchette, executive director of the North American Farmers Direct Marketing Association, said agritainment is rooted in the pick-your-own-crops farms that started sprouting up decades ago.

But agritainment, a term coined by the farm-marketing industry, has accelerated in the past five years, he said.

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