The farmers who turned Route 7 into a giant videogame this spring are gearing up for the final weekend of what they describe as their “agritainment” complex: Wayside Farm outside of Berryville. Back in March, the establishment attracted attention for its giant Angry Birds display in a field beside Nalls Farm Market.
Since September, Wayside has operated as part amusement park—complete with corn maze, pumpkin patch, combine slide, pumpkin playhouse, hayrides, a goat bridge, and pig races—and part public awareness campaign.
“One of the goals of doing this is to educate people about agriculture,” organizer Tyler Wegmeyer told the Loudoun Times-Mirror in March. “We want them to understand where their food comes from, that it actually comes from farms. When people come here to have a good time and play, they can understand more about agriculture.”
Seven months later, the notoriety of the Angry Birds display (not to mention the bird’s planned “launch” to a sister corn maze in Iowa) is still drawing in curious spectators, but when those patrons walk through the gate they end up staying for other reasons.
“The teenagers really love doing the corn maze,” said Philip Shenk, another organizer. “But there is much more here than that.”
Wayside Farm has struck a delicate balance between entertainment and information, sometimes with humorous results. The “John Deere movie theater” features seats made from hay bales and films devoted to—you guessed it—farm equipment.
“That’s popular with little boys,” said Shenk. “They sit and watch, but not for long. Once the movie starts rolling, they think, ‘I can watch movies at home.’ Pretty soon they’re running around in circles outside. Adults come out, too, but it’s mostly to take pictures of their kids having fun. Once you’re here, though, you can find that your inner 3-year-old emerges.”
At least one parent strongly agreed.
“I wish I could go down the combine slide,” said Elizabeth Archer, who brought young children to Wayside for the morning. The slide, made with “an acetylene torch and a little bit of ingenuity” occupies the hollowed-out interior of a piece of farm equipment. “There’s such attention to detail. Our neighbors recommended this place. Everything is close by, so it’s great for younger kids who tire out before long. It’s been a beautiful day, and the hosts are great.”
Archer’s friend, Emma Clark, came from farther away but was happy for having made the trip.
“The goat bridge is very sweet,” said Clark, referencing the attraction wherein patrons can send a cup of corn to the top of an elevated bridge and lure goats across. “It was definitely worth the drive from Ashburn. And I’ve never been that close to sheep! The animals are friendly.”
Another goat-bridge devotee was Grace Terzian, age 2, of Winchester.
“Today is my day off of work, so Grace is on a play date with her father,” said Brian Terzian, Grace’s father. “It’s our daddy-daughter day. We did smaller things last year, but this is the first time we’ve come here. It’s pretty awesome. We just got here and have been looking at the animals. Grace is excited. It’s great scenery for photography, too, and since I’m an amateur photographer I love that.”
Harriet Wegmeyer, another organizer, said Wayside Farm was a worthwhile investment that has already paid dividends.
“We are so happy to do this,” she said. “Our vision of what we wanted was what happened. It took an incredible amount of work on late nights in the heat, but this is what we envisioned. This is the first year. There are considerable up-front costs and all of our profits go to cover our operating costs. It’s worth it, though, because we’re offering a great educational and agricultural experience. The kids run, play, jump, get lost in the maze. But as they’re doing that they’re learning.”
For Wegmeyer, employing 20 part-time workers and providing a destination for family fun are added bonuses.
“Mom, Dad, kids, cousins, grandparents, can all come together,” she said. “I see smiles all the time, and that’s rewarding. When we put the Angry Birds up on Route 7, we didn’t expect this. It’s shocking, in a good way.”
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