The Bountiful Autumn Harvest Has Arrived!
The leaves are starting to fall, the fields are full of pumpkins, orchards are heavy with apples and pears, and colorful autumn flowers are everywhere. The bountiful Autumn Harvest of glorious fruits and vegetables has arrived!
Right now farmers' markets are full of pumpkins for making jack o’ lanterns and pumpkin pies, gourds for decorating your front porch, winter squash and root vegetables for simmering in hot soups and stews, and juicy pears and apples for scenting the house with baking pies and warm breads.
October is one of the finest months to enjoy local foods. Finding farms that offer pumpkins, hay rides, and corn mazes; driving up to Sebastopol or out to Apple Hill in Camino to pick apples, or visiting Brentwood for the last of the season’s sweet corn is all part it. Family farms are all about agritourism this time of year, the driving of customers to their farms to purchase products through direct marketing and offering entertainment and educational value at the same time.
This tourist-related marketing effort can involve just a farm stand or u-pick farm, or it can be as elaborate as a corn maze, on-farm classes, food-related festivals, farm to fork dinners in the fields, plant sales, barn dances, or even weddings. According to the latest Census of Agriculture numbers, farm income from agritourism has grown 24% from 2007 to 2012, generating about $700 million! In California agritourism has primarily been organized on the county and regional levels, but the UC Small Farm Program has recently been looking into a statewide strategy to help small farms market their farms and increase sales.
Despite the drought, and because of it, many farmers are looking forward to receiving many visitors this year. Some farmers have reduced acreage for pumpkins because of water restrictions, apples are sweeter but smaller in size, and some farmers didn’t plant corn mazes.
Apple Hill in Camino has been extremely concerned with the recent fires in Gold Country and tourism is down because of it. But all of the farms have remained open, the smoke has cleared, and people are returning to enjoy apple picking and apple pie. Farms are so dependent on weather and atmospheric conditions that any kind of marketing is of help.
With costs up from last year and farmers who will barely break even this fall, agritourism will continue to be a viable source of income and direct marketing for small farms. Please visit some of your local farms this fall - pick out some pumpkins, take home a big bag of apples, or enjoy a farm field dinner - and support small farms during the drought.