by Courtney Llewellyn
Want to bring more people to your farm? Want to find a different source of agritainment income? Farms often boast a lot of land and not a lot of traffic. Have you considered hosting a race?
According to Running USA, more than 18 million people registered for races in 2017, with 5Ks – the most popular distance – featuring more than 8.8 million of those runners. A standardized distance in running, five kilometers (5K) equals 3.1 miles.
With entry fees averaging $34 (per a report from the New York Times), but costs only totaling $27.50 (for advertising, T-shirts, timing services, insurance, etc.) per runner, as long as a race host could draw in 200 runners, they could make a profit of $1,300 without sponsors.
Some farms have already trotted down this path. Read more about their experiences below.
Consider Fishkill Farms, a 270-acre orchard and vegetable farm in East Fishkill, NY. “We had been thinking about how it would be fun to host a 5K race but didn’t have the time or resources to do so by ourselves in the midst of our U-pick operation,” explained Katie Ross. “One day, a member of our local Rotary Club came in and asked if we could collaborate on hosting a 5K event. It was quite serendipitous!”
The Rotary Club was new to planning races and sought out the farm because they wanted to host it somewhere local roads didn’t need to be closed. Fishkill Farms provided the space, marketing support, course mowing, assistance planning – and donuts. The Rotary Club was in charge of the ticketing website, race T-shirts, soliciting sponsorships, print marketing, course signage and hiring an ambulance and a DJ, so the two entities split the up-front costs.
Ross said the farm continues to host the race because they had so much fun doing so the first time. “Both organizations worked together well,” she said. “We’ve increased our turnout and the event is of benefit to the Fishkill Rotary, who do a lot to support our community.” Together, they are planning to host the race for a third year this July.
Because it is a U-pick farm, Fishkill Farms already has the infrastructure and proper insurance to accept customers onto their property.
Diane Miller’s Legacy
Diane married David, and together, they worked on his family’s Miller Plant Farm in York, PA, opening the Miller Plant Farm Garden Center in 2011. In February 2015, Diane was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. While undergoing treatment, she learned about Wellspan’s York Cancer Patient Help Fund, which gives 100% of the money donated directly to local patients to help meet their immediate needs. Miller Plant Farm hosted its first Cancer Care Day 2017, raising $6,000 for the fund.
Sadly, Diane lost her battle in June 2018, but last year, the Diane Miller Gift of Hope Fund was established, raising nearly $24,000 for local patients during that year’s Summer Bash, which includes a race.
On Aug. 1, the farm will be hosting its fourth annual Summer Bash featuring the Farm Fresh 5K. In 2019, their race had more than 200 runners registered.
Fueled by Fine Wine
Bill Stoller’s family manages the largest contiguous vineyard in Oregon’s Dundee Hills – 400 acres, with 230 under vine – taking care of the winemaking process from pruning to bottling. Since the property came into the family in 1943, they say that two things have remained constant – their pioneering spirit and their commitment to their farm. That adventuresome spirit can be seen in the fact the Dayton, OR, Stoller Family Estate hosts four races every year: the Wicked Wine Run, the Wine Country Half, the Fueled by Fine Wine Run and the Dayton 5K.
“These races are an excellent way for people to connect to the land and get a different look at agriculture, which at the end of the day is what winegrowing is,” said Michelle Kaufmann, communications director for Stoller Wine Group. “We are committed to being a family-friendly winery. These races are another way that people can interact with our wines and estate in pursuit of a healthy lifestyle.” (They’ve also partnered with local yoga studios to host yoga in the vineyard.)
More Than Fall Fun
Touting itself as “East Tennessee’s Favorite Fall Attraction,” Oakes Farm in Corryton, TN, transitioned from tobacco and beef cattle to daylilies in the 1970s. In 2001, a pumpkin patch became their latest endeavor, and they’ve added corn mazes, hayrides, giant slides, gem mining, an animal exhibit, concession stands and more over the years. Why add more?
