As the operator of a 65-year-old orchard, Richard Tanner said he knows what does and doesn’t work when it comes to “agritainment.”
But he’s open to new ideas.
“I just want to see what’s new out here in the market,” he said. “See what we can do to make our place better.”
More than 100 current and prospective orchard owners and horticulture experts attended a Horticulture Field Day on Thursday at Kuipers Family Farm in Maple Park.
They were searching for innovative ways to draw families in during the fall season.
Kim and Wade Kuipers, owners of Kuipers Family Farm, led tours of their 8,000-tree apple orchard, Christmas tree farm and gift shop; they also provided sample bakery items.
Their orchard is considered “agritainment” because it features family activities such as a corn maze, wagon rides, haunted forest and lots of other attractions.
Wade Kuipers said the orchard last year drew approximately 32,000 visitors. During Thursday’s tour, he shared with visitors some of the orchard’s challenges – pricing, staying free of accidents and managing crowds – and successes – reducing produce waste and limiting frost damage.
Inside the gift shop, Kim Kuipers answered questions about vendors, signs, food and bakery items, hiring employees and other issues related to the business aspect of the orchard. Participants tasted pies, cookies and other bakery items, and met with vendors to find ideas about what to sell at their own shops.
“It’s nice to know what works for them works for us, and what works for us works for them,” said Denise Boggio, who helps run Boggio’s Orchard & Produce in Granville and serves as vice president of the Illinois State Horticultural Society.
The society sponsors a Horticulture Field Day at an orchard once a year during the offseason. Don Naylor, executive secretary for the society, said it’s an opportunity for growers and orchardists to get together and see what other operations are like.
“It’s a very sharing industry,” he said. “They help each other.”
Tanner, who owns Tanners Orchard near Peoria, was intrigued by how the Kuipers handle crowds, what their signs looked like and their prices. He said orchard owners are competitors in a sense, but sharing their best practices benefits everyone.
“You help others improve so people have good impressions of everyone,” he said. “Just like the old saying, ‘One bad apple can spoil the barrel.’ One bad apple can do a lot of damage.”
Naylor said the Illinois State Horticultural Society identifies orchard operations that have new, innovative ideas, which is why the society hosted this year’s field day at Kuipers Family Farm.
He said the family made drastic changes in the past decade that would take some orchard owners a lifetime to implement.
“The most unique thing about this operation is that they have created through a lot of hard work a very modern, sophisticated orchard, or ‘farmtainment,’ in the last 10 years,” Naylor said. “They started from scratch.”
Erica Pratt, who helps run Montgomery Farms in Prophetstown, is interested in starting an operation similar to the Kuipers orchard. She and her stepmother have been floating the idea for a few years.
“Especially with my stepmother, she likes the idea of the education part of it,” Pratt said. “People can see how it works, experience it and not be in the way of a farm operating.”
Rob Long traveled from Michigan to discover ideas to improve Long Family Orchard in Commerce City, Mich. He said he wanted to see Kuipers Family Farm because it has a great reputation.
He walked around the shop taking photos of displays using an iPad.
“The Kuipers have shared their deepest, darkest secrets – all of them good. They’re very generous people,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of pictures I can’t wait to show my wife.”