SYRACUSE — The 25 fourth-graders fixated on two small Holsteins, admiring their huge round eyes and long eyelashes.
Logan Barker, who was leading the tour of the farm, interrupted the children's "ooos" and "ahhs" with a question: "How many glasses of milk do you think the cows could produce a day?"
"Four?" answered one student.
"Thirty," said another.
"Higher," Barker said.
"One hundred?" said another.
"Close — 90," Barker replied.
They didn't know it, but the fourth-graders from Backman Elementary School in Salt Lake City were representative of a trend in agri-tourism as they visited Black Island Farms Monday.
"We are an inner-city school," said teacher Barbara Rogers. "It's probably the first time a lot of them have ever been on a farm."
"It's amazing, " said Dorathy Law, the farm's marketing director. "You can ask students where carrots come from and they say, 'The store.' "
The state's fourth-grade science curriculum — with requirements that students learn about soil, plants, adaptations in animals and the water cycle — ties in with lessons on the farm, Rogers said.
And for the Black family, the six-week harvest season each fall is a time when the farm is open to the public. For the past five years of the farm's 50-year existence, opening up has been part of the farm's business strategy. Throughout North America and Europe, small, family-owned farms such as the 460-acre Black Island Farms are turning to "agri-tourism" — or, as the Blacks call it, "agri-tainment" — to survive.
For years, the Black family invited members of their church to the farm. They also offered programs for special-education students in Davis County. "We already had experience," said Charles Black, who started the vegetable farm with his father.
Input costs, such as fuel and fertilizer, have climbed in recent years. Profits have increased, too, but Black said they didn't grow fast enough to keep up with input prices. The family had to reconsider the farm's business model.
Prior to the recession, the family received constant calls from developers who wanted to build on their land. They came close to selling, too, said Law, Black's daughter. But the deal fell through, and the family is happy to have preserved open space and farmland in Davis County.
So now the Blacks have become hosts to a Harvest Festival — with an average of 500 visitors a day — featuring education programs, the state's largest corn maze (this year, featuring faces of stars of the upcoming "Twilight: New Moon" movie), hayrides and a 60,000-square-foot haunted barn.
"We did it to survive," Black said.
The family keeps a schedule of events at blackislandfarms.com.
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