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From the family farm to an Indiana agritourism destination for all

Purdue Ag Alumni father and son bring joy and memories to families through agritourism

The sun shines through the clouds on this cool fall day as children's laughter can be heard in the green hills dotted with pine trees and pumpkins. There is a simple beauty in the moment: a dad races down the slide with his son, a grandfather and his granddaughter sit on a bench together with their legs swinging as they both bite into warm apple cider donuts, a mom pulls a wagon filled with three giant pumpkins and a toddler in tow. As these families enjoy their time together, Tom Dull and Lucas Dull, owners of Dull's Tree Farm, look on smiling. Not long ago, these same fields were filled with corn and soybeans where their own family made memories. After years of hard work, the family farm has become a place for all families to enjoy their own day, "On the farm".

Farmers from the start

"I knew from a very young age that I wanted to attend Purdue to pursue an agricultural education and that I wanted to take that education home to the family farm." – Tom Dull

Growing up just a mile north of where Dull's Tree Farm sits today, Tom says farming was always in his DNA. From a young age, he remembers planning to go to Purdue with dreams of getting a formal agricultural education.  After some time, he settled on agricultural economics, "At the time, we still had a lot of livestock on the family farm and corn and soybeans. I planned to return to the farm to expand the hog operation. Ag Economics seemed to be what would help me do that best, and so I chose that."

Dull thrived during his time at Purdue, and after graduating, one thing remained the same: his heart was on the farm. Tom returned to the family farm with his wife, Kerry, but the year was 1980, and the world had changed.

Tom Dull at farm Tom Dull, co-owner of Dull's Tree Farm stands in front of historic barn on their property that provides indoor activities for guests to the farm.

With nearly 18-20% interest rates, his dream to build out the hog operation was no longer feasible. Armed with an education and a passion to grow a business and raise a family, Tom and Kerry decided to start a small Christmas tree farm. "I remember wanting to cut down our own tree and we had to travel a good distance to do that, and we thought that maybe we could grow some of those at the family farm. We started with the idea of maybe being able to save enough money from selling Christmas trees to help put our kids through college." Eight years after planting their first set of trees, they were ready to open for business officially. Tom remembers telling his wife, "If we sell 100 trees, we'll consider it a success." They closed their first year selling 200 trees, and they realized they had discovered their niche. They had found their home in farming in "agritourism," although that word didn't even exist yet.

A growing family grows into agritourism

"Seeing people be able to come out to the farm and enjoy and experience the setting that I grew up living every day is really fun. I didn't realize as a farm kid the memories I was making many other kids never get to experience." – Lucas Dull

As the farm grew, so did the Dull family, and Kerry and Tom welcomed two children into the place that Tom and his family had farmed for generations. Yet, instead of being surrounded by corn and soybeans as his dad had as a child, Lucas Dull grew up surrounded by pine trees, "I loved growing up on the farm. I had several jobs on the farm, and my sister and I grew up helping during tree season. It wasn't until later in life that I realized the people were coming to my family farm to experience what I had grown up with."

Lucas Dull stands with tractors at their farm. Lucas Dull, co-owner of Dull's Tree Farm stands in front of tractors that guests can see at the farm. Like the land these tractors have a rich family history.

Like his dad, Lucas decided to pursue an agricultural degree from Purdue and graduated in 2012 with a degree in agricultural engineering. While Lucas loved the family farm, he chose to enter industry first, working for Elanco as a process engineer. After some time, he returned with his family to the family farm. He joined the Dull's Tree Farm operation 10 years ago to work with his parents., “I use my education from Purdue nearly every day as I work to problem solve, and we have a lot of problems to solve. There's anything from logistics to efficiency process, building stuff. I am thankful to have that background to bring to our work."

Armed with a strong passion for their work on the farm and two degrees in agriculture, father, son, and the rest of the Dull family have worked to build their agritourism farm into what many might call an "agritourism empire." The success they have found is driven by one thing, and that is sharing with other families a bit of what has meant so much to their family.

Creating an experience on the family farm for all to enjoy

"Generations now are so far removed from the farm that we want to share some of those experiences that our family has had for them to treasure." – Tom Dull

The small tree farm that once held 100 trees now sits on nearly three times as many acres with 60,000 planted trees. While the farm's acreage grew, so have the offerings at the farm. While the tree and pumpkin fields surround the farm, the property in the middle contains activities for the whole family to enjoy. Guests can enjoy everything from corn mazes, farm-themed playground equipment, pony rides, Country Air Cannons, barrel train rides, tire mountain, farm animals, slides, and more. Today, Dull's Tree Farm offerings and events begin in late spring and run until nearly the end of the year. Lucas notes that a decade ago, when he came back to the farm with his wife, they wanted to help expand the farm's offerings to include fall agritourism. "We've focused on adding activities that allow families to come and spend a day here and enjoy a beautiful fall day in the country. We want our guests to leave with an experience they can reflect on. We want to create experiences that they'll remember."

It's not just activities that make the experience at Dull's Tree Farm unique; it's the educational aspect. "We hear many people talk about their family farms being gone, and their kids will not be able to experience that, so we are passionate about educating the next generation on agriculture. We offer various educational offerings for kids and families on crops. We think it's important to teach how they are grown, what they're used for, and more," said Lucas.

A legacy passed from one generation to the next

" My legacy will be my father's legacy because I came back to join him, and in the same way, my son has come back to join me. I want to provide that for my grandkids and great-grandkids, the opportunity for them to be involved in agriculture and share it with others." – Tom Dull

The farm is empty now as the skies darken and rain moves in. The Dull family is cleaning and preparing for the next day on the farm. The scene isn't all so different from what it would have been like for Tom's parents all those years ago. They are caring for the land together, from one generation to the next. That same land that for generations produced traditional crops is now creating memories for thousands of families. And for the Dull family, that is precisely the kind of legacy they want to leave.

Looking at his son, Tom speaks for them both, “We feel blessed to be doing what we're doing to make our living off of the natural resources that God has provided and to share that gift with others.”

Agritourism in Indiana

Agritourism—is a growing sector for both the agriculture and tourism industries. According to the most recent Census of Agriculture in 2017, combined on-farm experiences and direct sales brought in $3.7 billion in revenues for over 150,000 farms and ranches in the United States.

pumpkins.jpg

Agritourism activities fit within five main categories:
Direct sales: consumers buy directly from farmers
Education: learning experiences, such as school tours
Hospitality: includes farm stays, on-farm dinners
Outdoor recreation: outdoor farm experiences
Entertainment: on-farm activities, such as festivals

Indiana has 3,548 farms offering direct sales or agritourism:
3,155 farms with only direct sales
313 farms with only agritourism
80 farms with both direct sales and agritourism

(Data source: 2017 Census of Agriculture)

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