Why You Should Visit a North Carolina Agritourism Destination

Kirkman's Farm

Kirkman’s Farm

It’s a known fact that fewer kids these days – and adults, for that matter – understand where their food comes from. Some North Carolina farmers are working to change that with fun, educational programs that help students and families appreciate modern agriculture. Here are three of them:

Kirkman Farm, Cove City

Lee Kirkman and his sister, Leela, were raising ostrich and emu in the early 1990s when they started fielding more and more calls from passersby asking to come see the big birds. Before long, the siblings had opened Kirkman Farm & Petting Zoo to a few small school groups and were offering demonstrations on preparing the fields, planting, fertilizing and harvesting corn, soybeans and oats.

Today, the Kirkman farm stays busy each fall with teachers bringing students and families enjoying weekend tours of the popular corn maze and pumpkin patch. The farmers give talks about what they do, let the kids feed the chickens and goats, and introduce them to more exotic animals like miniature donkeys, llamas and alpacas.


Lee Kirkman and his sister, Leela, operate Kirkman Farms. Photo by Jeffrey S. Otto

The Kirkmans also promote literacy through agriculture-related books such as Llama Llama Red Pajama, Click, Clack, Moo and If You Give a Pig a Pancake.

“Those are things that kids would read anyway,” Kirkman says. “But then they can start putting that together [with the farm tours] and it will hopefully encourage them to read more.”

The feedback, he says, has been extremely positive. “The kids love it. What kid doesn’t love a hayride? And the parents enjoy being able to make memories with their kids and take pictures.”

What’s more, Kirkman adds, “Who knows? We may be planting a seed for someone. This could be the next-generation farmer, that next person who’s going to be involved in ag engineering. You never know what kind of doors we’ll be opening for them.”

Lazy O Farm, Smithfield

For Tami Thompson and her husband, David, diversifying with agritourism – and more recently, a wedding and corporate venue – is a way to keep her family’s 1850 farm alive. It was her late father’s dream to find another, less labor-intensive source of income to supplement sales from their traditional row crops and Black Angus cattle. So, 16 years ago, Thompson honored his wish and started an educational program that would not only delight children, but also help neighbors understand the important role of farmers in the community.

“They think, ‘These farmers are on my roads. They block my traffic flow,’ ” Thompson says. “We need to educate them that the farmer is going down the roads to his fields so that he can provide food to go on your plate.”

The Thompsons started with a corn maze, then added a crop circle millet maze for younger children and educational stations to teach them about agriculture. Millet is a shorter crop than corn, so it’s a perfect fit for little kids. Today, Lazy O Farm bustles with a pumpkin patch, hayrides, barnyard animals, a playground and a Fairy Tale Trail featuring storybook lessons about acceptance, diversity and kindness, and a square pumpkin that shares an anti-bullying message.


Photo by Jeffrey S. Otto

A big hit with preschoolers is the hula-hoop egg hatch. The child becomes the egg and has to shed his or her hula-hoop shell while “scratching in the dirt and flapping their little wings and shaking their little tail feathers and going chirp-chirp-chirp,” Thompson says.

The payoff, for Thompson, is seeing the joy on the kids’ faces. “We don’t know what life is like for these children,” she says. “So the main thing that I tell our staff is that visitors need to see the love of a fellow human being and the love of God while they’re on our farm because they may never experience that anywhere else.”

Hodges Farm, Charlotte

Connor Newman had been managing the living history farm at Historic Latta Plantation in Huntersville for a decade when his uncle, Frankie Hodges, asked him to join the family business in late 2013 and expand the fledgling educational program at Hodges Farm, Charlotte’s oldest farm. Newman switched up the format, separating large groups into smaller classes, and setting up stations where they could learn how a pumpkin seed grows, for example, and see how farm animals live. At one station, kids learn about the good guys versus the bad guys – helpful honeybees, for instance, and squirrels that eat holes in the crops.

The fall Pumpkin Patch is still the farm’s biggest event, drawing up to 30,000 general visitors and several thousand students from day care through third grade during the month of October. Many area schools are now repeat customers, and weekday classes quickly fill up.


Photo by Wendy Jo O’Barr

Newman loves to see the kids make a connection between a farmer sowing a seed and a parent buying a vegetable at the grocery store.

“We actually have them plant a pumpkin seed in a little Dixie cup and we get letters back from the kids talking about how their seeds are coming up, telling us about their favorite parts of the field trip, drawing pictures of the animals,” Newman says. “That’s really cool. The feedback tells us that we left some sort of impression.”

Uncle Frankie, who passed away a few months after Newman came on board, would be proud, Newman says. “He always kind of ran against the grain, but he could see the future and he knew that we were going to get developed around. He wanted the community to feel that a farm is not a burden but a benefit. He truly loved farming and he just wanted to share that with people.”

If You Go...

Hodges Farm, Charlotte
School field trips weekdays in October. Pumpkin Patch open to public last weekend of September through Oct. 31, 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
(704) 608-8897

Kirkman Farm, Cove City
Check website for dates and times of public events. School groups by appointment only.
(252) 229-8967

Lazy O Farm, Smithfield
Maze Dayz educational programs run throughout October. Trick-or-Treating in the Maze open to the public Oct. 27, 1 to 5 p.m.
(919) 934-1132

– Nancy Henderson

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