What is in this article?:
While agri-tainment and agritourism may be a viable objective for many farm and ranch owners, it is proving to be a successful venture for the many who are willing to plow new trails and opportunities to succeed with their rural offerings.
From rice to riches: The story of Dewberry Farm
Larry and Mary Emerson, accompanied by their friend and partner, Dan Bradshaw, founded and opened Dewberry Farm near Houston in 2002 with little more than high spirits and a single corn maze. Larry had served as an entomologist and crop consultant many years for rice farmers in the Katy area before researching the opening of a tourist-oriented attraction on property near Brookshire. Eventually, that led to what today is known far and wide as Dewberry Farm.
Eleven years after opening the gates to the public featuring a single corn maze, the list of growing attractions provide fun for families of all shapes and sizes. In addition to over 30 unique attractions, Dewberry Farm also offers prepared foods such as smoked turkey legs and barbeque dinners to please the crowds that visit each fall.
But despite their modern success, things didn’t start so easily in the beginning, as Mary Emerson explained.
“Our first year we expected 75,000 visitors and only had 3,500 pass through the gates,” she said. “We had made a huge investment in buildings, employees, and land improvements. Fortunately, Larry was still receiving income as a working entomologist and our partner Dan was a working crop consultant. This kept us afloat until we were able to better establish ourselves.”
According to Mary, the first two years were hard going and she warns like minded farm owners and operators who wish to tap into non-traditional farm income to “keep your day job until you can establish yourself.”
Other tips she offers for aspiring agri-tainers include a willingness to share ideas and to listen to others who have already ventured into agritourism.
“There are very few original ideas on our farm; we’ve gotten these ideas from other people and tweaked them a little bit over time. We’ve learned a great deal by being members of organizations dedicated to farm attractions, like the North American Farmers’ Direct Marketing Association (NAFDMA).”
Dewberry Farms is an example of a converted farm operation. The farm no longer produces a crop and is solely dedicated to providing entertainment to the public through its many attractions. Over the years, the farm attraction has grown and now sports the popular eight-acre corn maze, an eight-acre pumpkin patch featuring 500 lighted pumpkins, and a mile-long miniature railroad that carries visitors across the farm. In recent years the farm has added a Christmas tree forest where visitors can select and purchase a Christmas tree for the holidays.
Other popular attractions and activities include a petting zoo, pig races, zip lines, a corn cannon, pony rides and an elaborate playground for the little ones.
The Emersons and partner Dan say while their successful operation attracts thousands from the greater Houston area, the project required years of development and hard work before it became a major success.
While Dewberry Farm represents an example of how a former rice farm can be converted into a successful stand-alone farm attraction, most farm attractions are located on working farms or ranches and only supplement traditional streams of revenue from crops or livestock.
Such is the case of a South Texas ranching family who wanted to attract visitors to help generate non-traditional revenues but also wanted to preserve Texas ranching heritage to educate the public while preserving a piece of fading history.