“We started doing a 5K primarily because one of our family members who worked at the farm was very involved in running, and he heard that our local running club was looking for a new place to host a races,” Ken Oakes said. “Our hope was to get people out to the farm who might not otherwise know about it, so they would return during our [autumn agritourism] season.”
Oakes said they’ve enjoyed hosting the race – and even he runs it. “It’s fun having one in my backyard,” he said.
Of Course the Course Matters
Fishkill Farms in downstate New York features rolling hills, providing a challenging course for those who run it, along with plenty of old-growth apple trees to provide shade and amazing views of the Hudson Valley, according to the farm’s Katie Ross.
The Farm Fresh 5K, hosted by Miller Plant Farm, is an all-terrain run that takes participants through the fields of the farm. “Hosting the public to our farm for this event allows our community to see portions of our land which are otherwise private and not publicly accessible,” noted Christy Miller.
Because of the large size of Stoller Family Estate, it has pockets of different microclimates across its rolling hillsides, “making it a truly stunning and unique place to run,” according to Michelle Kaufmann. It ranges in elevation from 220 feet at the bottom to nearly 680 feet near the top. The estate is not the only vineyard involved in Fueled by Fine Wine, but it does serve as the start and end point. Runners start the Wine Country Half there, but finish in the town of Carlton.
“With Wicked Wine Run, we work with race coordinators to create a 5K throughout our estate, which is fun because we can expose guests to various sections of the property that they would otherwise not see,” Kaufmann explained.
“Our farm works well for a race because it is large enough that the course can basically run the perimeter of the property,” Ken Oakes said. “We also have facilities, including pavilions, tents, tables, restrooms and concessions equipment.” He noted, however, that by its nature, a race on the farm is off-road, and he thinks there are less people who like to run that kind of race versus a road race on nice, smooth pavement. On the flip side, it really doesn’t take much time to prepare for their race – they just need to mow the course and have their facilities ready (which they’re doing anyway, since the race takes place right before their season opens).
The Bottom Line Benefits
Every farm Country Folks Grower spoke to about the benefits of hosting a race mentioned the exposure to a new segment of the population. In the case of Fishkill Farms, promotion done by their Rotary Club partners helps raise awareness about the work they do and brings people to the farm to see it themselves.
“We would recommend other farms host an event like this if they have the capacity to do so,” said Katie Ross. “As local farmers, we try to be involved in our community as much as possible. Our neighbors support us and we support them too.”
Christy Miller agreed. “I would absolutely recommend other farms hosting events such as a trail run. Having a benefit for the event always makes it more personal and more purposeful. This also makes it very personal for our family,” she said. “Ultimately, it’s so wonderful to see our community come together for such a wonderful cause.”
Showcasing the Stoller Family Estate is a benefit the family sees from hosting races, but Michelle Kaufmann said the economic benefit to the races is a little harder to quantify. “Honestly, it’s less about that and more about providing ways for people to enjoy wine country as part of their everyday lifestyle,” she said. “I would recommend other growers host events like this, especially in the Willamette Valley.”
Not all races are financially successful, however. “Maybe we just haven’t figured out the secret formula; maybe other farms have races that are super popular and growing, but based upon our experience, I wouldn’t recommend hosting one unless they have a connection to the running community or they want to do it as a fundraiser (which ours is not; that might help attendance), or they just like having events (it is fun),” Ken Oakes stated.
While Oakes Farm has seen some economic benefit and exposure from their race, it hasn’t provided as much of either as they had hoped. “As to why that is, there are a lot of factors involved – it seems like we’ve had unfortunate luck on the temperatures at race day (mid-90s most years), which make for a less-than-great race experience; there are a lot of other local races (I get the impression the market is saturated and we’re not the only race with stagnant attendance),” Oakes said.
In general, hosting a race is not a “get-rich-quick” endeavor, but hosting a 5K may have other benefits for your farm – most notably, bringing new visitors to your operation. Turning the race into a benefit to help others will also draw in more folks.
Check out a detailed breakdown of the math of hosting a race at 5kevents.org/cost-to-produce-5k.html.