Crisp air, warm-colored leaves and shorter days encompass the fall season. While the weather turns cooler, DFA members are still hard at work, wrapping up harvest, preparing for the new year and for some — helping others enjoy what fall has to offer.
These DFA members welcome the public to their operations each year to learn about dairy, agriculture and the joy of having a good time on the farm.
“We can do that!”
That’s what Jerry Grabarek and his family thought after visiting a corn maze in Lancaster County, Pa., in 1999. So the Grabareks took a shot at their own on their operation, Preston Farms, in Preston, Conn.
“The first year, we just eyeballed it,” Jerry says. “The second year, we set out a grid and it went so much better.”
For 17 years, the Grabareks have picked a theme, done some math to determine the grid for their seven-acre corn maze and then created their design by hand with a weed whacker. While the preparation for the maze is no small task, the whole family, including Jerry’s wife, Deb, and son, Matthew, lend a hand.
“Matthew comes up with the theme and runs the corn maze,” Jerry says. “Deb is good on the design side — making our grids and ad materials.”
This year, Matthew thought up the idea of “Area 51.” And while the corn maze started spooky, they now open up the maze at night on weekends and visitors find their way out with flashlights.
The Grabareks also open up their operation to local schools to educate students about dairy. They start in the parlor, where Jerry does a milking demonstration and answers questions about the dairy. Then, the kids check out the maze, grab some lunch and get a hayride to the pasture to see Preston Farms’ 48 registered Holsteins and a handful of Brown Swiss.
“Everyone around here is three generations removed from farming,” Jerry says. “We get to show them what farming is all about.”
When a teacher asked if her summer school class could come out and learn about dairy, Lloyd Gunter didn’t hesitate.
“When the students came out, we gave a tour and talked about our dairy,” Lloyd says. “We also had them plant some pumpkin seeds.”
By fall, those pumpkins were ready to be harvested. His daughter, who is also a teacher, had her students come out and pick them. From there, Gunter Farms Pumpkin Patch was born.
Lloyd, along with his son, David, milk 80 Brown Swiss cows in Conway, Mo. They host several schools each year and incorporate the dairy in the field trip. Whether the kids are playing dairy-related games in the barn, milking a fake cow or listening while Lloyd educates them about dairy and shows them a calf, the farm is a main focus.
“We are so far removed from being raised on the farm,” Lloyd says. “This allows us the opportunity to educate children on where milk comes from and that dairy farmers are good stewards of the land.”
Visitors who come out also get to go through a corn maze, take photos with fall-themed props and select their own pumpkin. While the season is a busy one for the Gunters, one thing remains the top priority — the ladies.
“Our cows are why we do this,” Lloyd says. “Even if we are busy with the pumpkin patch, they’re our priority. They are good to us, so we’re good to them right back.”
Alpine Hills Brown Swiss Farm
In 1947, Dean Colson’s father, Joe, in Corinth, Ky. Dean and his wife, Debbie, decided to continue to the family tradition and purchased the farm in 1981, later building a new dairy facility and moving to Dry Ridge, Ky.
In 2000, Debbie and Dean started Country Pumpkins Fall Festival with pumpkins on a wagon and an “honesty box” for donations. Now, 16 seasons later, the fall festival has expanded on the 55-cow operation, Alpine Hills Brown Swiss Farm.
“We wanted to educate people on farm life,” says Debbie. “Especially the dairy life and all the hard work that goes into producing milk.”
The Colsons’ fall festival is now a local attraction, and they have the opportunity to educate everyone who visits about dairy, including school groups. The Colsons host school tours where students get to feed a calf and see how cows are milked.
“Alpine Hills is the only dairy left in Grant County,” Debbie says. “Each year, we host ‘Got Milk,’ a day at our fall festival where we show milking demonstrations and give away school-sized milks.”
While visitors get their fair share of dairy knowledge, they also get to enjoy a variety of activities during the fall festival.
“We have a corn maze, you-pick pumpkin patch, wagon and hay rides, many kid-friendly activities and a petting zoo,” Debbie says. “We also do tours for schools about dairy education.”
In honor of election year, visitors can get lost in politics in the four-acre corn maze, which features a donkey and elephant design.
“God has just blessed us so much,” Debbie says. “We have had great weather this year, and we are so thankful for how far we’ve come.”