To Charge Or Not To Charge At Farm Markets

To Charge Or Not To Charge

There seems to be a delicate balance between what customers will pay for and what they won’t, especially concerning “extras” like value-added entertainment features at farm markets including hayrides, straw piles, and corn mazes. In many cases, these features attract customers to a farm market and keep them there longer than the average visit to come in and buy apples. But at what point do growers have to seek some return for all of the investment it takes to keep these attractions going? David Patterson of Patterson Fruit Farm in Chesterland, OH, says when it becomes too expensive to maintain and you start losing money, it’s time to start charging admission fees.

“Before we started charging admission, we used to put straw in a big pile out front and let kids climb on it,” Patterson says. “It became expensive to maintain ­— we didn’t have a shelter over it so when it got wet, the straw bales would fall apart. Our question was, ‘If we want to keep doing this, how do we make it pay?’ And the answer was to charge admission.”Patterson Fruit Farm has invited customers to its property since the 1960s, when it began offering pick-your-own (PYO) apples. In 1991, the operation grew beyond the strawpile it offered for kids to climb on for free, to build its Family Fun Fest, a fall event that runs from the third week in September until Halloween.

When the festival began, Patterson charged $2 per person and as its features grew and expanded, admission increased to $5 per person on weekends and $3 per person on weekdays, with children under age 2 admitted free. Patterson says while most customers pay admission with no complaints, there are still those who don’t understand why parents or grandparents are charged.

“It’s a family fun fest and we want to encourage the family playing together, not just dropping your kids off and letting them play,” Patterson says. “We want the moms and dads right there in the straw with the kids.”

Patterson Fruit Farm operates a market at the entrance to its Family Fun Fest, where visitors can buy apples, gifts, and other agricultural products. The market and festival are on the same site as the farm’s PYO orchard as well. Patterson says the operation does charge more for its apples and other products because its operating costs are higher than an orchard that doesn’t offer activities; however, asking customers to pay these prices also allows the farm to keep admission rates low in comparison to other family events in the area.

“I think people perceive a larger value with all the extra things to do,” Patterson says. “If we didn’t offer the attractions and have that extra revenue, I think we would have a hard time being where we’re at today because the cost of land in this area and the cost of business is so expensive.”

The Family Fun Fest is the most profitable entertainment offering Patterson Fruit Farm operates, Patterson says, and it continues to grow each year through word-of-mouth and even second-generation families making the festival an annual tradition. The operation measures its costs and profits from Family Fun Fest visitors by how much beyond the festival rate they spend, and track it on a daily and weekly basis.

“We consider ourselves apple growers and apple sellers, and that’s still our main business,” says Patterson. “By people purchasing the apples and cider there in the market, it allows us to keep our admission price lower than if they weren’t buying everything.”

Fewer Customers, Better Profits

In a July e-mail to American Fruit Grower, Ross Nelson of Nelson Apple Farm in Webster, MN, said in 2005 his operation began charging customers $4 per person over age 6 and $2.50 per person for age 6 and under. The admission fee came after the orchard experienced a decline in profitability when families or child care groups would spend two hours or more at the orchard on wagon rides, at the petting zoo or the corn stalk crawl, without purchasing anything.

After the orchard began charging fees, some customers did complain, Nelson said, but most of the customers were very accepting of the admission fee and understood why the change was made. By the 2006 season, there was much less resistance, he said, and positive aspects included a less congested parking lot, less frequent wagon rides with better service, and, most importantly, increased profits.

Keep ‘Em Coming

Patterson Fruit Farm in Chesterland, OH, knows how to keep its customers coming back for more. Its annual Family Fun Fest adds a new attraction each year, and changes its features annually.

This fall’s attractions included a new treehouse in the woods, which featured the operation’s perennially popular bouncing bridge and a watch tower. Two racing slides down a hill was a big draw, as was the slide through a tree.

Repeat attractions included Patterson’s signature straw pile under a pavilion, which incorporates 600 straw bales, slides, tunnels, tractor tire swings, and more. The festival also includes a corn maze, playhouses, concessions, and face painting, among other activities.

A huge event each year is the return of children’s music celebrity Suzi Shelton for a concert in her hometown. Patterson’s also offers discount rates for birthday parties and events.

The orchard has many activities throughout the year at its maple sugar house, and its reception hall is rented for weddings and other events. In June, the farm opens its pick-your-own strawberry fields for the summer.

For more information, visit www.pattersonfarm.com.

“Those families that were at the orchard to ride the wagon, see the petting zoo, walk through our 7-acre corn maze, and purchase little were irate (about the admission fee),” Nelson said. “We got rid of a group of people who were not paying their way and made it better for those who were here to have a good time and let us make a profit.”

The orchard’s plan for this fall was to again charge the $4/$2.50 fee and improve check-out lines to better accommodate the Fun Fee charge, said Nelson. By fall 2008, he plans to increase the admission price to return to the level of profit Nelson Apple Farm experienced in the past.

