The beginning of Fall in Charles County means area farms opening for pumpkin picking, hayrides, corn mazes, apple cider, and outdoor family fun. Middleton’s Legacy Farm Lawnscapes, owned by Bret Middleton, is opening for fall festivities this weekend in Waldorf, but he also talked to us about expanding some of the farm’s offerings online—reaching beyond both the season and the region.
A Legacy in Charles County
The Middleton family farm has been around since the 1600s. Legacy Farm Lawnscapes was created in 2011 as a lawn care company, and in 2016 took over the family Christmas tree operation and expanded to include outdoor vinyl furniture. In 2019, they expanded their operation to include agritourism. Bret Middleton now operates the pumpkin farm and Christmas tree business on 140 acres adjacent to the family farm.
Agritourism and COVID-19
About his interest in agritourism, he said, “I thought it was a way for farming to move forward. It was a good way to let people see the farm and open it up to the public. I’m trying to bring agritourism to the forefront and make it work.”
The COVID pandemic was especially hard on agritourism in 2020, as many didn’t even open that year. Middleton hosted hay rides last fall, but instead of placing dozens of people in one wagon, he could only have 25 people at a time because of social distancing restrictions. Schools were closed to in-person learning, so those field trips were cancelled.
Grant for Online Sales
The Charles County Economic Development Department (EDD) offered a grant earlier this year for local farmers and watermen who had been affected by COVID-19 and wanted to start selling online or otherwise enhance their online presence. Middleton received that grant and is planning to use it for Christmas tree sales.
“We plan on expanding it [Christmas tree sales] online,” he said. The farm has bought their Christmas trees wholesale from a supplier the past 30 years. They also make wreaths, centerpieces, grave blankets, and other decorations with greenery. They did a trial run last year with online orders, taking orders over the phone or by email or through Facebook. The grant money they received this year is helping them hire a technical expert to improve the system, and also hire experts to enhance their website and online presence.
Expansion Online and Social Media
“The grants will help us connect our point of sales system with our online ecommerce,” added Middleton. “We need them to ‘talk’ and integrate the logistics of the shipping into one system, so when somebody places an order online, it comes through our ordering system, and I can pull it up on a screen and coordinate with FedEx or UPS and hit a button and ship it out.”
“We’re pushing hard on social media,” said Middleton. “Facebook and Instagram increase our reach. We went from 1,000 followers last year to about 2,300 this year. We’re growing, and we only grow about four months a year because that’s when we push our agritourism.”
2021 Fall Festivities
Last year was a struggle to carry on the fall festivities with COVID restrictions. They sprayed all the wagons, required social distancing and masks on hayrides, and didn’t put out their moon bounces. This year will include moon bounces, and they are starting to get some of the school groups back. “We’re really excited,” said Middleton. “A lot of hard work has gone into it. We hope for a successful season and that everybody comes out.”
The EDD is currently offering a Charles County Online Sales and Telework grant, similar to the one mentioned in this blog, for Charles County-based, for-profit businesses of all industries. It provides up to $5,000 to help pay the cost to expand online sales or teleworking capabilities for employees due to the continued financial impacts from COVID-19. Learn more and request an application here.