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The problem with agrotourism

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JohnT

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I live in Chester, New jersey and we, unfortunately, have become a Mecca for agro-tourism. This time of year, the urbanites are out in force to drink up the lovely colorful fall vistas along with fresh cider made locally.

Most of the working farms in town run a rather modest affairs. Some have hay rides, and pick-your-own pumpkins and apples. They offer rather subdued family fun.

I know that the farms are what make my town so special, and they must make money, but one farm decided to take it WAY too far.

Alstede farms, not more than 3 miles from my house, blew up their business into a orgy of pandemonium.

They advertised in the New York Times, and almost every city newspaper to attract visitors. This promotion worked and over the last 3 years there farm has seen THOUSANDS and THOUSANDS of visitors each and every fall weekend.

The farm itself started out a over century ago as just that, a farm. They had a respectable size stand to sell there produce. The only change that was made to accommodate all of the visitors was half the farm was converted into a grass covered parking lot. The farm simply can not handle the huge amount of people flocking to it.



Over the last three years, Alstede's has converted themselves into that which farm laws were not meant to cover. They converted themselves into a full size county fair complete with attractions, a bounce house, a petting
zoo, and other rides and attractions.

Today, their produce stand has been torn down and a converted barn is used instead. Alstede's is also now selling mostly items that have not come from their farm. There might be a bushel or two of apples, but every thing else (crafts, candy, baked goods, etc) come straight from the manufacturer.

This is a long way from being just a poor honest farmer trying to sell what he, himself, has raised.

Last year, this circus gat way out of hand and most of the town complained. Last year, most considered Alstede's as a disaster just waiting to happen, and some were even very vocal about it.

Turns out they were right. On Sunday, a little 2 year old girl was killed and here mother hospitalized when they were crushed between two shuttle buses.

Here is the article from our local "patch". The true shame here is that this all could have been avoided. All the town council needed to do was listen to what the local residents were saying...

http://patch.com/new-jersey/mendham-chester/sadness-no-surprise-wake-fatal-crash-alstedes-0#.VD0Lx1_D_3g
 

roger80465

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I live in Colorado. We have become the poster child for "agrotourism". There are pot tours throughout the area, mostly run by 70 something women. It is really something.
 

richmke

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The true shame here is that this all could have been avoided. All the town council needed to do was listen to what the local residents were saying...
The current use of the property cannot be changed by zoning. That would be adverse taking, and a big "no no" except in certain situations (construction a public facility like road, school, etc, or blight).

The City could have created parking regulations, such as so many spots per attendee, and the Fire Dept can set maximum occupancy.

The article did not state whether the accident occurred because of inadequate parking facilities, or just a lousy driver. Accidents happen on City streets all the time, and in the majority of the instances, the street is not to blame.

You may not like the crowds, but based upon the zoning, the owner has a right to the crowds. It is the City's job to make sure there is adequate safety for the crowds.

The City could enforce a no stopping/standing/parking zone near the site. So, if cars get backed up, they have to move on and cannot wait.
 

wineforfun

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I look at this in a few different ways. First, my heart goes out to those that lost their lives. Tragic accident while a family was trying to have fun.

The article doesn't appear to show any wrongdoing on the farmers part. It sounds like he has been trying to make things better, ie: additional lane, police and security, etc. While it would be nice for him to stay a "mom and pops" farmstand, you can't fault him for wanting to grow his business. While it may cause an inconvenience for others, you can't fault him. With that said, he does need to work with the town and surrounding residents to possibly come up with a mutual agreement on what would work best for all parties involved, not just one or two of them.

We have a similar situation that has happened in Nebraska. Google Vala's Pumpkin Patch and read "Our Story". It is located approx. 1 mile off a highway. They have had a couple of bad accidents on this highway while people were trying to turn onto the dirt road to Vala's. About 5yrs. ago, then installed a turn signal on the highway and paved part of the dirt road(the few residents along the dirt road would complain of the massive amount of dust being spread about). Vala's started out 30yrs. ago as a very small acreage with a few attractions and pumpkins/gourds for sale. $3 admission. Now it is a 212 acre operation and is basically like a amusement park. $15 admission.

So my point is that I think this gentleman and his operation can do just fine as long as he listens to those around him and everyone works together.
As far as the accident, it sounds like an accident that could have happened anywhere, albeit extremely unfortunate.
 

JohnT

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I hear all of your arguments, but the fact that a little girl died must not be dismissed. I hear all of your arguments, but still feel that the responsible thing is to shut the place down until better safety measures are implemented.

