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Farmers for the Future: Two farms in one

Agriculture.com Staff 12/05/2008 @ 2:42pm

A farm's location can be a blessing or a curse. When Neal and Jennifer Smith joined his parents' farming operation near Pendleton, Indiana, in 1992, the farm was already being squeezed by Indianapolis. The encroaching subdivisions made it difficult for the Smiths to expand their grain operation.

But Neal and Jennifer, fresh out of Purdue University, were optimistic about their chances for success as the seventh generation of Smiths to farm the fertile land just north of Indianapolis.

Jennifer taught kindergarten in the local school system for a couple of years. But when the first of their three children was born in 1995, she and Neal wanted a way for her to contribute to family income while still being home with their children.

That's when they decided to capitalize on the urban pressure they had previously viewed primarily as a threat. With that, Smith Family Farms Pumpkin Patch was born, with thousands of potential customers right down the road.

"We saw it as the best of both worlds," says Jennifer.

Their agritourism venture is a beehive of activity from mid-September until the end of October each year. During the week, they host busloads of school children. On weekends, they host young families from all over the Indianapolis metropolitan area. In just one weekend this fall they accommodated 2,000 visitors.

Jennifer says being close to a big city is vital to the success of an operation like theirs. So is family support. Mike and Linda Smith, Neal's parents, contribute a lot of time and talent, as does Jennifer's mother, Jeanette Isdell.

This fall, Jennifer resumed her teaching career after a 13-year hiatus.

"We had a family meeting to decide whether to continue the tours during the week," says Jennifer. "We asked the grandmothers (Jeanette and Linda) whether they really wanted to do it. They were all for it because it is sending our kids to college. That is why they are doing this."

Neal and Jennifer's three sons -- Mitchell, 13, Mason, 11, and Miller, 6 -- are also involved year round.

"They have grown up knowing that in the fall we do the pumpkin patch," says Jennifer. "It has really brought us closer together as a family. We are a true farm family. We work together at literally everything we do."

The boys help take care of the livestock in the petting zoo all year. And they get a real workout on fall weekends when the business is open.

"They take wagons back and forth, and they help with the money at the front desk," says Jennifer. "Plus, they make runs through the barn to make sure all of the manure is cleaned up. Then they help feed every morning and every evening." In the spring, the boys take turns deciding what their corn maze will say that year. Then Mike creates the design by mowing through the corn when it is knee-high.

A farm's location can be a blessing or a curse. When Neal and Jennifer Smith joined his parents' farming operation near Pendleton, Indiana, in 1992, the farm was already being squeezed by Indianapolis. The encroaching subdivisions made it difficult for the Smiths to expand their grain operation.

The Smiths' agritourism venture started out with the pumpkin patch, a corn maze, a petting zoo, and 30-minute hayrides around the farm. Since then, they have added a pony ride and expanded a playground.

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