About the Farmers
“I’ve never wanted to be anything but a farmer”, says Gary. He and his wife Lynne grew up farm kids, 4-H and FFA’ers, and they were fortunate to raise their family the same way. Lynne grew up in a little town called Calverton in northern Virginia surrounded by horses, cattle, and a huge garden. Gary grew up on the farm. It’s been in the Hess family since the late 1950’s.
Farming has changed since Gary and Lynne were kids. Farms are more diversified, and Back Home on the Farm is no exception. There is a 100+ head cow calf operation of mostly purebred Hereford cattle. There are three farms scattered across the county that total almost 600 acres, but focus these days is on the 240 acres that borders the city limits of Harrisonburg. Most of the land is pasture for the cow herd, but hay is harvested and used for feed or sold. There is a 12,000 square foot greenhouse range for growing and selling plants which is open in the spring. Seven acres of pumpkins are grown every year for retail sales. Corn from the corn maze is sold at the end of the season for another cash crop. But the biggest “crop” on the farm these days is growing memories for people who visit the farm.
Both Gary and Lynne have been active in farm organizations over the years. They were state advisors for the Virginia Junior Hereford and Shorthorn Associations and have served on the local petroleum cooperative board, fair board, as 4-H club leaders and countless other committees. It was during the time that daughter Cathy was showing her Hereford cattle that they were called upon to work with the State Fair of Virginia in developing a beef exhibit for the “Young McDonald'” barn. The need for providing a way to educate school children about agriculture and farm life became apparent in the 5 years that they set up displays and hosted 4th graders at the Virginia State fair.
So with that thought in mind, Back Home on the Farm was born out of a mini fall festival held in conjunction with the retail greenhouse operation back in the 90’s. When attendance outgrew that space, the festival was moved to the farm. A corn maze and family attractions were added in 2004. In 2014 the retail greenhouse where everything started was torn down and relocated to the farm, allowing Gary and Lynne to operate the businesses at one location.
Today the farm is open nearly year round with various activities. The greenhouses are open in the spring. Country teas are held year round. The staff hosts over 5,000 school children from 9 nearby counties for spring, summer, and fall field trips as well as tourists and the local community. By the end of the season last year, over 25,000 visitors had visited the farm at least once.
There are always new ideas and new activities in the making at the farm. Plans in 2018 are to expand into Christmas festivities. Hosting families at the farm and offering them the chance to connect with farmers and the agricultural community is a goal the Hess family and crew are committed to. They love their job!