Agritourism offers families a chance to safely get together and enjoy autumn
By Natalie Reidford
Autumn is upon us. With the changing leaves and cooler weather comes the expectation of fall family activities, like hay rides, apple picking, corn mazes and festivals at local farms.
This year looks a little different, though, as the coronavirus is still taking up residence in our lives and forcing us to reimagine what “normal” activities will look like this season.
Local agritourism businesses are rising to the occasion and changing their autumn plans to meet health guidelines while also opening their doors — and fields — to customers eager to do something fun.
Apple Hill Orchard
Karen Black with Apple Hill Orchard said plans for the annual Fall Festival and Farm Fun Day were going forward.
The festival is scheduled for Oct. 3.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, “(the Fall Festival) might be a little different this year,” she said.
Black said the event will take place while enacting current health guidelines and social distancing.
Planned activities include lunch, pumpkin painting and a bounce house. Kool-Ade the Clown may visit the orchard as well.
Lunch guests will be seated and served. However, in previous years, the popular meal meant people were “shoulder to shoulder inside,” Black said. This year, staff is working on ways to spread out seating areas.
Guests will not be able to pick apples this year, Black said. The decision was made not only because of COVID-19 restrictions, but also because of the freeze that hit the area around May 1, killing many of the apple crops and wiping out the peach crops.
“It’s been a funky year,” Black said.
Picked apples will be for sale, though, along with pies.
Black suggested that customers follow the Apple Hill Orchard Facebook page for the latest information on hours and product availability. Any updates on the Fall Festival and Farm Fun Day will be posted there as well, she said.
Adam Lark, system manager and farm hand for Lark Ranch, said the business plans to open on Sept. 19.
“It helps that we are an outdoor venue,” Lark said.
The ranch will be open on Saturday and Sunday for the first two weeks, then Friday through Sunday during the month of October.
Lark said the ranch will follow current health guidelines.
A Facebook post announcing plans to open said: “To ensure the safety of our guests, we will be working to implement increased hand-sanitizing stations and regular cleaning of rides and high-traffic areas, as well as encouraging masks and social distancing.”
Lark advised interested guests to follow the Lark Ranch Facebook page and website to keep up to date on possible schedule changes.
Stanley Madison of Lyles Station Historic School and Museum said the grounds are open for visitors, and the maze is scheduled to open in October.
Usually the destination of school field trips, Lyles Station may not see the normal level of activity due to current school health guidelines. Madison said he believes it’s important, though, to offer the children’s maze this year, especially after he spoke to some parents in the spring who said virtual learning involves a lot of sitting still.
“Kids need to burn up some energy,” Madison said.
Staff is considering a kids’ movie night and an outdoor concert this fall, but plans were not yet finalized in August.
Any event would involve following health guidelines and social distancing, Madison said.
“We are trying to find a way to have a little entertainment for the public to (be able to) get out,” he said. Madison added that the outdoor grounds at Lyles Station are open, and visitors are always welcome to walk around and do some sightseeing.
Madison said he hopes to get events back on track for 2021, especially the Juneteenth celebration. Also in the works for next year at Lyles Station are the addition of a greenhouse and nature center on 3 acres.
Whatever the season may bring, farms are using their mostly-outdoor locations to their advantage this year, ready to offer families a chance to get out and enjoy the autumn weather together.