Are You Crazy? Bus Tour: Extension Education on the Move

Posted: September 24, 2014

Penn State Extension in Lehigh County organized the popular, Are You Crazy? retail farm market and agritourism bus tour.
2014 Are You Crazy? Bus Tour participants learn at one of the tour stops.

2014 Are You Crazy? Bus Tour participants learn at one of the tour stops.

On July 22 and 23, Penn State Extension partnered with the Pennsylvania Vegetable Growers Association and USDA, Risk Management Agency for the 18th annual Are You Crazy? retail farm market and agritourism bus tour. This year’s event explored premiere markets throughout central Maryland and was a sell-out with marketers from Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Maryland and Pennsylvania.

Additionally, this year the tour received sponsorship from Martin’s Produce Supplies, Putnam Plastics Farm Products, Rockford Package Supply, Maize Quest Fun Park and Jay R. Bustard Advertising and Produce Promotions.

Our first stop was Catoctin Mountain Orchard, a four-generation farm with a diversified orchard operation growing fruit, berries and vegetables on 125 acres. Each year the company plants new variety test trees looking for the best tasting fruit! A half-acre of kiwi berries is its newest venture.

The orchard offers fruit, vegetables, a bakery, pick-your-own fruit, cut-your-own flowers, farm market and farm tours. Product diversity, creativity, the owner’s honesty, the view, quality fruit at affordable prices and educational focus were notable highlights at this market.

Baugher Farm Orchard Market was our next stop. Baugher's Orchard has been a working fruit and vegetable farm since 1904. This 600-acre operation is one of the largest orchards in Maryland. The operation includes a family restaurant, two markets, pick-your-own, a bakery, their own apple cider, a fall pumpkin patch and hayrides, playgrounds, and a petting zoo. In October they employ 130 people and serve up to 5,000 visitors each day for this busy season.

Noted as especially impressive at this market were the stories about their crowd management, big displays, the Canning Corner, pictures of family and farm throughout markets and restaurant, display techniques using upright pallets and signage that not only listed products, but described ripeness and how to eat.

McCutcheon’s Apple Products, Inc. was the third stop. McCutcheon’s Apple Products is a four-generation, family-owned company geared toward serving small businesses. It produces all natural gourmet fruit preserves and butters, jellies, juices, condiments, sodas and much more.

Most of the tour participants stock McCutcheon products in their markets and were quite interested in seeing the manufacturing, distribution and marketing processes. We had a behind-the-scenes tour and received answers to our many questions.

Next we traveled to Butler’s Orchard. Butler’s Orchard is a family farm providing good green fun and local produce for over 60 years. The family operates a farm market, pick-your-own, bakery, field trips and events, such as group hayrides and bonfires, strawberry blossom tours, group pick-your-own outings, Bunnyland, and Pumpkin Harvest Days.

One item we were especially interested in at this market was the operation of it's significant pick-your-own, which strives to reduce theft, while also improving customer experience. Some of the features we noted here included the festival area, separate sections to spread out pick-your-own crowds, great roadside appearance, very clean facilities and the creative use of black board signs.

On day two, we started the tour at Larriland Farm. Larriland Farm is family owned and operated with a wide-open farm market, but is recognized as a pick-your-own farming operation dating back to 1973. The family grows tart and sweet cherries, strawberries, thornless blackberries, black, red, and purple raspberries, blueberries, peaches, apples and vegetables including spinach, tomatoes, beets, broccoli and pumpkins.

Features of this market of special interest included the beautiful market in a rebuilt barn, display items and tables on wheels, nice signage in the market and field, directional signage in the fields, mobile checkout stands in fields that looked efficient and sturdy, signage leading up to the market (such as "no dogs" and how to get to various places), and the planning it takes to keep U-pick produce available daily.

The second stop of day two was Weber Cider Mill Farm. Since 1908, over four generations of the Weber family have been market gardeners and fruit growers. Weber’s Cider Mill Farm is Maryland’s oldest cider mill in continuous use. The farm includes a farm market, bakery and gift shop. The farm market features summer fruits and vegetables, including 45 varieties of peaches and continues into fall harvest with more than 20 varieties of apples, their cider and fall fruits and vegetables.

The bakery produces more than 20 different types of pies, cider donuts, hand-dipped ice cream, fudge, apple cider and fruit slush. The gift shop offers baskets, children’s books, soy candles and home décor.

Some of the things we saw that impressed us the most here were how beautiful and clean the market appeared, the antiques, peach-shaped signs with peach information, how the bakery extended out onto the store floor (very hard to miss), the friendliness of the employees and the viewing window for apple cider pressing.

We traveled next to Richardson Farms of White Marsh. There are three generations of the Richardson family involved in the day-to-day operations. Not only have they managed the largest farm stand in the Northeast Market in Baltimore since 1930, in 2010 the new On-Farm Market was opened. Under the supervision of their executive chef, the kitchen and deli prepares whole, carryout meals or your choice of delicious food items such as rotisserie chickens, slow-smoked barbeque, cheese, deli meats, fantastic desserts and more.

Richardson Farms grows more than 300 acres of fresh produce and provides locally grown fresh vegetables to area wholesalers. Of particular interest here was “Chefing” and how to incorporate foods from the farm into restaurant menus. Some of what was noted on this stop’s evaluations included the design of the structure, including a great layout, impressive vision for food preparation, inviting produce displays and "it's good to see a business tapping into the farm-to-table trend."

For the final market visit of this year’s tour, we stopped at Milburn Orchards. Family owned and operated since 1902, Milburn Orchards is now run by the fourth generation of the Milburn family. Milburn Orchards provides customers with high-quality, farm-fresh fruits and vegetables, available in its farm market or wholesale.

Two years ago the company built an addition onto the original building, which more than doubled the size of the market. We had been fortunate to include Milburn’s on previous tours and were excited to see thenew facility. Features we were especially impressed with included the new cash register area that added more space, new items to the “barnyard” area, including a spider web, rocking chair, trucks and a ground hog hill, the large kitchen space with plenty of room for preparation and work, interesting activities for families, and a back door for loading the donut displays.

Over the years of this event, the participants and the host farms report the deep impacts of Are You Crazy? tour on their businesses, as the tour participants not only network and discuss each market during the travel to the next market, but the notable features and recommendations are shared with the host markets as well. This Penn State Extension program is appealing in its uniqueness and carefully calculated and innovative itinerary.