|Country Bakery at Vala's Pumpkin Patch
© Robert Ervin Photography, Inc.
In the early 1980s, Tim Vala decided he wanted to start a u-pick strawberry patch. He was a city boy with an education degree, but dreamed of creating a family focused farm attraction. He and his wife, Jan, bought 35 acres outside of Omaha, NE, and, by his own admission, he bought a tractor he didn’t know how to drive and planted fruits and vegetables he didn’t know how to grow.
Today, that business is one of the largest pumpkin patches in the United States. It’s a 200-acre operation (more than the original 35 acres are devoted solely to parking) that employs Tim, Jan, their three daughters, and 600 seasonal employees. The family plants 55 acres of pumpkins, offers 60 fun activities, and welcomes 200,000 visitors to Vala’s Pumpkin Patch each year.
That’s a lot of numbers, big numbers, enviable numbers. And you’re thinking, “So what?”
There’s a model here that many farm families can use to add value to their land. Believe it or not, agritourism is one of the fastest-growing niche segments in the travel industry. People are longing to escape the fast-paced, plugged-in stress of daily life. People are interested in learning about their food, where it comes from, how it is grown, who grows it. They want to re-connect with nature, explore rural life, and foster family memories.
|\© Nebraska Tourism|
The bottom line: People want to come to your farm, and they want to pay to do the things you do every day.
Tim Vala discovered that strawberries are in season for about 10 minutes. Pumpkins; however, can be harvested over about 40 days each fall. Those first few years, Tim noticed his visitors enjoyed taking hayrack rides, picking pumpkins, and walking in the fields. He built upon those early lessons and bit-by-bit he turned his little u-pick strawberry patch into mega fall festival.
A trip to Vala’s Pumpkin Patch is an annual tradition for families from miles around. Children ride ponies, pet bunnies, and giggle at the Pigtucky Derby Pig Races. Parents indulge in autumn comfort foods such as kettle corn, caramel apples, and chili. Corporations reserve bonfire pits to host employee events.
And, as they breathe in the crisp autumn air, visitors to Vala’s are experiencing agriculture and celebrating the harvest—even if they don’t realize it. Find out more about this Nebraska tradition by visiting valaspumpkinpatch.com.
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