While non-traditional farm income may not be a concept embraced by many farm operators in Texas, the fall season each year marks the return of a growing number of holiday-related special events at a number of Texas farms and ranches. Programs are designed to draw crowds from urban areas and capitalize on an ongoing interest in family weekend getaways to the countryside.

From corn mazes to hay rides to Christmas tree farms, record numbers of families and even school classes are traveling down rural roads to participate in what has been termed innovative specialty events designed to generate non-traditional income by more than just a few enterprising farm and ranch operators.

“While the concept may not be a new one, for some successful operations, it is proving to be a greater success than expected,” explained South Texas farmer Lynn McCutchen.

She should know. For a number of years she operated a successful Corn Maze program at her family farm in the Rio Grande Valley. For the price of a single ticket, visitors could walk through a comprehensive corn maze, take a mechanized hay ride, visit an onsite petting zoo, walk through a pumpkin patch, treat the kids to special rides and attractions, and make fresh farm product purchases at the onsite general store.

It has been called agri-tainment by some, a seasonal attraction that offers kids from nearby cities an opportunity to visit the farm or ranch and discover more about farming and life in rural America.

Corn maze, hay rides and zombies, oh my!

Families and school groups particularly have been quick to embrace the concept, and in recent years creative farm operators have begun offering programs for diverse age groups, like the new “Dead Farm,” also a Rio Grande Valley rural attraction, a specialty event that for a $25 ticket allows paintballers the chance to hunt down zombies scattered throughout the farm’s “zombie war zone.”

Dead Farm tickets go on sale every Thursday through Sunday night beginning at 6 p.m. throughout Oct. and into early November with the first zombie battle starting at 8 p.m.  So far, organizers say there is a waiting list by the time the “war” starts. While waiting for the zero hour, ticket holders and friends can spend time hanging out in Donna’s Corn Maze.

Across Texas the concept of producing non-traditional farm revenue seems to be growing in popularity. In North Texas, just outside of Canton, Dallas/Ft. Worth urbanites will find Yesterland Farm, where fall festival weekends get underway in late Sept. each year and run into December. A visit to the farm is a nostalgic step back in time to “old-fashioned fun on the farm with a new twist.”

From fall festivities to a holiday wonderland of Christmas trees and Santa, organizers call the event “farm-tastic family entertainment.” Activities include a pumpkin patch, a corn maze, amazement park, Dixie Mercantile, the Hog Wild Grill, wagon train rides, pony rides and more.

Farm owner Chuck and Kama Bozeman say the event is extremely popular with visitors to Canton’s famous First Monday Market event throughout the holiday season, but say crowds are growing almost every weekend.

Near LaGrange, in Central Texas, Frerichs Dairy has opened up a weekend attraction they call the Jersey Barnyard, a weekend showcase of the working dairy that provides families a chance to tour the farm and dairy operation. Guided family and group tours provide opportunities for visitors to feed, touch and learn about dairy animals. They can try their skill in the hay maze and cow milking demonstration. A tractor-drawn hay ride to the dairy to see the herd provides visitors a chance to see where they live, what they eat, and where they're milked, and to observe crops being planted or harvested.

Just north of San Antonio at the Love Creek Apple Orchard, the Great Hill Country Pumpkin Patch is a celebration of the harvest season, attracting large crowds from the San Antonio area. The event focuses on old-fashioned family fun that “boasts the blessings of earth’s bountiful harvest.” Fresh picked apples, figs, and persimmons are joined by the likes of dried corn stalks, a large variety of harvest squash, dried decorative corn, gourds and a selection of pumpkins varieties, including Select from Casper, Cinderella, Fairy Tale, Rumbo and Blue Pumpkins.

Activities include hay rides, hay bale maze, petting zoo, tour of the apple orchard, a visit to the cider mill, pumpkin painting, story-telling, pony rides, face painting and more.

Most weekend holiday events charge between $6 and $10 a ticket and are open on varying hours and days each week throughout the holiday season. Check the Internet to discover seasonal family farm events in your area and read about what other farm families are doing to “raise the bar” of income production and to introduce their products and brand directly to customers across their areas.