Bringing tourists to the farm for thirty years
By Julie Pederson
Thirty years ago Fir Point Farms was just like many other small, family farms in the Willamette Valley. The Stritzke family lived on the same plot of land in Aurora, Ore. for years, raising livestock and tending crops. This typical family farm story took an interesting turn, however, when the Stritzke’s son started a small road-side vegetable stand as an FFA project.
Eric Stritzke diligently planted seeds and harvested a small crop to sell to drivers passing by the farm on Arndt Road. His fresh produce attracted many country-side travelers and, while their son worked for FFA credits, Ed and Judy Stritzke began to realize the potential of this small agritourism attraction.
Agritourism was virtually nonexistent in Oregon when the Stritzke’s began to expand on the road-side stand concept and develop attractions to bring people to their farm. From humble beginnings, Fir Point Farms became one of the first – and remains one of the largest and most popular – agritourism destinations in Oregon.
The Stritzke’s sold the farm in 2004, but subsequent owners have been committed to the Stritzke’s vision and continue to run Fir Point Farms as an agritourism destination. Cindi Elliott and Kathy Jacoby currently lease the farm and manage the daily operations.
Although both women are relatively novice farmers, they share a common love of local agriculture. “We are working to build the community and the farm,” said Jacoby. “We want to educate people about how important it is to buy local, eat local and support local farmers.”
Enthusiasm for local agriculture brings thousands of visitors and students to Fir Point Farms every year. The season opens with Gardenpalooza in early April and culminates with the month long Harvest Festival in October.
Gardenpalooza is co-hosted annually by Garden Time, a Portland-based television show, and Fir Point Farms. This one day garden festival brings 40 local nurseries to the farm to offer greenhouse wisdom and plants to the public.
The Harvest Festival kicks off the first Saturday of each October when Fir Point Farms hosts the annual Giant Pumpkin Weigh-Off for the Pacific Giant Vegetable Growers. Continuing throughout the month, visitors can enjoy a variety of autumn activities such as picking their own pumpkins in the 15 acre pumpkin patch or touring the farm on a hay ride.
Families are encouraged to visit Fir Point Farms all summer long and a number of attractions offer something for everybody – the greenhouse, the farm market, the trout pond, and the ever popular tree-climbing pygmy goats to name a few.
Today, just feet away from where Eric Stritzke ran his small vegetable stand, the farm market offers seasonal produce, specialty foods and souvenirs. “As local produce becomes available we sell it in the market. We buy from farmers in the area and what we can’t get in Marion and Clackamas counties comes from the Northwest,” said Jacoby.
Their emphasis on selling local products definitely seems to attract people. Even while absorbed in the chaos of a busy day Jacoby notices people’s enthusiasm. “Every time there is a new crop people are ready for it. We put a sign out on the road and I can almost hear tires screeching to a halt and turning into the parking lot.”
Joining the “buy local” movement is more than just a business tactic for Elliott and Jacoby. One of the most important aspects of the farm is education and the partners hope their efforts will instill a love of Oregon agriculture in the next generation.
Every spring and fall hundreds of school tours visit the farm to partake in the festivities while learning about agriculture. Some of the schools do have an agriculture curriculum, but many more are from urban areas and the students have never been exposed to farming. At Fir Point Farms they learn about plant life cycles, farm animals and, most importantly, where their food actually comes from.
Elliott and Jacoby, like many Oregon farmers, have a real concern about the future of agriculture in this state with the average age of Oregon’s farmers rising higher each year. “Who will take over Oregon agriculture if we don’t start teaching our kids?” wondered Jacoby.
While the tourism and education efforts do serve a crucial purpose in encouraging the public to support local agriculture, the farm has begun to reflect the stress of all that activity. Elliott and Jacoby source from local farmers while the fields are planted in soil-enriching cover crops. “We want to protect the farm and keep it viable,” says Jacoby. “That is the most important thing to us.”
Over the years, Fir Point Farms has seen many developments and changes. One constant throughout its history, however, has kept the farm thriving as an agritourism destination and an outdoor classroom for kids from all backgrounds – the people.
From the Stritzke family who envisioned the agritourism possibilities to Elliott and Jacoby, “newbie farmers” working to share their passion for Oregon agriculture with the public. With the love and support that has carried this operation since its inception, Fir Point Farms will continue to delight visitors for years to come.