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Finds agritourism means value added ag

By Staff | Aug 13, 2010

Darrell and Malinda Geisler opened up Growing Family Fun at Geisler Farms near Bondurant, as an agritourism business in 2005.

By KRISS NELSON

Farm News staff writer

Bondurant – A project was recently funded by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture to help energize Iowa’s agritourism industry.

Ray Hansen, program director for ISU Extension Value Added Agriculture said the project was based on two observations – feedback from entrepreneurs indicating they needed assistance in business planning and marketing, an economic growth opportunity in the agritourism industry.

With those two observations, Hansen said the project was intended to help raise awareness on the importance of strategic marketing and to identify potential synergies for cross-promoting tourism venue in the same areas.

Hansen said agritourism has been defined as, “a form of value-added agriculture that involves visiting a working farm or any agricultural, horticultural or agribusiness to enjoy or be educated about what is happening at that venue.”

Agri-tourism in the state is made up of all sorts of businesses included clay target shooting facilities; equine agri-tourism; fee and lease pond fishing; hunting leases; nature-based tourism; wine tours; weddings and most commonly the self harvesting of produce on a farm.

Start-up business

In 2004 Darrel and Malinda Geisler, of Bondurant, were looking for a way to begin including the next generation to the farm and to also how to sustain their operation.

It was after Malinda heard speakers at a June 2004 agritourism meeting where one specific presenter spoke on the value of location to a metro area and access to a paved road and another explained how to create a corn maze, that she presented the idea to her family.

“Malinda came home with the idea and it’s grown from there and taken on a life of its own,” said Darrel Geisler.

After more than a year of planning and research to create the business, the Geislers now operate, “Growing Family Fun at Geisler Farms.”

Their business is separate from their 900 acres of corn soybeans and is made up of a 10-acre corn maze; six-acres of pumpkins; firepits for group reservation; children’s playground and bean maze; furnished building with a licensed kitchen that can be used for agricultural meetings and private events.

“We keep adding things for maze activities and to help enhance the experience,” she said.

This year’s maze commemorates the 20th anniversary of the World Wide Web and will include the http://www symbol, a curser, hour glass, laptop computer and the “@” sign.

Other maze activities will be available when the Geislers open up next month, which include two identical six-foot by six-foot table mazes; a right turn only patio maze and there is also a soybean mini-maze with the e-mail envelope symbol cut into a small patch of beans.

They have also added a new pedal kart racetrack for both children and adults to enjoy during daylight hours.

During September and October, the farm is open on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to last admission by 8 p.m. Sunday hours are from noon to last admission at 6 p.m.

The Geislers hire part-time seasonal help each fall that are mostly made up of high schoolers, but also have volunteers for the Heart of Iowa Marfan Chapter who log their hours and the Geislers then make a donation to the chapter.

“Little did we realize what it all would take and it’s sure been a lot more hands-on labor than row crop farming,” said Darrell Geisler.

Before you start

The Geislers agree that starting their agritourism business has been a complete learning experience on so many ends.

“I’ve been in agriculture dealing with those government and business issues,”?Darrel Geisler said, “but this just isn’t the same.”

Malinda Geisler encourages anyone interested in started up an agritourism business to first write a business plan.

“Figure out finance, market, customers, who is in competition and take that plan to your banker, insurance agent and lawyer,” she said.

Darrell Geisler said it is also important to go to one’s county officials, board of supervisors and the planning zoning committees of your county.

“You can’t ask enough questions,” he said.

Another important part of starting up an agritourism business, is to separate one’s new business from the farm and to alert the county’s Farm Services Agency office to any acres that are going to be switched over.

Location is also key in starting up an agritourism business.

Not only do the Geislers live on a paved road, but are just 14 miles northeast of downtown Des Moines and only five miles from Interstate 35 and Interstate 80.

Other resources they suggest is the Value Added Agriculture program at Iowa State University and if the business will involve produce, they said the Iowa Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association is also a great source for networking.

Contact Kriss Nelson at jknelson@frontiernet.net.

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