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When frost is on the pumpkin, tourist farms switch gears
Seasonal agribusinesses face challenges when visitors head for home
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Richard Youmans Jr. his wife, Christi, and their children, Christopher and Alyssa, walk through the maze at Uncle Shuck's Corn Maze and Pumpkin Patch in Dawson County. The Youmans were visiting the area from Lake Park. The maze is one of several seasonal "agribusinesses" in North Georgia. - photo by Tom Reed

Mike Pinzl knows that a month from now his business is over.

Pinzl is the owner of Uncle Shuck's Corn Maze near Dawsonville. Getting the site ready is a year-round job, but paying customers come for only 13 weeks during September, October and part of November.

"You're obviously at the mercy of the weather, the economy and this year, the gasoline situation," said Pinzl, who is in his seventh year of operating the maze. The corn maze is now complemented by a pumpkin patch.

"But that's all part of the game, and every businessman has challenges and that's just the challenges of a seasonal ‘agritainment' business."

"Agritainment" or "agritourism" are names given to agriculture-related businesses that expose the nonfarming public to a segment of agriculture. Pick-your-own fruit and vegetable farms, corn mazes, wineries and Christmas tree farms have become popular seasonal destinations for urban and suburban dwellers to find a taste of country life.

Some, such as Jaemor Farm Market in Alto, operate year-round, with seasonal harvests of peaches and apples, as well as other fruits and vegetables grown on the family-owned farm.

Andy Kinsey gave up a career as a public school teacher to devote his full time and attention to his family's Christmas tree farm and pumpkin patch in northern Forsyth County.

"You have to be fiscally responsible," Kinsey said. "With our farm, the bulk of the income comes between the first of October and the 20th of December. You have to pace yourself as far as spending."

The Kinseys have found other seasonal enterprises for the farm, including catch-and-release fishing on a farm pond and selling plants in the spring and fall.

"Outside of the public season, in the spring, we have to plant all the plants," Kinsey said. "Chemical expense alone for fertilizers and fungicide is thousands of dollars."

Add to that the cost of equipment, such as tractors, and their maintenance and operation.

Pinzl's corn maze, which was unique when it opened, has been copied and tried throughout the area, but he welcomes the competition.

The 25-acre site, about half of which is planted in corn for the maze, requires attention throughout the year.

"The planting starts with haying the field, and that comes long before you plant corn on July 4th," Pinzl said.

When the corn maze shuts down in mid-November, the corn will be harvested and used as cattle feed.

One of the biggest increases for Pinzl was the cost of fertilizer, which jumped in price this year. When he opened in September, the gasoline shortage caused by Hurricane Ike made getting to the maze a problem for potential customers.

Last year, about 40,000 people came through Uncle Shucks, but Pinzl expects a bit fewer this year.

Kinsey's operation is a family venture that involves his brothers and his parents, plus neighbors, friends and former students who are hired for seasonal work.

Kinsey said when he walks across the acres of trees, it's just another day at the office. "But it's so refreshing to hear other people say what a beautiful place this is," he said, adding that his months of work seem worth it when cars filled with families come driving through the gate.

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