The Great Pumpkin Patch is known for adding value to squash, but the fifth-generation family farm in Arthur doesn’t always hit a business home run, according to Mac Condill, the general manager.
While some ideas proved profitable, others were OK and fun, but didn’t generate enough profit. And some could be considered good ideas that didn’t work.
“Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should,” Condill said at the recent Illinois Specialty Crop Conference. “You don’t have to be everything for everybody.”
Condill emphasized he was sharing ideas that applied to his family’s specialty farm and agritourism business, but other farmers need to determine which ideas best suit their own operations.
Given that most people only consider squash as fall decorations, the Condills strive to educate the public about ways to cook squash.
“We came up with the concept — anything you can do with vegetables, you can do with squash — bake, fry, steam or freeze it for later,” Condill explained. “Once we said that to people, they got closer to us, ‘Tell us more.’”
The farm, which grows hundreds of squash varieties, developed a variety table concept with color-coded icons to denote varieties best suited for roasting, baking in pies, savoring the seeds and “small but mighty.” The Condills also made and posted an online video “showing people what to do,” he said. The farm shares educational information on Facebook and other social media platforms.
“If I show you what to do with it, you’ll buy it,” Condill said. “We have squash tasting on the farm every weekend. People want to just taste it. Then, they are the informed customer. I think it adds value to our customers and to our bottom line.”
While the how-to-use squash idea worked, another educational effort proved to be too costly. “We threw great farm-to-fork parties. They were fun,” Condill said.
Nonlocal chefs came to the farm and prepared five-course meals. Wine was served to tables of diners, seated in a beautiful barn setting. “But they took a lot of work and were not sustainable,” Condill reported.
Farmers need to evaluate events and activities and consider all extenuating costs, including diverting time from necessary jobs. The Condills determined a couple of spring and summer events took too much time from tasks needed to prepare for their fall season and didn’t provide enough of a trade-off.
In once-was-enough category, Condill’s wife and his twin brother tried an idea to sell grilled sweet corn at the county fair. With his wife, Ginny, in the audience, Condill smiled and described the scene. “People said, ‘That looks good. We just had some for dinner,’ because all those people had sweet corn.” For their idea, the two earned $3.58 each, Condill reported.
Condill encouraged farmers not to undervalue what they offer nonfarmers: “You’ve got to realize you provide a wonderful experience to people who don’t have access (to a farm).”