written by Susan Hurd, Hurd’s Family Farm, Clinton, NY
Member since 2009

Crisp, cool fall air inspires farm visits to an apple farm, right? We are way too busy handling crowds all fall as it is and I treasure summer. And isn’t summer the time to get in gear for the upcoming peak season? Read. Dream. Plan. As a teacher, the standing joke is, what’s the best part about teaching? June, July, and August. 90 degrees out, humid and muggy, grouchy moms, and kids going bonkers, you get the idea…not for me… I could think of lots of reasons not to open early.  However, the men in the family kept suggesting that we open earlier in summer for the 2014 Season, to recoup the cost of all our investments – I was the one who protested the loudest.  I don’t know about you, but when a family member steps up with a vision and declares, “Whatever it takes, I’m going to see it through,” my ears perk up.

In the end of our family decision making process, I agreed to open for a weeklong “Christmas in July” celebration as well as August weekends for the 2014 season. Our goal was pretty straightforward. Try out all the new activities and POS system, work out any potential problems before peak fall season, promote a new Pick Your Own Salad Garden, and get a jump on marketing our new Christmas Tree Plantation on this farm site. Looking at it as a challenge and inspired by NAFDMA 2014 Keynote Speaker Joe Calhoon, after we brainstormed ideas I typed up the 1 Hour Plan for Growth and a marketing plan.

However, just because our farm has nurtured friendships with faith-based organizations from New York City, does not mean that they will show up in the heat of summer. Disappointing. However, we did notice that the church groups we contacted did make fall reservations earlier on the upcoming calendar. We did host 10 new church and 10 new school groups which is our annual goal. Could it just be that the summer marketing strategy worked and somehow created a buzz an hour and half south of us?

Additional benefits to adding another season to the mix

  • Opening early provided the incentive to hire staff for our Team earlier than usual, weed out the slackers, and practice using the new POS system.
  • Work out problems we observed at each activity station before the real crowds hit. (Like the determined 4 year old who was bent on taking his pedal tractor up the new foot path to drive it down the new truck liner slide.) We quickly pounded in posts and fencing to keep the pedal carts in their own area below the slide where we had built a couple new tunnels.
  • Ward off the extra bags of fruit leaving the property, we put fences around for crowd control to herd everyone through our focal barn area as they departed – where many of the I-pads and registers are.
  • Parents loved the $5.00 1/4-peck Kids Day bag to fill with fresh veggies. Early summer we encouraged each other and our crew to get projects completed, well, almost ready, for our summer visitors before our typical end of summer scramble.

Never in the 10 years of corn mazes can I recall having sponsors lined up, mailboxes in the ground, and being ready to roll by mid July. Opening doors early was beginning to make some sense to me!

A version of this article originally appeared in the Summer 2014 Issue of Farmers Inspired Magazine. To learn more about Hurd’s Family Farm, please visit www.hurdsfamilyfarm.com. Premium Level Members of NAFDMA-Farmers Inspired can view full length videos of Joe Calhoon featured sessions at the 2014 Convention held in Kansas City, MO.

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