Great Climate, Crops Mean Opportunities for Agritourism Abound
by TERESA SCHIFFER
Central Florida is a hotspot for agritourism. Our state government recognizes the value of agritourism here and since 2007 has created laws protecting the farmers who wish to open their property to the public for various activities. Since visiting any farm has some inherent risks, it was important to state legislators to protect both farmers and the public from some of these dangers. Farmers want to know that they will not be liable for injuries associated with the unavoidable risks of conducting normal farm activities, and the public wants to be assured that farmers will not be negligent when it comes to taking safety precautions to protect visitors.
Situated between the globally acclaimed theme parks of the Orlando area and the trendy urban metropolis of Tampa Bay, Polk County might seem at first like just a sleepy bedroom community. However, with more than 2,000 active farms in the county, there is actually quite a lot happening here. If you think citrus is the only thing growing in Florida, think again! We have 81 different types of crops produced here, plus 19 livestock and poultry products. Polk County is simply teeming with opportunities for agritourism.
“Everything that you do, outside of just producing in your farm, is considered agritourism,” says Luis Rodriguez, UF/IFAS’ Small Farms and Pesticide Education Agent for Polk County. “For example, any type of tours you can give to certain groups of people, that’s agritourism. If you have a bed and breakfast near or inside your farm, that’s considered agritourism.” U-pick crops and cottage industry foods, like honey or jams that are sold at the farm, are also considered agritourism.
There are many ways for a Florida farm to branch out into agritourism. Offering tours and u-pick opportunities are just the beginning. Area farmers can welcome the public onto their land for things like skeet shooting, equipment demonstrations, bird watching, rodeos, horseback riding and so much more. Seasonal activities are also popular, with farms offering various themed festivals, planting and harvesting events, charity runs, crop mazes, and other fun recreational activities.
The farmers who open their fields to the public, like the Futch family that operates the Fox Squirrel Corn Maze in Plant City, truly relish having people come and savor the simple life of rural living for a day.
“It just means a lot to us because it’s great when city people come out,” Janet Futch explains.
“It just means a lot to watch them come out and enjoy the ranch and the great outdoors, the beautiful oaks, the wildlife, the cattle, take a horseback ride, play cornhole or badminton and take a hayride, enjoy the corn maze and some bluegrass music. It’s just a lot of fun for us. We really enjoy it.”
If you are interested in learning more about Florida’s thriving agritourism industry firsthand, here are some destinations to check out!
- Oponay Farms is a family-owned farm located on Lake Hancock in Lakeland. This delightful slice of paradise specializes in growing highbush blueberries, luscious peaches and maintaining honey bee colonies. Their fields are dedicated to commercial harvests as well as u-pick customers. Oponay Farms takes pride in welcoming area children to their land for field trips to learn where fresh fruits and vegetables come from and how much hard work goes into producing their dinners. Learn more at their website, oponayfarmsllc.com.
- Fox Squirrel Corn Maze is a beloved annual tradition going into its 10th year that takes place every October in Plant City. On clement autumn weekends, the Futch family opens the Single R Ranch to the public to explore the corn maze, enjoy family-friendly games like cornhole, badminton, and duck races, take a ride on a horse or pony, and have a look at the captivating butterfly garden. You can find more information about this festive fall event online at futchentertainment.com/the-fox-squirrel-corn-maze/.
- Showcase of Citrus offers more fun for the whole family out in the fresh air in the scenic hills of Clermont. This unique Central Florida treasure offers a variety of experiences, including u-pick citrus, monster truck tours through the ranch, gem mining in a genuine sluice box, feeding Blu the Emu and Mimi the Zebu, and seasonal activities like meeting Santa and visiting the Pumpkin Ponderosa. There is a pristine lake for fishing from a pier, and a playground to give the kids a place to expend some energy. If you’d like to learn more, visit their website at showcaseofcitrus.com.
- Henscratch Farms Vineyard and Winery in Lake Placid is a wonderful place to meet with friends and relax in a calming, rural atmosphere. The vineyard that was established in 1999 specializes in plump Muscadine and Scuppernong grapes, which are harvested, crushed, and fermented to produce the distinctive wines available from the winery, such as Southern Magnolia, Red Sunset, and Country Strawberry wines. It’s a wonderful setting in which to hold your nuptials, gather with loved ones, or just kick back and enjoy some fine Florida wine. Find out how you can pick up a bottle of one of Henscratch Farms’ signature tastes at henscratchfarms.com.
True Blue Winery is another place for adults to get together to unwind in the heart of historic Davenport. This October, the winery will be offering some exciting entertainment in the form of a murder mystery comedy dinner show that includes a wine tasting. True Blue Winery features several varieties of blueberry wines produced from fruit grown in their own orchards. For some wholesome fun for the whole family, they also offer the chance to pick your own blueberries. To purchase tickets for the dinner show or find out when the berries will be available, visit their website at truebluewinery.com.