Marion Economic Development director Teresa Huffman said one untapped source of tourism in Marion County is agritourism.
Huffman said agritourism is about selling an experience, for example, people coming to the county who would be interested in calving cows in the winter and harvest in the fall.
“People don’t have the money to go to Disney World,” Walters pumpkin patch owner Becky Walters said. “They’re looking for things close to home to connect with their family.”
So far, there is only one licensed agritourism business in Marion County. Robert Sellers has a hunting lodge on his land in Florence. He has been setting up the business for the past three years, obtaining the license and filing the paper work for taxes.
His biggest worry about establishing an agritourism business was the liability involved with having people on his land.
“I have liability insurance,” Sellers said. “I was willing to step up to the plate and pay taxes.”
Sellers also has been making the connections with out-of-state hunters who would be interested in hunting on his property.
“You have to have clients,” Sellers said. “Not necessarily a lot of people but the right people.”
Agritourism can encompass many types of businesses. Based in Butler County, Walter’s pumpkin patch of Burns is also an agritourism venture.
Becky and Carroll Walters started the pumpkin patch 24 years ago with a few mini pumpkin seeds planted on two acres. That first year they made $583, which was twice as much as Carroll would have made on the acre of land if it had been farmed.
In 1997, the Walters expanded the patch to include attractions, a haunted house and corn maze now exist on the property, and started charging admission.
Becky Walters said the six-week operation supports the Walterses year-round.
“There are so many land owners that can capitalize on it,” Walters said. “It is part of the agricultural culture now.”
Jeff Methvin has an alpaca farm outside of Peabody. He has had groups come out to the farm for free to see the alpacas — a school group and an antique car club are two examples. He said he might consider agritourism during the spring when he shears the alpacas. He said he would want other farms or ranches to collaborate on a type of tour.
“I know people come out of the big city and they want to help do stuff,” Methvin said of having visitors help shear alpaca.
Huffman believes agritourism will help existing Marion County business.
“They’ll spend money, stay here a couple of days,” Sellers said of agritourism patrons.
And help the farms themselves.
“It’s a way to save the family farm and get the kids involved,” Huffman said.
Sellers said he grew up as a sportsman, hunting near creeks in Marion County. Walters said her business has been a family venture with both her children and grandchildren working at the pumpkin patch.
“It’s a way to teach our grandchildren life on the farm,” Sellers said.