Agritourism and Ontario’s farms shine in the fall, and make a great outdoor adventure for families
By Jackie Clark
As the leaves change and field crop harvest season rolls on, many families from the suburbs and city centers of Ontario will be planning a visit to a farm.
With pumpkins, apple picking, and fall decorations, autumn is a popular time of year for agritourism or direct local sales of Ontario’s ag products.
Farms.com connected with farmers from across the province who are ready to welcome these visitors.
Warner Ranch and Pumpkin Farm is a 200-acre farm owned and operated by Donna and Bill Warner in Niagara Falls.
“We have been in the pumpkin agritourism business for 25 years, prior to that our focus was mainly raising Belgian Horses and growing hay which we also still do,” Donna Warner told Farms.com. “We currently offer a petting zoo, corn maze, pony rides, horse drawn hay rides along with selling pumpkins, squash, gourds, apples, straw and corn stalks”
In Collingwood, Jo-Anne and Murray Morrison have been operating Morrison Pumpkin Farm since 1985. Their youngest son, Blake, and his family joined recently.
“We grow and sell over 50 varieties of pumpkins, squash, and ornamentals and offer lots of family fun,” Blake Morrison said.
“Our farm has a corn maze, straw bale obstacle courses for kids to run and jump on, displays for fall photo opportunities and guests are welcome to walk through a section of the pumpkin patch as well,” he explained.
Fall Harvest Farm in St. Agatha, near Kitchener-Waterloo “is a family-run farm,” said Josephine McCormick. “We’ve been selling pumpkins and squash and gourds and all the fall decorating stuff since my mom, Rosemary, was about ten years old.”
Josephine herself attended the University of Guelph Ridgetown Campus to get two diplomas in agriculture and horticulture.
Since returning to the farm “we have built a farm store where you can buy all kinds of local produce and other goodies like maple syrup and honey, freezer meats and cheese,” McComick explained. “That was the vision when I went to Ridgetown was to come home and help the family expand.”
The whole family, including her parents and five siblings, are involved on the farm.
“The youngest is ten but even then, they still help on the farm,” she said. “We grow all the different varieties of pumpkins you’ve probably never heard of.”
Some people travel a great distance to Fall Harvest Farms to get specialty varieties of pumpkins. They also produce corn stalks and straw bales.
“We have a pumpkin scene every year. We make these fake people and then their head is a pumpkin face. This year it’s the Adams Family, because of the new kid’s movie coming out,” McCormick explained.
Families take pictures with the display, she added. “We’ve done Harry Potter, Scooby Doo, Star Wars, Mario Kart, Toy Story, Princesses, Charlie Brown. Every year it’s something different.”
Much of Ontario experienced wet conditions this season. This helped their growing season, said McCormick.
However, the rainfall also caused some difficulties.
“The growing season this season has been challenging to say the least, this year more than ever have I been asked by customers why their pumpkins have not grown,” Warner said. “Gardeners as well as farmers were faced with a very wet spring.”
Heavy rains delayed pollination of some crops, she explained. “We were lucky, as we plant at different dates so we can harvest at different times of the season, our yields were not impacted as bad.”
In Collingwood, the story was a little different.
“May and June was very dry in our area which didn’t make for a good start,” Morrison explained. “However, July gave us good growing conditions which got things back on track. The September weather has been very nice to harvest in.”
Though the past two seasons have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, farms offer plenty of outdoor space for families to celebrate the season safely.
“COVID-19 restrictions have mainly impacted our workload, cleaning and sanitizing as well as extra signage to keep customers safe and social distanced, having so many acres we are able to spread out activities,” explained Warner.
“I think our customers are thankful they have a place where their children can run, and play in large open area,” she added.
“We’re lucky to have a spacious outdoor market area which really minimizes the risk of COVID-19,” he said. “We’ve implemented practices to protect our customers and employees but how we operate the farm and business has not needed to change because of the pandemic.”
It’s a similar story at Fall Harvest Farms.
“We’ve been able to operate everything the same,” McCormick said. Visits to the farm have even increased during the pandemic.
“People are looking for stuff to do, and farms are one of the things,” she explained.
Image Source\DigitalVision photo