The first stop will be the Arthur Produce Auction Center on auction day. With an initial investment of $150,000, 30 area farmers built a central location where they could bring their fresh produce and flowers to sell. Of the initial investors, 28 were Amish, two were not.
"It's difficult to make a living selling at a roadside stand as it is and Amish farmers can't transport their produce long distances in horse-drawn buggies, so bringing everything to one central, nearby location works well for them," said Deborah Cavanaugh-Grant, a U of I research specialist in the Agroecology/Sustainable Agriculture program and coordinator of the tours. "And the volume and variety makes it worth the trip for buyers."
On the tour, visitors will learn how the auction works by observing buyers and sellers in action. After lunch at the nearby restaurant Yoder's Kitchen, the tour will move to Condill's Great Pumpkin Patch -- one of Central Illinois' best examples of agritourism.
The farm features over 400 varieties of pumpkins, squash and gourds, 7000 harvest mums and feature mazes, farm animals, a sweet shop and concessions, a 1912 one-room schoolhouse and a gift shop in a barn showcasing harvest gifts and decorations.
Owner Bruce Condill said that this will be their 17th season. "Our twin boys were born in October of 1976. The next spring my wife Mary Beth planted pumpkins for them and our older son to enjoy," he said. "Later, we'd have the boys' preschool class come out to the farm to visit."
Condill said that in the late 80's farming corn and soybeans started getting tough and they wanted to add something to the business so they opened the farm to the public in 1989. "I remember that first day, Mary Beth looked at all of the people and cars everywhere and said, 'We've created a monster!' That first year we planted three acres of pumpkins. Today we plant 63 acres," said Bruce Condill.
For a preview, visit http://thegreatpumpkinpatch.biz/.
Lunch at Yoder's Kitchen is included in the $15 per person registration fee. Registration and payment at least one week in advance is required. Visit http://www.aces.uiuc.edu/asap/topics/tours.html to register and for more details about this tour and the other scheduled tours or contact Deborah Cavanaugh-Grant at (217) 968-5512 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The tours are sponsored by the Agroecology/Sustainable Agriculture Program in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois, the North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) Professional Development Program and the Illinois Small Farm Task Force.
This tour is also co-sponsored by the Central Illinois Farm Fresh Network. Todd Statzer, Allerton diversified farm specialist with the Network hopes people will attend the tour and, "Come see how different ideas can lead to new markets."