Growing Family Fun

corn mazeAs farm operations transition to include younger generations, expanding traditional crops is not always feasible or economical. Agritourism offers a possible side business for those looking to involve the next generation.

Geisler Farms Inc. is one such operation turning to agritourism. This is a third-generation family business that manages corn and soybean production 14 miles northeast of downtown Des Moines, Iowa, and located just five minutes from I-35 and I-80. Darrell and Malinda Geisler manage the business.

Their Growing Family Fun was launched in 2005. It featured an eight-acre corn maze, quarter-acre soybean mini maze and quarter-acre pumpkin patch. Groups were offered hayrack rides and complimentary use of one of three firepits. The business was open to the public from Labor Day weekend through October.

“We are a farm family in transition,” said Malinda. “Darrell's daughter and son-in-law, Rachel and Brad Miller, moved back to farm in 2004. They currently are supported by off-farm income. We needed to add a new enterprise to our corn and soybean production. Traditional corn/soybean production is becoming more difficult to be profitable at. We selected agritourism to get the younger generation more involved with the farm. “

According to Malinda, one goal of the agritourism activities is to generate revenue to restore an empty 35 x 55-ft. dairy barn. The ground floor, formally a milking area, could be converted to a roadside market. The open span loft in the gothic-style barn offers opportunities for school tours and educational visits year-round, or to rent the loft for wedding receptions, family reunions and outings.

“The agritourism enterprise took a year of planning and preparation,” said Malinda.

Malinda’s knowledge of agritourism and communications was put to work promoting Growing Family Fun. “We had a limited budget. The agritourism enterprise was financed using our crop operating note,” said Malinda.

The Geislers turned to family and partnering institutions for additional outreach. “We had five promotional partners in 2005,” said Malinda. “NK Brand Seed provided the seed corn for the corn maze and Lumax herbicide. Our John Deere dealer loaned us a utility tractor and tiller to create the maze trails. Our implement dealer also provided us a Gator in the fall. Our financial institution, Wells Fargo, provided monetary support for our three firepits. KCCI NewsChannel 8 and the Ag Marketing Resource Center granted us permission to include their logos in our corn maze.”

Another advantage was having a graphic designer in the family. Darrell's daughter, Rachel, created the corn maze design. By using family talent and labor, we cut the maze design into the corn and saved thousands of dollars.

Was the effort successful? “We reached our first year goals set for attendance, group bookings and gross sales,” said Malinda. “We even had a net profit. We plan to gradually add new features and expand our marketing.”

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