Fall has arrived, and for 18-year-old Ashlee Mortimer of Dewey, Ariz., that means thousands of curious visitors will be flooding her family’s farm in search of pumpkins and good, clean fun. For Ashlee and her siblings, Hayden (16), Kayla (14) and Kolten (12), and their parents, Gary and Sharla, fall is a bustling time of year, and the long-awaited season gives them the opportunity to share the story of agriculture with visitors who come to spend a day at Mortimer Farms.
“I love to see families and city kids come out and enjoy the farm,” says Ashlee, who graduated from the Arizona Agribusiness and Equine Center, a college preparatory high school, in May 2016 and was a member of the AAEC Prescott Valley FFA Chapter for four years. “They get their hands in the dirt and learn about agriculture and how awesome it is. They get to see how dedicated ag people really are.”
Mortimer Farms is a popular Arizona agritourism attraction that is open to the public year round. The Mortimers grow sweet corn and more than 20 different vegetables and melons on their 300-acre farm and raise Black Angus beef, chickens, turkeys and pigs. Farm visitors can buy the fresh produce and meats at Mortimer’s Country Store, and explore the farm’s petting zoo or take a scenic wagon ride.
Each of the kids help with farm chores in different ways. Ashlee helps artificially inseminate the cattle and plan the annual Pumpkin Festival in October and Sweet Corn Harvest Party in August. Hayden enjoys tractors and horses, and helps with planting, harvesting, fertilizing and checking fences. Kayla spends a lot of time with the cattle, horses, goats, chickens, pigs and dogs, and she works in the country store. And Kolten loves all things horses.
“Mostly they do chores willingly – mostly,” Sharla Mortimer says with a smile. “Kids are kids, and we try to let them decide in what ways they want to help on the farm. They can use their talents, likes, and ambitions to benefit the family and the farm.”
One of Kayla’s favorite jobs is working in the country store bakery, where they sell sandwiches, pies, cinnamon rolls and homemade fudge.
“I specialize in baking the cookies, especially the chocolate chip,” Kayla says. “They’re really good. I enjoy meeting the customers, talking to them and telling them about our farm.”
During her four years in FFA, Ashlee served as vice president of her chapter. Hayden and Kayla are currently active in FFA. Mom Sharla is a big fan of FFA.
“I see how much FFA teaches kids to think outside the box – to look to their future and see agriculture as an option,” Sharla says. “Americans need to look at agriculture differently if we want to move into the next generations. We need kids who want to be involved, want to grow food and want to be part of a critical – but very difficult – industry. I see FFA as a way to open doors to kids, whether raised on a farm or not, and show them there are options.”
In addition to Mortimer Farms’ Sweet Corn Harvest Party and Pumpkin Festival, they also host educational school field trips and summer camps for kids ages 5 to 13. During the holiday season, the farm transforms into Christmas Village with pre-cut live Christmas trees for sale, a petting zoo, and a bonfire with s’mores and stories.
Ashlee’s goal is to go to college and pursue a career in agricultural public relations.
“I want to help close the gap between consumers and food producers,” she says. “I have a blog called Beyond the Barbwire where I do video interviews with producers. For my senior project, I interviewed farmers and ranchers all over Arizona. It’s really fun to hear people say they learned something from my blog.”
Gary and Sharla hope their children will continue to grow food and protect the land they call home.
“I hope our children and their children will have the opportunity to farm,” Sharla says. “I hope many families will visit our farm and understand more about agriculture and why we must protect it. Agritourism is a way for families to connect with the land – an opportunity to walk into the fields and harvest their own food. It is a way for families to make memories that last forever. Just like in FFA, experience is the best education, and we’re happy to offer both at Mortimer Farms.”
– Jessica Mozo