Vala's pumpkin patch logo

The North American Farmers’ Direct Marketing Association is coming to Nebraska for an excursion at one of its member’s farms. The venue is Vala’s Pumpkin Patch in Gretna and the event is scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 31, and Friday, Nov. 1.

“We currently have five members in Nebraska and 10 in Iowa,” said Suzi Spahr, executive director of the North American Farmers’ Direct Marketing Association. “Agritourism is a growing industry, and we are looking to connect with more producers in the area while we are there.”

According to the NAFDMA website, the group is comprised of farm families who invite people to visit their farms and “experience the food and the fun.” Membership includes farmers, industry suppliers (such as animal feed, seed and farm equipment vendors) and farmers’ market participants, among many others.

Agritourism is any venture that brings the consumer to the location where a farm product is being grown, raised or produced or in direct connection with the producer, Spahr said.

“It is an opportunity for the producer to tell their story to the general public and provide a touristic, educational, and/or entertainment experience at the same time,” she said.

Such events would include you-pick operations, on-farm markets, road side stands, corn mazes, farm festivals, farm entertainment parks, farm animal petting zoos, farmers markets, educational on-farm displays and any number of other variations of interest to the local community, she said.

On Oct. 31, Vala’s will be showcasing their operation with demonstrations and team leader staff presenting the discussions.

“It is also a great learning experience for the Vala’s Pumpkin Patch staff,” said Jan Vala, chief operations officer at Vala’s Pumpkin Patch.

“NAFDMA is an organization known for its sharing and the leaders at Vala’s learn a great deal from the participants that visit,” she added. “We appreciate so much the suggestions we receive during this kind of event.”

Participants will be able to see behind-the-scenes demonstrations of staff making donuts and caramel apples, as well as the operation of the sites bakery. Breakout sessions will include the paintball attraction and tours of the dairy barn, Cookie Coop, turkey legs and kettle corn food venues.

“We will have staff on duty to demonstrate the donut-making, including our ingredients and the equipment used,” Vala said. “We have two teams of caramel apple makers; one near the exit and one in Kelsey’s Sweet Shop. On Oct. 31, we will most likely be making the caramel apples in the Exit Barn.”

Vala’s Country Bakery serves meals as well as baked goods, so the demonstrations should be exceptional.

There are numerous animated displays at the Pumpkin Patch. Part of the Thursday tour will include a visit to the shop where these displays are created and maintained.

“Some displays use simple motors for movement while other displays are computer-generated animation,” Vala said. “The shop tour will cover these topics.”

The last part of the tour Thursday will be centered on the apple orchard and the cider mill. Vala’s planted the first 20 acres of apple trees four years ago, so 2019 is a year of peak production, she said.

Jon Burleson can be reached at jon.burleson@lee.net

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