by Katherine Heine
he pages of a small purple notebook, lying on the end table of a two-bedroom cabin, are filled with fond memories of guests thanking Carol Springer and her family for the chance to experience life on a farm. Carol runs Meramec Farm Cabins and Trail-Riding Vacations in Bourbon, where guests ride horses on her 470-acre farm, bale hay, go fishing in the pond or just relax in secluded cabins far from city life. She is part of the growing agritourism trend made up of bed-andbreakfast inns, wineries, hunting lodges and you-pick farms across the state that offer smog-free vacations in the restful countryside. “We just had a family reunion with people from New Mexico, Wisconsin and Kansas City. They were telling me before they left how nice it was to have a safe, quiet place to go without a lot of gift shops,” Carol, a member of Crawford Electric Co-op, says. “Here they don’t have to watch out for their kids running in front of a car and they don’t feel like every time you turn around your child is saying ‘I want this, I want that.’” An hour east of St. Louis, Meramec Farms is a short drive for families to spend an afternoon riding horses and fishing against the backdrop of the Ozarks. There are also a number of out-ofstate horse enthusiasts who spend a week or so riding Missouri Fox Trotters in their native habitat. Many of them go seven-day inn-to-inn rides Carol offers in conjunction with RS Ranch Rides, owned Tanya Shoenbeck and her husband, Roy. Tanya says the good thing about vacationing at smaller family ranches is that guests receive personal attention and there is no set schedule. “It’s a real laid-back atmosphere,” she says. “We offer these trips and packages in certain ways, but everybody has a different expectation of what they want and we cater to our guests’ needs.” A man from Kentucky spent a few days with the Shoenbecks to experience life as a cowboy. He happened to bring his guitar, so Roy called a friend, and the three of them sat on the porch playing bluegrass. The next day the man helped Tanya and Roy corral stray cattle. But agritourism isn’t only about cowboys and horses. Missouri’s wineries are the most popular agritourism destination, says Tammy Bruckerhoff, a Department of Agriculture spokeswoman. Also, many parents are taking their kids to petting zoos and you-pick farms, like Beggs Family Farm in Sikeston, she says. The Beggs family has been producing melons in the state since 1895, but it wasn’t until 2000 they decided to share their fruity lives with school groups and families. “The one thing that we try to promote here is good family fun,” Donnie Beggs, the farm’s owner, says. “There are very few things to do in the area where we live, so we are trying to give families the ability
Todd Nye of St. Louis trots to catch up with the rest of his family on an hour-long trail ride at Meramec Farms. The Nyes say they enjoyed the beautiful landscape and freedom to ride their horses without excessive restrictions.
Reconnecting with the farm
Goodbye fast-paced amusement parks, hello restful rural Missouri to spend a day together.” Its main draw is a 12-acre corn maze, this year titled “Lost in Space.” The kids wind through the maze and learn about space by reading storyboards and playing games that help them get out of the maze. “We can teach kids about the farm while we are entertaining them,” Donnie says. “When they are having fun, they are learning and not even realizing it. You put that kid in a school class and he is not as open as when I get him out here.” Beggs had 18,000 visitors in October last year, 10,000 of whom were school children, and they expect up to 24,000 visitors next year following the completion of another maze, a glow-in-the-dark putt-putt golf course and toddler play area. Donnie says he has seen agritourism gain in popularity as more and more generations become removed from farm life. “Now less than 3 percent of people are farmers in the U.S., when it was 70 percent,” he says. “But I think everyone still has the greatgrandfather who was a farmer and they want to get reconnected to the land and go out to a pumpkin or strawberry patch.” In an effort to promote agritourism, the Missouri Department of Agriculture announced the “Experience Missouri Agritourism” contest. Winners receive a two-night stay at one of three bed-and-breakfast inns or a family-of-four pass to one of seven Missouri agritourism destinations including Beggs Family Farm, a dude ranch and a hunting lodge. “Agritourism has really been in
our state forever,” Tammy says. “So ly Vera says, the business allows them to share their love of farm life many people are in the agritourism with others. business and don’t know it. People “A third grade teacher told Art her already have the farm, it’s just a matclass was studying insects. We ended ter of deciding what to do with it and up having a field trip, but the whole knowing resources are out there.” third grade showed up, not just her Carol says agritourism saved her class,” Vera says. “We love sharing seventh-generation family farm from what we do with kids and people collapse. Her grandfather dealt with who haven’t grown up on farms. the unstable farm market by planting Everyone benefits.” new crops and selling mules. She says For more information about agrishe discovered agritourism when it tourism, call 866-466-8283 or go to was her turn to keep the farm alive. “I knew I couldn’t make it with cattle, not with hogs, not with mules. It was my turn to come up with a new idea to save this farm and agritourism is where it took me,” Carol says. “I really wish more farmers would do it and not complain about losing their lifestyles. So many Missouri farmers are overlooking the attributes that are moneymakers wait- Art Gelder, owner of Walk-About Acres, encourages children ing to happen.” from Hand-in-Hand Learning Center of Columbia to pet Art and Vera one of the many goats on the farm. The children also took Gelder found a way turns puckering up to a kissing llama. to turn their loves of beekeeping and gardening into an aginnovationcenter.org. To contact economically thriving walk-through Meramec Farms call (573) 732-4765 or farm north of Columbia. The two meramecfarm.com. RS Ranch Rides can beekeepers bought a farm in 1992 be reached at (573) 732-4590 or and started Walk-About Acres five rsranch-hayrides.freehosting.net. To conyears ago. Visitors coming to see the tact Beggs Family Farm call (573) 471petting zoo and active beehives are a 3879 or go to beggspumpkinpatch.com. steady source of income when farm Call Walk-About Acres at (573) 474prices are weak, but most important8837 or go to walk-aboutacres.net.
Goodbye fast-paced amusement parks, hello restful rural Missouir