Tuesday, March 11, 2014
A decade or so ago, when Keith Harris mostly just grew corn and other vegetables on his family farm in Dayton, he called it River View Farm.
But since then, in order to attract more fall customers and keep the place thriving, he's added a few attractions. Specifically, a six-acre corn maze, a corn launcher, a play area, farm animals, a tire pyramid, and oh by the way, pumpkins you can pick yourself.
Harris also changed the name of his place to Pumpkin Valley Farm.
He says he made the changes to capitalize on the growing demand for ''agritainment'' and ''agritourism'' opportunities. The former refers to farms offering entertainment as an added enticement to visitors, while the latter refers to farms becoming family entertainment destinations that draw visitors from the next town over -- or the even the next state over.
Around Maine this fall, there are lots of other farms trying to capitalize on the ''agritainment'' trend by offering wagon rides, complex corn mazes, rock bands, bluegrass music and more.
''It became a challenge for us to compete with retail farm stands, and so we decided to look for a new focus,'' said Harris, who grew up farming in Dayton. ''This (agritainment) has evolved into our main source of income. It's basically families coming out to the farm and spending time together.''
Here's a round-up of some the ''agritainment'' coming up this fall at area farms that you might find when you head out to pick apples or pumpkins:
Music seems to be a growing component of Maine's ''agritainment'' scene, though it's not as widespread yet as corn mazes or wagon rides. Musicians who play apple orchards and farms say it's a relaxed atmosphere, and often there's good acoustics as well.
''Orchards are usually very nice acoustical spaces, with trees behind you and on the sides, and the audience in front, so you can get a good sound without having to be too loud,'' said Randall Morabito of the Good Rockin' Daddies, a group that's played farms around southern Maine.
''And it's a relaxed, family atmosphere, where everyone's in a good mood anyway. So it's fun for us to play.''
Apple Acres Farm in South Hiram, located about an hour west of Portland, is one of the places with regular music each fall. The Good Rockin' Daddies will be playing one of their ''children's dance parties'' there at noon Sept. 19. Admission to the one-hour show, on a hilltop field surrounded by trees, is $6 for adults and $3 for children ages 12 and under.
The Good Rockin' Daddies play mostly original children's songs in the style of old-time rockers like Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley or Elvis Presley. So the focus is squarely on getting the kids to move.
Apple Acres also hosts a one-day bluegrass music festival every fall. This year's edition will be 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sept. 26. Admission for the music is $7. The three Maine-based performers will be Bits and Pieces; Breakin' Strings, an all-teen band from Augusta; and the Muddy Marsh Ramblers, who play often around Portland.
Even when there's music at Apple Acres, there's no admission to take part in other activities, including a hay bale maze.
Doles Orchard in Limington, located about 45 minutes west of Portland in York County, has a different band playing at its ''Harvest Concert Series'' every Sunday from Sept. 20 through Oct. 11. The performances are usually in the afternoon, around 1 p.m., and are free.
This year's schedule includes Maine guitarist Denny Breau on Sept. 20, the Half Moon Jug Band on Sept. 27, the Imperial Hot Club on Oct. 4 and Acoustic Soul Duo on Oct. 11.
Doles -- which has apples and raspberries right now for the picking -- has had bands playing on Sundays during the fall for about eight years.
''It's just one more way for us to draw people here, as opposed to another orchard,'' said Emily Tripp, whose parents own the farm.
Corn mazes are big business around the country. So big that there are companies that will design and build them -- by cutting into a corn field -- for local farms.
Pumpkin Valley Farm in Dayton has such a maze, which covers six acres and might take some folks a couple of hours to navigate. The maze will be open weekends beginning Sept. 19, with special moonlight sessions 6 to 9 p.m. Oct. 23 and 30.
Pumpkin Valley is a pick-your-own pumpkin farm, and there's one admission charge that includes the maze, a play area, farm animals and a hayride to the pumpkin patch. Admission is $8 for adults, $5 for children ages 3 to 12, and free for children under age 3.
Ricker Hill Orchards in Turner, north of Lewiston, has a corn maze, a petting zoo and a bounce house. A ''day pass'' for access to the activities is $5 for a child and $3 for an adult.
There are apples and pumpkins for the picking, and starting around Columbus Day, you can tour the farm's cranberry bog.
Thunder Road Farm in Corinna and Zach's Corn Maze in York are a couple of other corn maze locales to check out. Zach's has maze twisting through 17 acres of corn. Admission is $8 (free for children under age 3).
FLYING PRODUCE AND KID STUFF
For reasons that aren't entirely clear, farms often have devices set up to launch their produce. Pumpkins, potatoes, ears of corn, whatever.
Pumpkin Valley Farm has a ''corn launcher'' made from a steel pipe and powered by compressed air. You get four shots for $1. Highly trained farm staff load the corn in, then you aim the pipe and fire at will.
Apple Acres Farm has a giant slingshot called ''The Apple Blaster.'' You get five shots for a $1, and if your apple hits the target, you get a pound of the farm's fudge.
Dole's in Limington and Apple Acres both have hay bale mazes, which are much less extensive and complicated than corn mazes, so they're better for little kids. Apple Acres' maze is free; the one at Dole's is $2.50, but you can go all day.
To search for more ''agritainment'' in your area, check out the Maine Department of Agriculture's Web site, www.getrealmaine.com.
There, you can search pick-your-own farms, including ones that have tours, or special events. You can also search by county and find Web site address for the farms that have them.
Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:
Cover StoryCourtesy photos
The Half Moon Jug Band, above, and Denny Breau are scheduled to perform this month at Doles Orchard in Limington.
click image to enlarge