In 2016, Heather and Bryon Hadwick attended the Agritourism Intensive training, a signature course of the UC ANR Agritourism Program. Heather had been wanting to start a pumpkin patch, Bryon wasn't so sure. When they learned that an Agritourism Intensive was coming to Redding, they saw an opportunity to learn more about what it would take to start an agritourism enterprise and hear from experienced agritourism operators. Six years later, the Hadwick Family Farm Pumpkin Patch has become an October tradition for families from Modoc County and beyond and a launching pad for community engagement and education.
They knew it wouldn't be easy, and it hasn't been. To start, Heather and Bryon both work full-time off-farm jobs. They designed the business to be manageable part-time by the two of them with help from their children, who are now teenagers. Having enough time is only one of their obstacles; they also have to contend with insurance limitations and unpredictable weather. As with all agritourism operations, liability is a major concern. The Hadwick's only found a few insurance companies nationwide that would cover a pumpkin patch. In many ways, the activities that they offer at The Patch, as it is commonly called, are dictated by the insurance costs. For example, they wanted to offer tractor rides, but they would have to charge far more than they were comfortable with to offset the increase in insurance costs.
And then there's the weather. The pumpkin patch is open 3 to 4 weekends a year in October. Modoc's unpredictable weather makes it nearly impossible to project the season's earnings in advance. October has brought snow, rain, and 80-degree weather. Last year, in 2021, they were rained out every single weekend. While enough visitors showed up in their rain gear to keep the business from losing money, the experience made them question whether or not they wanted to keep it going. They moved forward with opening again in 2022, welcoming more visitors on opening day than the entire 2021 season.
Navigating business decisions amongst the limitations and uncertainties of time, insurance, and weather is no doubt challenging, but clear goals and metrics to monitor progress towards reaching those goals have helped guide the Hadwicks. Community is The Patch's founding principal. As Heather puts it, “We see the pumpkin patch as more of a community service. As long as we are in the black, we're good and will keep it going.”
The pumpkin patch itself is geared towards local families, with a keen eye on keeping prices accessible. For the first time this year, pumpkin prices were raised to offset the business's rising operating costs (for one thing, the cost of their insurance doubled this year). Entry remained $5 and includes all activities. Part of these proceeds are donated back to their local FFA chapters. “Our goal is to keep it at $5. We want it to be affordable, most families spend 2 or 3 hours at the Patch.” Heather adds, “There isn't a lot you can do these days for that long for $5 a person.” So when it comes to adding activities like tractor rides that would raise the cost too much for local families, the Hadwick's opt to keep things affordable.
In addition to keeping prices as low as possible, The Patch frequently lends their space to community groups and partners with local businesses. Floral arrangement classes, facepainting at the farm to promote a new cosmetologist business, cancer awareness walks, and frequent collaborations with the local FFA are a few examples of how the Hadwick's use their space to support community efforts and provide agricultural education. Hadwick Family Farm also hosts field trips for schools from Modoc, bordering counties and Oregon schools.
While community collaborations are in line with their business's mission, it also helps with getting the word out, saving them money on marketing. “We are mostly word of mouth. We've tried different advertising venues and word of mouth and social media seem to work the best for us,” according to Heather.
In 2021 and 2022, the UC ANR Agritourism Program partnered with UC Cooperative Extension Modoc County and local nonprofit Modoc Harvest to hold a series of workshops, funded by a USDA Farmers Market Promotion Program grant, for area farmers and community members to explore agritourism opportunities and generate interest in expanding Modoc's agritourism offerings. To supplement a workshop about hosting on-farm events, Hadwick Family Farm Pumpkin Patch hosted their first farm-to-table dinner as a fundraiser for Modoc Harvest. With little agritourism, such as on-farm events, taking place in Modoc County at present, the county does not have a framework for regulating activities, other than the statewide guidelines for farm stands and farm stays. As interest in starting agritourism enterprises increases in Modoc County, UCCE Modoc County and the UC ANR Agritourism Program will work with county regulators and other stakeholders to develop guidelines that clear a path for farmers and ranchers that are interested in expanding their offerings.
In agritourism it is often beneficial to have multiple agritourism enterprises within close proximity that can collaboratively market their businesses and attract a greater number of visitors. Hadwick Family Farm Pumpkin Patch provides a look at an operation that has achieved success by marketing to their local residents and creating community partnerships in the absence of an agritourism network.
In regions like Modoc County that do not have a developed agritourism industry, businesses like Hadwick Family Farm Pumpkin Patch, can serve as proof of concept for the potential viability of agritourism. The Hadwick's success, challenges, and insights can help inform other potential agritourism operators in the area as well as regulators. By taking a chance on opening the only pumpkin patch, and one of the only agritourism operations, in 100 or so miles, the Hadwick's are engaging and educating their community, and possibly leading the way for agritourism in Modoc County.
Author - Statewide Agritourism Coordinator