Agritourism thrives at Maple Lawn Farms in York County | Agriculture and Agritourism News

NEW PARK, Pa. — “If you build it, they will come.”

Maple Lawn Farms is a dream field for the McPherson family, whose priority is to bring people to the farm. Innovation, marketing, networking and expansion have created a business model that is both a tourist attraction and a working farm.

“Everything we do needs to have that kind of public face,” said Hugh McPherson, a fifth-generation farmer who runs the farm’s Maize Quest amusement park and other tourist features.

The McPhersons were married at Maple Lawn in 1883. Hugh’s father, Paul McPherson, who runs the farming operations today, thinks the property was a general farm with a bit of everything in the 19th century, but he didn’t not been able to follow the files. that predate his family’s involvement.

Maple Lawn was a commercial fruit and vegetable farm with a large poultry operation for many years, but when local canning businesses began to close in the 1960s, many farmers in southern York County lost abandoned the region’s dominant crops, potatoes and tomatoes, according to Paul.

Good choice

Around this time, the McPhersons added grain to their acreage and soon after opened the farm to the public, starting with a small produce store and then picking your own.

Paul said the idea for pick-your-own came from Michigan. He had heard of a farm trying it out there, and since no farms in that area did, the family wanted to give it a shot.

Today, U-pick is the driving force behind Maple Lawn. Hugh estimates that up to 38,000 people visit the farm each year to pick produce.

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Unlike small U-pick farms, Maple Lawn is a commercial-sized operation, offering consumers a range of choices and, according to Hugh, a better experience than a farm with only a small field dedicated to U-pick.

“We plant 10 acres of pumpkins, and we have 10 acres to plant pumpkins in, which is really overkill for a u-pick pumpkin patch, but you can’t find that anywhere else,” he said.

Pleasure quest

Hugh suggested adding a corn maze to bring more people to the farm to pick produce. He said he got the idea for an article from Lancaster Farming about the mazes at Saunders Farm.

The Penn State grad with a degree in farm business management shared the idea with his dad, and Paul suggested he write a business plan and get a loan to start Maize Quest Fun Park.

“We weren’t the first corn maze, but we could have been the third or something,” Hugh said.


Hugh McPherson poses with a food tray which features artwork promoting the Maize Quest amusement park. Photo taken on September 12, 2022

Maize Quest now offers a 9-acre themed corn maze. This year’s theme is Alice in Wonderland, weekends until November 6th.

The park features a bamboo maze, rope maze, stone maze, maze slide, corn box, snack shack, cafe, and other attractions.

While the corn maze takes up most of the family’s time in the fall, the McPhersons have added other festivities to bring people to the farm year-round. They held their sixth annual Sunflower Festival this year, and their first Lavender Festival was a fragrant attraction.

The constant flow of visitors means crop damage is a concern, but Hugh said he has learned, particularly with the corn maze, to keep people mentally engaged, challenging them but not to the point that they decide to “cheat” and cross the corn or “do their own thing.”

“So we make sure that in the design process we create something that’s interesting but keeps you moving,” he said.

After the maze season, the corn is harvested, yielding about 100 to 120 bushels per acre.

Why not wine?

The McPhersons also host “Wine Your Way Out”, a smaller version of the corn maze that showcases wine from the farm as well as vintages from other local wineries.

The McPhersons added a winery to the farm in 2015. They had grown up for other wineries and decided to try making their own. The benefit was twofold: it created a use for unpicked produce during the pick-your-own season and it improved other characteristics of agritourism.


Paul, left, and Hugh McPherson run the bar at Maple Lawn Winery and Cider House. Photo taken on September 12, 2022

“So what the winery has allowed us to do is that during our sunflower festival you can have a glass of wine. Well that makes my Sunflower Festival better,” Hugh said.

He does not plan to expand the winery. Instead, he said, the winery just brings more people to the farm.

“So we can do these kinds of unique events that appeal to a different market,” he said, “but we didn’t start with zero market. We started with tens of thousands of people, who come to Maple Lawn Farms and Maize Quest, to launch our winery. Getting from zero to the cellar is much more difficult.

With the market in mind, the McPhersons were able to obtain financial assistance from the USDA Value Added Grant Program. Paul said the grant made it worth considering starting a winery.

Hugh learned how to make wine by watching online videos and getting help from Carl Helrich, owner of Allegro Winery in Stewartstown.

Helrich rescued Hugh’s first batch of wine, 500 gallons of Peach Blossom. The McPhersons also bought some gear from Helrich to get started. On December 1, 2015, Maple Lawn Winery and Cider House served its first customer.


A bottle of Peach Blossom, the first wine made at Maple Lawn Winery and Cider House. Photo taken on September 12, 2022

The McPhersons are always looking for ways to improve the annual events. A suggestion from fellow farmers led them to include freshly squeezed lemonade at the Lavender Festival. Because of this success—selling around 700 lemonades in one weekend—they bring lemonade to Maize Quest Fun Park. The McPhersons are also renovating a gift shop into a cafe.

“You try a lot of things, and if you’re lucky, some of them succeed,” Paul said.

Ambitious about emails

Public information is another priority.

Hugh has hired companies to help him with social media and marketing, and his biggest lesson is the value of email addresses.

“On none of these (social media) sites do you own these people; they are not your customers. In emails, they are,” he said. “He’s someone who signed up to be on your list. So we strongly believe in taking people off social media with almost any offer necessary to get them on our own list, because I can email them basically for free.

Offers include chances to win tickets, coupons and special offers. With his email list, Hugh focuses on narrowcasting, which means he has different groups of emails sorted by interest.

“We try to keep the messages specific to what you’re really interested in so that you continue to receive them,” he said.

It also focuses on general content, hiring an employee who works two days a week to post social media posts with the idea that if you stop posting, you stop appearing on people’s feeds.

He also writes blog-style emails, something his mother, Gail, started before her death in 2005. Before Facebook became popular, Gail sent out newsletters to a list of around 10,000 readers.

“When the Postal Service was reorganizing post offices, our post office made a special exception — backtracking to a dead end and turning around and back — because they didn’t want to lose that mailing,” Paul said. .

Maple Lawn Farms grows apples, peaches, blueberries, cherries, nectarines, apricots, corn, wheat, soybeans, pumpkins, sunflowers and lavender. The McPhersons also cover cover crops, primarily with cereal rye. The family owns about 1,300 acres and leases another 280 in New Park.

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