Monday, May 28, 2012

The Associated Press Features Agritourism, Cream Ridge Winery

MORRISTOWN — Sure, Jim and Caroline Etsch farm traditionally, mainly raising hay and field corn on 1,100 acres in five municipalities in Middlesex and Monmouth counties.

But for a half-dozen or so years on the 30-acre home farm on Route 522 in Monroe, the couple — Jim, 52, and Caroline, 53 — has diversified in a way his grandparents, who founded the farm 82 years ago, would not have seriously envisioned.

They run an autumn corn maze — 1½ miles of trail carved into eight acres of field corn. Last year, 8,000 people visited.

"If you told me 15 years ago people would be running through my corn, I'd laugh," Etsch said. "They used to run through, and I'd chase them out."

Now, people pay $10 each to maneuver the maze, along with participating in hay and pony rides and kids playing in something similar to a sand box, only this one filled with corn kernels. Ducks, chickens, goats, sheep and a steer are on hand for viewing.

"We figure it's a way to diversify the operation," said Etsch, adding his youngest son, Peter, 19, is interested in farming, and this could keep the farm alive for a fourth generation. "It has helped pay some of the costs."

Agriculture has met tourism in New Jersey to form "agritourism" or "agtourism."

"Agritourism may be defined broadly as the business of establishing farms as travel destinations for educational and recreational purposes," according to a 2007 Rutgers University study, "The Economic Impact of Agritourism in New Jersey."

The public traditionally has been welcome at some agricultural operations: roadside stands, wineries, garden centers and nurseries.

Now, these traditionally public-friendly operations are doing more to draw customers, adding themed festivals and other specialty events.

"We have events almost every month," said Eileen Amabile, 53, who operates her family's Cream Ridge Winery in Upper Freehold. "We do private tastings and tours as well."

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