Agritourism provides economic boost, fun for the whole family

BY Lauren Wanko, Correspondent |

It’s a year of firsts for baby Molleigh: first time in a corn maze, first time picking pumpkins and first time enjoying New Jersey’s agritourism industry at Happy Day Farm in Manalapan.

“We live in this area and this is really the best time of year out here,” said Molleigh’s mother, Kate Bostian.

“It’s not just about picking the pumpkin, putting it on your porch, it’s about making the memory. What we’re always selling is an experience,” said Happy Day Farm Owner Tim Stockel.

It’s a fall experience thousands of New Jerseyans are buying.

“Agritourism, we know according to the last census, we were ninth in the country and we have some of the top performing counties within agritourism statistics within the entire United States,” said New Jersey Department of Agriculture Secretary Douglas Fisher.

Thirteen years ago, landscaper Tim Stockel and his wife planted a small patch of pumpkins. That patch grew along with their business. They now own a 130 acre farm in Monmouth County, fifteen of those acres are devoted to pumpkins.

“Right before the Fourth of July, we get the ground prepped, we get them in, spread pumpkin seeds. When it’s warm it takes off, starts germinating really nicely,” said Stockel.

In 2016, there were 2,000 acres of pumpkins harvested with a production value of about $5.5 million. Not far from the pumpkin patch is the 10-acre corn maze. This year’s theme? Curious George. A Utah-based company creates the maze.

“So, they do a grid pattern and they actually count the stalks and the rows and it’s done on a computer and it tells them row number three connects with row number 10,” said Stockel.

Then, farm staffers mark the maze with spray paint in late June when the stalks are only about an inch high.

“Once it looks good, they hit it with a herbicide. It knocks it down and it just grows, and obviously where we hit the herbicide the corn doesn’t grow,” said Stockel.

Over the years, the Stockels have dreamed up all sorts of fall activities like the corn cannon and pumpkin blaster.

“That’s the fun time. They spend the rest of the year growing fence post to fence post getting as much production as they can and here they get to channel some of their creativity,” said Fisher.

For the Stockels, it’s not just about a fun outing on the farm, they hope to teach people, especially kids, about the industry.

Happy Day Farm has 30 bee hives on the property to ensure their crops thrive, including a Bee Barn. It’s an educational area for customers to stop by and learn all about the bees and how they impact the farm.

“We’re trying not to hold any secrets to any young kids. We really want to encourage them to farm because as we all know, it’s only getting more populated and we need farmers,” said Stockel.

Maybe little Molleigh will pursue the industry. For now though, her family looks forward to years of fall moments on the farm.