by Sally Colby
On bright, fall weekends through late November, Crumland Farms will host thousands of guests. Some visitors are youngsters and anxious to select the perfect pumpkin from the farm’s pumpkin patch, while others are prepared to be frightened in one of several haunted features.
Crumland Farms was originally a dairy farm in Frederick, MD. When the cows were sold in 2000, the family decided to use the farm to create a fall activity venue. “At the same time my parents sold the herd, I was laid off and came back to the farm temporarily,” said Chris Crum, who manages the farm today. “The following year we started with a corn maze and a pumpkin patch.”
Crum says that membership in North American Farmers’ Direct Marketing Association has helped them develop and refine the farm into a thriving agritainment venture. “Everyone participates in some kind of direct marketing,” said Crum, describing members of the organization. “They have a conference and a bus tour every year. The first bus tour we went on was in Toronto, and it was a real eye-opener. We saw a lot of different ideas that help draw customers back. We met people from all over the country, and they were willing to share their secrets.” Crum says that although he comes back with a lot of new ideas from conferences, he has to narrow the choices down to those that will work best for Crumland Farms.
Crumland Farms includes 500 acres of cropland that aren’t part of the agritainment venture. “Most of the crops, the pumpkins, corn maze and all of the other activities happen one time a year,” said Crum. “It’s a balancing act when you make all of your money in a two-month period.” One of the most popular fall features are the 8-acre corn maze and a 5-acre haunted maze. This year’s design for the larger maze is ‘Cowbraham Lincoln’ to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the signing of The Emancipation Proclamation.
When it comes to making decisions about what to plant, Crum says there are many options. “As a commercial grower, the first thing I look at is whether or not the variety is powdery mildew tolerant,” he said. “I like growing the odd varieties, like flat pumpkins and others you don’t see every day.” Crum plants 8 to 10 acres of pumpkins each year; some for the main pumpkin patch and also for the patch used for school tours.
On another section of the farm, Crum plants a pizza farm, which is primarily a spring/summer attraction. “It’s a big, round garden that’s grown in ‘slices,’” Crum explained. “There’s a section with tomatoes, one with wheat, then a section for dairy animal and pigs. We tell the kids how the wheat becomes flour for the crust and go through the whole pizza process.” Crum has found that parents often ask more questions than the students, and is pleasantly surprised by how much the children know from lessons they’ve had in school.
On fall weekends, visitors can take a hayride to to the field to select pumpkins that are sold by the pound. “People want a good, healthy stem so pumpkins must have a handle,” said Crum.” We encourage them not to carry pumpkins by the handle, but some of the new varieties have a heavy enough stem to hold a 30-pound pumpkin.”
The popular haunted attractions at Crumland Farms started out with a haunted hayride through a wooded area, which Crum says was easy to control because customers were contained. Next, they added the haunted barn and corrupted corn — a mini-corn maze that’s haunted. The haunted barn, which is constructed inside a large hoop structure, was built as ‘rain insurance’ when other attractions must be closed due to weather. For guest safety and to maintain order, actors throughout the haunt can easily contact either Crum or another manager who place themselves throughout the area.
“It’s about good management and good training,” said Crum as he described how the farm team manages guests. “I have a couple of leaders in each section to keep an eye out, and we use two-way radios that help us track down troublemakers faster than we can with cell phones. We also have professional security at night — all we have to do is identify problem customers and security deals with them. But 98 percent of the people who come out are here to have a good time and not cause trouble.”
Crumland Farms is very family friendly. The play area is open and inviting, with well-built structures and plenty of space for play. The tube slide, duck races, pedal carts and farm animals are all appropriate for families with youngsters.
Crum says although they’ve considered expanding, he has to carefully determine how much time they’ll have to devote to new ventures. This past season, Crum raised vegetables and sold them to local restaurants, so he might expand on that, and will also try more produce and some flowers. Crum grew sweet corn several years ago, but found that the picking time interfered with fall preparations.
One off-season idea that has worked well is a monthly yard sale held May through August. Individuals can purchase 20 x 20 ft. spots at the farm, which draws more attention to the farm’s other offerings including seasonal produce. Crum is considering expanding the yard sale idea and will invite other local farms to sell produce there.
Although they don’t raise Christmas trees on the farm, Crumland Farms purchases trees from a nearby Christmas tree farm for the holiday season. “If we had realized 10 years ago how much this would have grown, we may have put in a cut-your-own area,” said Crum. “But we get trees at a good price, and we split the profits with a local volunteer fire company who helps us.”
Crum says that social media, especially the farm’s website and Facebook, are the best avenues for drawing new customers. “We have good road frontage, and the hay bale paintings out front draw a lot of attention.”
After November, Crum and his team are ready to plan the following year. “At the end of the season, we take notes on what worked and what didn’t work,” he said. “We have to write down the ideas while they’re still fresh in our heads, then we’ll start to do more planning after the holidays.”
Visit Crumland Farms on Facebook and at www.crumland.com
by Sally Colby