Agritainment keeps family farm afloat but labor shortage means extremely long hours

Written by on October 12, 2021

Agritainment keeps family farm afloat but labor shortage means extremely long hours

By Hayden Mitman

October 12, 2021

Pumpkins are ready for sale at Merrymead Farm in Worcester Township, Montgomery County. Photo |  Courtesy of the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture

Merrymead Farm in Montgomery County gets a lot of foot traffic this time of year.

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It’s a working farm and tourism makes autumn the farm’s busiest season.

Weekends are filled with hundreds of visitors running through the corn maze, sipping apple cider and going on hay rides.  

Merrymead Farm started more than 100 years ago but has been open to the public since 1971. Photo | Courtesy of the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture

This type of industry, known as agritourism or agritainment, is a multi-million dollar business in Pennsylvania. Every year, at least 700 farms throughout the state open their doors to visitors.

But even with strong attendance, Donna Quigley, one of Merrymead Farm’s co-owners, said it’s still tough keeping the farm profitable.

“We are making it work, but we are struggling,” she said.

Quigley’s family, the Rothenbergers, has run this farm in Worcester Township for more than 100 years. It opened to the community in 1971.  

“If we did not have our agritainment, we probably would not be here. That’s the bottom line,” Quigley said. “If we were just farming, milking cows, we would not be here.”

Here they offer produce, milk, meat, and homemade ice cream, but they still need the visitors and the money they bring in.

As much as 60% of the farm’s annual income is tied to agritourism. 

Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding is promoting legislation that provides liability insurance for agritainment-related activities.

“Certainly, over the last year and a half, these agritainment/agritourism facilities have been rediscovered or discovered for the first time because they are open spaces,” he said.

WLVR reporter Hayden Mitman interviewing Russell Redding, PA Secretary of Agriculture. Photo | Courtesy of the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture

But the workforce shortage, seen in nearly every industry, has gripped farming too, according to Merrymead Office Manager Kelsey Gibler. 

She said the farm employs about 50 people.

“Normally, we are at 120 for the fall. So, here we are going into our very busy season and working under that threshold is very stressful,” she said.

Even so, the farmers are optimistic this will be a good season. 

Though, to keep up with demand, they will be working, as they say, from “dawn-to-yawn.” 

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