What is really a shame is that the town's fair-grounds are not even a mile away from this farm. The whole thing should be moved there where big events are safely held.

There is actually talk of blocking the entrance to the place by some residents.
 

richmke

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What is really a shame is that the town's fair-grounds are not even a mile away from this farm. The whole thing should be moved there where big events are safely held.
If you are going to be consistent, then if there is an accident at the town's fair grounds, then the town's fair grounds should also be shut down.

If you really feel this is a safety issue, then the town should offer to rent the fair grounds to the farm owner for $1.

I hear all of your arguments, but still feel that the responsible thing is to shut the place down until better safety measures are implemented.
We are not dismissing the death. There just isn't any evidence cited in the article that there was an inherently unsafe condition in the parking lot. It seems like there was a bad driver. How else is he going to rear end another bus? I don't see any mention of a blind curve, 50 MPH speed limit in the parking lot, etc.
 
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beano

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I hear all of your arguments, but the fact that a little girl died must not be dismissed.
It is truely sad that a child died! However it sound like the operater of the vehicle was to blame, not the farmer. We have several of these types of places locally in our county. My granddaughter is going on a field trip to one next week.
I don't know about Jersey, but this type of theme park has created alot of jobs here. People need to work. And accidents are always going to happen, at the theme park, crossing the street, on the school bus, on the front porch and even in the bathroom. Who's to blame? S**t happens everywhere. Unfortunitly.
If you must blame somebody, blame the US economey, and the leaders of our country have made it what it is. People are just trying to survive!
This is not ment to be a political rant, it's just the truth. That said....lets all pray for this child and her mother and thier family.

God Bless all of you!!!

Beano Joe
 

JohnT

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I see all of your points, but what the article does not seem to really capture is just how absolutely PACKED this place is on the weekends. Stories abound of fights and accedents in the parking lot each and every weekend and just getting out of there has taken some folks over 1.5 hours.

Also, the farm has no access road. It abuts the 2 lane main road through Chester and a dozen other towns. Frustrations run very high in this type of scenario, especially in NJ where patience is NOT a virtue.

This even might be all well and good for a large farm, but Alstede's is only a 40 acre farm, of which only about 10 or 15 acres is being used for the tourists. This includes parking. When you squeeze that many people, and that many vehicles, into that small of a space, disaster will happen.

The death of this little girl has pulled the pin on a grenade. The residents have been angry about Alstede's for 3 years now and now they are simply ready to explode. Emotions are running very high on an otherwise quiet, peaceful country community.

The fair grounds is a LOT bigger with substantial parking and it's own access road. Accidents do happen, but it would be a whole lot less likely at the fair grounds where thousands are hosted several times a year, year after year, without and incidents.

The town would definitely work with Alstede's on the fee for the use of the land. They support the farms and this better venue would be cheaper for the town in the long run.
 

wineforfun

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Couple more things.
You made the comment "the farm has no access road. It abuts the 2 lane main road". If there is no access road, how are the patrons accessing Alstede's? Are they walking across the road? and where is the parking lot for all these vehicles?

Also, has Alstede made any comment on this matter or what has their stance been the past few years on rectifying the situation? According to the article, it sounds like they have tried to make things better, ie: paying for and creating a left turn lane, hiring a private company for parking, etc.

With that said, improvements in any situation can always be made, but I have to agree with Mike, it sounds more like this was a faulty driver issue that caused this tragic accident.
 

sjo

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"The parking lot on Alstede’s property was filled to the brim, thanks to the owner’s goings-on as well as the Harvest Fest in town. The sheer volume resulted in traffic lines backed up for miles in both directions, no one being turned away."
The article makes it sound like the town's Harvest Fest was also using the parking lot. Is that what the shuttle buses were for?
 

JohnT

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W4F,

There is a curb that separates the main road and the farm's main parking lot (which only holds about 30 cars). for fall weekends, people pull into and through the main parking lot, onto a grass field, around the barn/store, and into a field to park. The wait just to park can take an hour.

That bit about a turn only lane is misleading. The only thing they did was to set up some cones.

The only official statement made by Alstede is "we grieve for the family". They would not comment further until the investigation is complete.

Although they might lead you to believe that they spent scads of money for improvements, the truth is that they paid only a bare minimum. Just minor gestures to placate the irate residents.
 

wineforfun

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I never once took away from the article that Alstede has spent scads or done any major renovations, just that it seemed he had tried to make things better.
The problem with all this speculation on our end is that we are not there to truly see what the situation is, good or bad.
No matter what, it sounds like some things need addressed as you locals are all the way on one side while Alstede is on the other. Going to have to be some meeting in the middle.
 
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