Nelson added that other orchards around his local area near the suburbs of Minneapolis/St. Paul were experiencing the same problems and said if all apple growers charge for entertainment services, it will lead to profits for all.

“Unfortunately, most orchard owners are not good business people and don’t really know if they are making money or not,” Nelson wrote. “I am the treasurer for the Minnesota Apple Growers Association, and we will continue to have seminar topics at the annual conference on such topics as what growers can do to increase their profitability.”

Topics: ,

Leave a Reply

Farm Management Stories

CitrusReport: Major Food And Agriculture Employers Can’t Fill Vital Jobs
October 21, 2014
Current shortage of young farming professionals means ample employment opportunity for the next generation. Read More
CitrusGrowers Need To Take The Ball And Run — Now! [Opinion]
October 18, 2014
Help yourself, your farm, and fellow colleagues by becoming more involved in your industry. Read More
CitrusDiversification Is King For Small Farm’s Success
October 16, 2014
Being flexible and adapting to the times critical for Central Florida's Vo-LaSalle Farms. Read More
Farm ManagementVidalia Onion Committee Reaches Younger Audience with Digital Marketing Efforts
October 15, 2014
“V is for Vidalia” campaign focused on social and digital media outreach. Read More
Food SafetyCalifornia Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement Revises Website To Provide Easy Access To Food Safety Topics
October 15, 2014
The California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement's revised website provides food safety news and resources. Read More
CitrusUF/IFAS Joins In On Specialty Crop Block Grant Bonanza
October 15, 2014
Researchers partnering with FDACS and USDA on 24 separate projects to strengthen the produce market sector. Read More
Citrus2015 Florida Agricultural Hall Of Fame Inductees Announced
October 14, 2014
Six more to be honored for helping shape and influence the state’s farming industry. Read More

The Latest

Farm ManagementResearchers Finding Biofuel Fits For Florida
October 21, 2014
Alternative crops identified that are suited for the state's climate and can easily be processed for power. Read More
CitrusBayer CropScience Launches New Award To Recognize Produ…
October 21, 2014
Award recognizes innovation that enhances the role of produce in creating better lives. Read More
CitrusGrowers Need To Take The Ball And Run — Now! [Opi…
October 18, 2014
Help yourself, your farm, and fellow colleagues by becoming more involved in your industry. Read More
CitrusDiversification Is King For Small Farm’s Success
October 16, 2014
Being flexible and adapting to the times critical for Central Florida's Vo-LaSalle Farms. Read More
Farm ManagementVidalia Onion Committee Reaches Younger Audience with D…
October 15, 2014
“V is for Vidalia” campaign focused on social and digital media outreach. Read More
CitrusUF/IFAS Joins In On Specialty Crop Block Grant Bonanza
October 15, 2014
Researchers partnering with FDACS and USDA on 24 separate projects to strengthen the produce market sector. Read More
Citrus2015 Florida Agricultural Hall Of Fame Inductees Announ…
October 14, 2014
Six more to be honored for helping shape and influence the state’s farming industry. Read More
CitrusFarm Bureau Urges Senate To Ditch Proposed Water Rule
October 8, 2014
Farm Bureau says the time is now to have the proposed water rule withdrawn. Read More
Farm ManagementSpecialty Crop Producers Score Nearly $118 Million In G…
October 2, 2014
Via 2014 Farm Bill, USDA seeks to bolster major driver in U.S. economy.   Read More
BerriesReal Estate Firm, Wish Farms Strike Large Land Deal
October 1, 2014
$13.8 million transaction includes more than 800 acres acquired from longtime Central Florida produce operation. Read More
CitrusFarming Is Quite The Scary Prospect For Some [Opinion]
September 30, 2014
Florida Grower managing editor Paul Rusnak says economic realities might frighten off future leaders from noble professions. Read More
CitrusFlorida Announces Its 2014 Woman Of The Year In Agricul…
September 29, 2014
Longtime award recognizes women who have made outstanding contributions to the state’s farming sector. Read More
CitrusFlorida Produce Industry Embracing Progress, Confrontin…
September 29, 2014
Production pressures and politics hot topics at FFVA’s 71st Annual Convention. Read More
CitrusFlorida Farmers Finding Ways To Cultivate An Environmen…
September 26, 2014
Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam salutes producers putting their best management practices forward. Read More
CitrusGrowers Should Partner Wisely To Stay Afloat Amid WOTUS…
September 26, 2014
According to Florida Grower editor Frank Giles, the Clean Water Act is muddying waters for farmers. Read More
Farm ManagementUSDA Takes Steps To Help Farmers Manage Risk
September 25, 2014
New programs offers farmers protection against price drops and additional unforeseen risks. Read More
CitrusFDA Announces Cooperative Agreement To Implement Nation…
September 17, 2014
Agreement will provide information to help plan and carry out the produce safety rule in partnership with state regulatory agencies. Read More
CitrusSouth Florida Wet Season Receives Slight Respite
September 9, 2014
Reports indicate most areas around the region received below average rainfall during August. Read More