We were very excited when Jim Lowe, owner and operator of The Farmstead, a corn maze and harvest festival, agreed to be interviewed for kissmytractor. He gave us a whole hour of his time on a Friday afternoon – the busiest time of his year! He shared a lot about his operation and philosophy, and we are eager to share his story with you.
Jim and Hillary Lowe have three children, ages 9, 6 and 2. They and their children have been running The Farmstead since purchasing it from the previous owners in 2006. Prior to that, Jim worked for the previous owner of the Maze, a corn maze that stood where The Farmstead is now located. Additionally, he spent years as a corn maze designer, traveling around the US cutting corn mazes. Jim also is involved in the Leadership Idaho Agriculture program, in Idaho Ag in the Classroom, a teachers’ educational program, and in the Food Producers of Idahoh.
Jim grew up on a farm in Montana, where his family grew dryland wheat and cattle. His love of agricultural education and working with the public, combined with a degree in agri-business from Utah State University, have helped him establish The Farmstead as one of the Treasure Valley’s most exciting agriculture-oriented events. Jim and Hillary also farm 300 acres of corn, wheat and pumpkins, the latter of which can be found at The Farmstead.
Jim and Hillary spend the entire year in preparation for the six weeks of crazy days during The Farmstead’s open season, usually from last two weeks of September until the first few days of November. They have created a fun, family-oriented event which tens of thousands of people from around the Treasure Valley flock to in order to have the opportunity to enjoy harvest activities – a corn maze, hayrides, pig races, pumpkin picking, good food and more.
The Farmstead has programs for groups, mainly school children, youth and church groups. When groups schedule a visit, they enjoy a lesson on how important farming and agriculture is, and they get to pick a pumpkin to take home. The educational aspect that The Farmstead is able to provide schoolchildren is very important to Jim and Hillary. They have spearheaded a neat program in Treasure Valley schools called the Food Plate Fun Pass. If children track what they eat, record how it fits into the USDA’s “food plate”, and which items could have come from an Idaho farmer for one week, they earn a pass to visit The Farmstead. This program has enabled hundreds of kids to learn about their food, and to visit The Farmstead, and have some fun!
Jim has learned through talking with thousands of children that many of them have some knowledge of farming, but often have wrong or incomplete information. He told us the story of one child who, when asked why there are fewer people living of farms today that in the past, answered “technology.” This child, like many children, thought that there is no technology on the farm, that it is more fun to live in town, where they have internet, cell phones and video games. In fact it is quite the opposite. New technology like GPS, computer-controlled planters, infra-red photography, high-tech fertilizers and more, enables fewer farmers to produce more food per acre than in days of old.
While Jim and Hillary truly love working with the public, running such a large operation presents a myriad of challenges. Since the season for events such as The Farmstead is limited, and requires such a substantial investment up-front, each year is a risk. Like farming, success at The Farmstead can be dependent on the often unruly weather of an Idaho October. One mis-timed rainy Saturday could cost 20% of their family’s year’s income!
The rewards are typically far greater than the risks, though, and Jim and Hillary mentioned multiple times their love of working with the public, and their drive to provide a place for families to spend time and make memories together. Their biggest rewards come from looking around and seeing kids and parents having a good time together, knowing that it was their hard work and effort that made it all possible.
Working so closely with the public has taught them both a lot about how agriculture is viewed by those not connected to it in some way. Jim shared with us another story that serves to highlight the disconnect between people not involved in agriculture and the farming community. After a visit with her class, a teacher called to express her concern that some of her students had taken home bigger pumpkins than others. She asked “Couldn’t you make them all the same size?” Jim explained to her that, while the variety of seed can produce pumpkins that are all within a weigh or shape range, they are still nature’s produce, and no, he couldn’t make them all the same size!
The majority of the US population lives in cities or suburbs, and are used to a sanitized, standardized world. Living in the city or sprawling subdivision disconnects us from the natural world. It’s important for us to feel the dirt on our hands, to smell the earth and plants, and to breathe fresh air. The Farmstead provides people with the opportunity to do just that, and in a safe, yet real environment. Kids finding their way through the corn maze, for example, find that there are “exit” buttons!
Jim also explained that he wants people to understand how many limited chances farmers have to get it right. All of his decisions made the winter preceeding the farm season – seed variety, fertilizers, plant date, how much and when to irrigate – all dictate his yield. He can’t “re-do” his decisions, and he won’t know the outcome of his decisions until harvest. In his lifetime, he will have, say, 40 farm seasons – 40 chances to get it right. Additionally to the decisions a farmer makes, if the weather doesn’t cooperate for a week or even a day, or a disease hits his crops, then that farmer’s entire future could be in jeopardy.
Jim also wishes for people to know that farms are planned, what happens on them is intentional. Crops don’t “just grow,” they are carefully planned and managed. What many people don’t realize is that it takes tremendous levels of time, planning, money, and other resources to produce a crop. A field of wheat represents thousands of dollars, hundreds of hours of work. It also represents food, fuel or feed for hundreds of people, automobiles or livestock.
Jim and Hillary are true ambassadors for agriculture in the Treasure Valley. Their operation provides a unique opportunity for kids and families to learn about agriculture through hands-on experience.
Visit their website for more information on attractions, and open dates and times: http://www.farmsteadfestival.com/
- Cutting corn mazes is an art in Meridian (ktvb.com)