Fun on the farm . . . Roberts family does agritourism well in Meade CountyPosted on Oct 15, 2012
“Our farm has been in the family since 1904,” said Rhonda Roberts, who owns and operates the business with her husband, Kevin. “Kevin’s great-grandfather started the operation, and we bought the farm in 1996. We raised tobacco until 1999, and decided we wanted to do something different. So, in 2000 we starting raising pumpkins and built corn mazes, and the business has continued to evolve from there.”
“This is what we enjoy the most,” Kevin said. “We come home from our jobs every day and go right outside to work on the farm. It is a very rewarding business.”
Tobacco’s decline has sparked a surge in agritourism as former tobacco producers like the Roberts family seek other income sources. Roberts Family Farm opens its market in early July for blackberries. Labor Day weekend marks the beginning of watermelon season; and the bustling fall market season begins in mid-September with an open pumpkin patch, mums, gourds and other popular items for that season. Christmas trees are sold in December; school field trips and public events are hosted throughout the fall.
The goal is to create a fun and affordable family destination. There is no admission fee and no charge for hay rides. Families are welcome to enjoy the farm for free, and they only pay for the homegrown pumpkins or homemade jams they purchase.
“Our purpose is to give families a place to spend quality time together,” said Rhonda. “It doesn’t cost much to spend a day here, and that is an added benefit. Our main goal is offering families a wholesome and fun experience, not making money.”
Besides being a family destination, the Roberts’ farm is also a favorite spot for school field trips. The number of annual student visitors has grown from 300 to nearly 3,500, attracting schools from neighboring counties. Rhonda said she is always amazed at the schoolchildren who come to visit and have never been on a farm before.
“Those of us who grew up around farms tend to take it for granted,” Rhonda reflected. “For many of these kids, this is a brand-new experience.”
Roberts Family Farm is truly a family business, just as its name implies. Rhonda playfully refers to her sister Dawn as “Number One,” since she was the Roberts’ first employee.
“It was a big deal when our operation grew large enough that we had to hire a second employee,” laughed Rhonda. “Now we have almost everyone in the family helping out: my sister-in-law, our nieces and nephews, and our children. They love it, and they want to help out because it’s fun.”
Rhonda said even the smallest members of the family enjoy working on the farm, including her six-year-old niece.
“She decided that her job this year was going to be to display the Open and Closed signs,” said Rhonda. “She couldn’t wait for us to open today so she could turn that sign over.”
Customer loyalty is an indication of a well-run business, and the positive response that Kevin and Rhonda receive from the community proves that they are doing something right.
“People tell us they sense a real ‘family feel’ here,” said Rhonda. “We truly appreciate the support we receive.Last week, a man brought us nine wooden benches that he made, for us to use on the farm. He would not take payment for them, and said he wanted to do something for us because of what we are doing for the community. That was just very touching.”
Being a KFB Certified Roadside Farm Market helps business, allowing them to reach new customers on a statewide level.
“Our best advertising locally is word of mouth,” Rhonda explained. “But being included on Farm Bureau’s Certified Roadside Market list helps us to reach people all over Kentucky. I know people who take that listing with them when they travel, so they will know where agritourism destinations are located. Between that and our Facebook page, we are able to spread the word about our business in a bigger way.”
In coming years, Roberts Family Farm plans to keep on growing, without losing the family-feel that has made it a local favorite.
“We try to add something new each year, and we have done that since 2000,” Rhonda reflected. “When we started, we just had picnic tables in the front yard for kids on field trips to eat their sack lunches. Then, we added a pavilion. Eventually, we built a store to sell our jams and locally-made honey, and next year we plan to add public restrooms. The community is really supporting our business, and that enables us to continue expanding to meet the needs of our customers.”
The Roberts family has no intention of losing the personal touch they have worked so hard to cultivate, no matter how much the business grows.
“We plan to keep doing what we are doing but on a larger scale,” said Rhonda. “We don’t want to lose that family atmosphere and become too commercial. If we can keep giving families a fun place to spend a Saturday afternoon in the fall, we will have accomplished our goal.”