Long & Scott farms is a well-known multigenerational farm in Central Florida’s Zellwood. It all started in 1963 when Frank D. Scott relocated the family farm from the Eastern Shore of Virginia to Florida. Hank Scott, the current farm manager, is proud of what his family has built since making the move when he was just seven years old. “There was a learning curve to grow in this sandy Florida soil, but my dad did very well in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s,” Hank said.
The farm grew to its current 1,200 acres of diversified production of pickle cucumbers, sweet corn, kale, and cabbage and added agritourism as an additional income source. While only 5-6% of the farm income comes from agritourism, they’ve grown to allotting 30 acres to the operation, used mostly for their corn maze and Country Market and Café.
Hank’s farming philosophy is one of community responsibility. “For me, farming is about feeding my family, our neighbors, and the families of the people that work with us,” he said. The farm provides employment for eighteen full time staff year-round, 100 harvest season workers and more than thirty during the agritourism season. Their popular Maze Adventures reflects their values with elaborate designs highlighting a favorite cause every year, such as the 2017 maze honoring first responders (See top image for a look of the Gator design in the 2016 mini maze).
Rethinking Commodity Competition
Still, keeping the farm thriving is an ever increasing challenge. Decades ago, the Zellwood area was known as the sweetcorn capital of the South, growing more than 15,000 acres of sweetcorn. Water quality issues in Lake Apopka created an environmental crisis, prompting neighboring farmers to sell much of their land. With the loss of their farm community to share ideas and equipment with, Long & Scott found themselves on their own facing a market flooded with South Georgia sweetcorn, as those producers responded to the market opening, and drove the price into the ground.
“We had to rethink our position,” Hank said. “We decided to specialize in growing a small amount of high quality Zellwood sweet corn. This type of corn is hard to grow but tastes very well. We said, we are going to set a price outside of the market forces, and because of the quality of the corn people are going to pay for that taste.” This pivotal decision paid off for the farm and now their hand-picked sweet corn is well known around high-end restaurants across the East coast. In 2001 they trademarked their Scott’s Zellwood Triple-Sweet Gourmet Corn. They grow 45 acres per season and demand is growing.
Agritourism Joys and Struggles
For Hank, agritourism provides educational opportunities for families, while supporting local jobs at the farm. “In my opinion, agritourism is a fun thing to do for families, better than books and more affordable than parking at Disney. Interacting with people at the farm is very rewarding. I personally do many of the hay rides, it’s enjoyable, and very rewarding to watch their faces when they learn something new,” he said.
Hank believes bringing families to the farm helps consumers better understand the realities of farming. “We get a lot of people saying: ‘thank you for living this kind of life’. Farming is less rewarding now. We get squeezed by the brokers, buyers, and negative media attention about farming is not helpful.”
He is encouraged by the growth of agritourism, but notes important challenges remain, especially liability insurance. “The insurance cost for the corn maze goes up every year. Liability issues have held us back from adding other fun activities to the farm,” he said. More affordable and flexible options are needed to underpin the industry at his farm and across the state.
Words of Wisdom
For operations looking into agritourism, Hank has some words of wisdom. “It’s a good return on investment per acre, but there’s not much money in relation to the whole operation. Don’t get carried away with your investment, do it slowly,” he said. Also, “people come to the farm for a ‘one day of fun at the farm’ experience; it doesn’t have to look like Disney or the county fair. The people want to learn about your farm and where their food comes from” he said.
Advertisement is key to success. “It’s expensive to try to advertise, it is one of our biggest issue. Some people down the road don’t know we are here,” Hank said. However there are people who visit the farm from as far as Jacksonville, Miami and other areas. “They have heard about us from magazines, news and the media. Media attention is very helpful. We wouldn’t have as many folks visiting the farm if it wasn’t for that.”
Learn about the Long & Scott experience at the Central Florida Agritourism Conference in Bartow on Tuesday, September 26. Hank Scott and other agritourism operators will share their wisdom during one of two panel discussions. For more information and registration, visit: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/central-florida-agritourism-conference-tickets-34070124660