These days, more than ever, folks are looking to enjoy a more quality fun experience, and our “Featured Member” of Agritourism.Life this month offers exactly that!
As we move into the new year and celebrate a New York State of Mind, let’s take a moment to remember that there is far more to the region than NYC. In fact, the “big apple” can also be found in Penfield, New York!
We welcomed NAFDMA member Bill Wickham of Wickham Farms to engage in a Q & A about life, family, and the future of their farm and the agritourism industry.
ATL: How has operating a family farm affected your life (working with family, serving the community, work/life balance)?
Having grown up on a large commercial vegetable farm, I always knew I wanted to be involved in farming. The key was to create a new farm offering that provided economic stability, and that is what agritourism has done for us.
Our farm has provided an opportunity for our children to develop a work ethic and an eye for business that few young folks today have access to. The farm has given us the chance to work with hundreds of other local students over the years which has been really fun. We have also attracted some amazingly talented staff that allows us to maintain a reasonable work/life balance.
Working with family and a great supporting team allows us to work hard together during the busy season, and play hard when the season is done. We are in sync with our down time, and this is not taken for granted.
ATL: What is the feedback you find most of your customers offer when it comes to their experience on your farm.
We receive feedback on having such a friendly, knowledgeable, and helpful staff more than anything else. We have been really fortunate to attract some great folks to our team who, in turn, have served as a pipeline to their friends and family. Being able to offer scheduling flexibility to our team coupled with a fun environment of delivering ‘Farm Fresh Family Fun’ has allowed us to attract a staff with talents that few would expect to find on a family farm.
With backgrounds ranging from high school students, stay at home parents, recently retired, folks looking for a part time second job, former military, and even former corporate executives; their creativity in developing new ideas and consistently delivering on our current offerings makes a huge impact on our operation and our customers notice it!
ATL: How do you see the future of Agritourism in North America unfolding over the next decade?
I think the future remains bright for Agritourism provided we as an industry continue to pay attention to how families spend their free time and remain open to pivoting and adapting to those new trends. 2020 has certainly demonstrated (at least for our farm) that families are looking for opportunities to share experiences on farms. While evolving technology (such as virtual reality) will likely compete for available leisure time, I think the operators who keep things fresh and provide a high-quality experience will continue to do well.
ATL: What is your proudest accomplishment since you have opened your doors in 1986?
My parents exited the farming business while I was in college, so my wife and I started our own operation from scratch with just pick your own pumpkins while we both had full time careers. After more than 30 years, our business has evolved and grown to a point where we have both left behind our non-farm jobs, we employ over 100 people during our peak season, and the next generation is beginning to transition to leadership roles.
It's also a whole lot of fun watching families enjoy our offerings while hopefully learning just a bit about production agriculture.
ATL: What is it that you most 100k forward to in 2021?
I'm hopeful that we are able to operate in 2021 without the specter of a pandemic hanging over our heads!
ATL: Are you working on a succession plan for the future of Wickham Farms?
From a very young age we have always included our kids in our business finances and decision-making process. They are now adults, ages 24-31, and one works full time with us on the farm. The transfer of leadership and shared decision-making responsibility is already well underway and this off-season we will begin the process of working through an ownership transfer plan.