Local Farmers Fuel Northern Va. Agritourism

Those headed out to pumpkin patches, corn mazes and vineyards this weekend are fueling a growing business sector -- agritourism.

Increasingly, farmers are supplementing their income and warding off the ups and downs in commodities prices by opening up their fields and farm products to the public.

Just outside of Purcellville in Loudoun County, Va. Tyler and Harriet Wegmeyer bought their farm in 2002. Both had grown up on dairy farms.

On their property they planted corn and soybeans and they grew heirloom pumpkins to sell at farmer's markets.

In 2008, they decided to let the public do some of the picking and then added a corn maze.

"We like people and we like to educate people about farming," Tyler Wegmeyer said. "We have a real passion for agriculture so we thought, why not share that knowledge?"

In the spring, the couple and their three young sons have strawberries ready for picking.

The Wegmeyer's farm is one of about 60 in Loudoun County doing some sort of agritourism. Of that number,  35 wineries make up the fastest growing agritourism segment.

It was the heirloom pumpkins and the view that compelled Maureen Bailey to make the one hour drive from Kensington with her daughters to the Wedmeyer farm.

"I want them to experience the outdoors and I want them to experience the pumpkins in the most natural environment," Bailey said. "It was exciting for us to drive out here to countryside. We don't usually get to see this kind of scenery."

Not only are farmers like the Wegmeyer's providing an experience to the community, but their profits are rising as a result of it.

For Wegmeyer's, one third of their revenue comes from the agritourism.

"Growing a basic commodity, you're subject to the market ups and downs," Tyler Wegmeyer said. "Certainly it's a great opportunity to bring people onto the farm and grow a niche product that has more of a value to it."

Business has been so good the Wegmeyer's purchased a second 120-acre farm, called Wayside Farm Fun, where they've opened an even bigger corn maze this fall.

As Northern Virginia's population continues to grow, especially in areas with young families, economic development officials expect more farmers will join the agritourism movement.

Tyler Wegmeyer said there is one final benefit for his family: a little more down time compared to traditional farming.

"With dairy farming you have to be there 365 days a year, all the time, never ending. Here, we get a little break in the winter, " he said. "But in the busy seasons it's really busy  -- we love it. It's what we love to do."

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