Agritourism is a growing industry. People are increasingly interested in not only knowing their food source, but also actively participating in agrarian pursuits. Indeed, recreational, educational, and entertainment opportunities in a rural context seem to offer growing appeal across wide demographics. Accordingly, some cutting-edge states have established an infrastructure of support to bolster the efforts of those endeavoring to meet the surging “agri-tainment” demand.
Oklahoma is a stellar example of how efficacious resources are spawning positive outcomes. Scott Talbert, who moved to Stilwell OK in 2009, admits his family didn’t have the abundant zeal for strawberries that the locals had in this “Strawberry Capital of the World.” Talbert explained, “Frankly, there was no practical way to even embrace the strawberry heritage, since there was exactly no place for the public to pick strawberries!” Talbert noted that they weren’t even sure where to find Stilwell strawberries and, as it turns out, literally more than 99% of all prior strawberry acreage had already vanished anyway – which explains why strawberries were so elusive.
Talbert confessed that they also really had no inherent interest in growing strawberries. However, after some research, he saw an opportunity to be a market disruptor and simultaneously fill an important void. There was not only no “pick-your-own” strawberry venue in particular – but also no agritourism in general – anywhere in the entire county (other than a tiny farmers’ market). “There are more strawberries acres where I’m from in Virginia Beach than in the ‘Strawberry Capital,’ so the thought of modernizing strawberry practices in the county, increasing acres in production, and opening the first and only ‘u-pick’ was intriguing,” Talbert acknowledged.
Consequently, in summer 2015 the family began a journey of farm visits, self-imposed apprenticeships, conferences, and all-around immersion in the world of horticulture. They named their property J5 Farm, after their five sons, and committed to pioneering a public berry patch. Talbert summarized, “A year and a half later, after 3 backhoes & a bulldozer went to work clearing a previously-timbered pine forest, we ended up with over 2 miles of raised-bed, sub-surface drip-irrigated plasticulture with nearly 17,000 strawberry plants!”
Stilwell U-Pick at J5 Farm, as the u-pick operation has been dubbed, recently had its official ribbon-cutting ceremony through the Stilwell Area Chamber of Commerce. The pick-your-own farm is positioned as a family-friendly rural experience that’s both fun and educational. Specifically, Stilwell U-Pick will also serve as an instructional outreach, conducting farm tours for horticulture enthusiasts and serving as a training center for those interested in learning about modern strawberry production using the annual plasticulture method. More generally, with a growing petting zoo and expanding attractions like a soon-coming fall pumpkin patch, J5 Farm is ideal for groups, school field trips, and others interested nature, agriculture, animals, and the local/healthy food movement.
However, exactly none of this would have been feasible, or even possible, without the ton of support dished out from the Oklahoma Agritourism folks. Talbert exclaims, “Meriruth Cohenour, Agritourism Coordinator with the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, has been remarkably supportive and reliable. You can count on her to come through on her commitments and she even over-delivers. It’s a breath of fresh air to not have to chase people. I’ve had more trouble giving suppliers money than I have getting free resources from Meriruth.”
Strong marketing efforts have helped give the rookie operation lift. Talbert noted that, thanks to the dedication of Cohenour, Stilwell U-Pick at J5 Farm was featured on the Oklahoman Agritourism website homepage, and that she also included their berry farm in the Oklahoma Jelly Making Trails – a collection of agritourism destinations offering farm-to-table opportunities. “We’ve had people come from over three hours away just to pick the tastiest berries available so they could make great jellies and jam,” Talbert concluded, “and they’d have never found out about us but for those advertising channels. It’s allowed us to focus on growing the best berries possible, knowing they are helping with the promotion of our farm.”
Company Name: Stilwell U-Pick
Contact Person: Scott Talbert
Address:RR 2 Box 1220
Country: United States