When Florida Grower last reported on Long & Scott Farms six years ago, the Zellwood commercial vegetable producer had recently launched a subscription farming program for area residents seeking locally grown, fresh produce. Unfortunately, the program never caught on with enough consumers to make it profitable and was discontinued after a couple of years.
“We enjoyed doing it, but it took a lot of labor,” says Hank Scott, the farm’s president/general manager. “Another problem was location, as we are too far out from most residential areas for convenient pick-up or delivery. I think we were a little ahead of our time on it, but that’s not to say we won’t try it again one year.”
It wasn’t long, however, before the 1,200-acre farm was reaching out to its local
customers again. Long & Scott’s next big idea was an annual corn maze, which began in 2003 and now draws more than 15,000 visitors to the farm during October and November.
Big ideas are something that never seems to be in short supply at the family farm that spans three generations. Billy Long and Frank Scott founded the farm in 1963. Long is now retired, and Scott is semi-retired but still oversees daily operations. Scott’s son, Hank, leads the business, and Hank’s son, Sonny, works on the farm along with a team of 25 full-time employees. Hank’s sister, Rebecca, is the maze manager and in charge of agri-tainment (also known as agri-tourism). Heading up sales and marketing is Anna Sciarrino, who the Scotts fondly refer to as their “adopted Yankee sister.”
The farm produces pickles and corn in spring and fall, cabbage in winter, and sod year-round.
“We’ve always grown pickles,” says Hank. “Pickles are our savior. They’re what we do best, and we’ve built a strong customer base.”
The Right Ingredients
Hank attributes the farm’s success to its people. “We have strong teamwork, our employees are committed to doing a good job, and we try to have fun doing it,” he says. “Another key to success is knowing when you need professionals and where to find them.” Hank says his farm has benefited greatly over the years through the help of University of Florida Extension agents, like Richard Tyson and Gary England.
But ask Hank’s employees what makes the company successful, and you’ll get another answer.
“We’ve got a great leader,” says Sciarrino. “There is not a person on the farm that won’t tell you that. Hank has set the tone and works as hard as anyone here.”
According to Tyson, “Long & Scott is a successful farm because they are not afraid to try new ideas. They are one of the first large farms I am aware of to introduce beneficial insects for pest control and tailor their spray program to minimize damage to beneficials. They diversified their product mix to include turfgrass sod and agri-tourism, which allowed income throughout the year rather than just during the vegetable season.”
A Taste Of Agri-tainment
The biggest agri-tainment draws are the farm’s mazes, but Long & Scott also opens its doors year-round for a variety of events for groups of 50 or more, including corporate, church, and school groups; birthday parties; family reunions; charitable events, and more. Although nobody has tied the knot at the farm yet, there have been inquiries about hosting weddings.
The farm has a pavilion that can seat up to 500 guests and caters to what each individual group wants, whether it’s a farm tour, hayride, a special theme, a scavenger hunt, food service, or a bouncy house for a birthday party.
“Because of the farm’s great location just 30 minutes from Orlando, we have access to all kinds of services and can bring just about anything or anyone out to the farm for an event,” says Sciarrino.
Other agri-tourism offerings include Scott’s Country Market decorated with antique farming equipment and open during harvest season in the spring and fall. It includes a variety of fresh produce (some of which is grown on a farm in Stuart that Hank co-owns) as well as ornamental plants that his brother Marks grows locally at Plowboys Horticulture. Next to the farmer’s market is a specialty gift shop, where visitors can purchase everything from “Got Corn?” t-shirts to gourmet salad dressings to gift baskets.
Although agri-tainment is not a cash cow for Long & Scott, it’s the most rewarding aspect of the business for Hank. “We keep doing it because it’s fun and it breaks up the monotony,” he says. “If we can educate people on what we do and open their eyes a little more, that is the most rewarding aspect for me. But we try to stay under the radar a little bit. We don’t want to become an amusement park. We still want to be ag.”
Agri-tourism aside, the farm is still a farm, and with that comes some trials and tribulations.
“There’s always a new challenge,” says Hank. “There are a lot of challenges in farming, but it’s very rewarding to overcome them.”
Among those challenges are increasing governmental regulations, rising costs, and labor.
“Like any other farm, we are trying to become more efficient on the same land,” Hank says. “We always want to get better at what we do and make the job more enjoyable and rewarding for our employees. It’s hard to find good help, so when you do find it, you better find a way to keep it.”
The same line of thought holds true for the farm’s customers.
“We want to satisfy our customers with good quality and service so we can keep them, too,” Hank says. “In the last few years, we have really solidified our customer base with more face-to-face visits and by looking for ways to improve their businesses. We want to keep our customers’ business going and growing, so we can do the same with ours.”