Longtime Belgium farm becomes haven for Halloween festivities
Brian Buechler grew up on his family’s Belgium farm on Highway LL, but after his father Fred died last year he realized something had to change if the farm was going to remain a sustainable family business.
Angus beef cattle as well as sweet corn and field corn have been raised on the farm since the 1960s. However, it is tough for small family farms to show a profit in the age of corporate agriculture.
Part of Buechler’s long-range survival plan relies on a tested business strategy — diversification.
That is the inspiration for the recently incorporated Buechler Farms, LLC, which has gained special prominence this Halloween season as a full-featured pumpkin farm.
“After my dad died, my mom was talking about having to sell the farm. We felt it was important to keep it in the family,” Buechler said.
Buechler and his wife Irene decided the best way to keep the 58-acre farm in the family was to break from the status quo.
One of the first steps was to plant a four-acre pumpkin patch.
“We talked to a friend who runs a pumpkin farm and planted 15 or 20 different varieties,” Irene Buechler said.
“When people come to a pumpkin patch, they usually have a favorite variety they are looking for.”
Being the first year for the crop, Brian said he was surprised by the sudden transformation.
“It is something when the leaves fall off, and you suddenly see all that orange,” he said.
The couple said the largest pumpkin from their patch has weighed in at 52 pounds, although some challengers are still growing on vines.
A hay wagon is used to haul customers to the pumpkins, as well as to tour around the farm which has been decked out for Halloween.
Ghosts, giant spiders and other characters are scattered around the property.
“We didn’t want to make it too scary for the young ones,” said Irene, who takes credit for the decorations.
The centerpiece of the layout is a 10-acre corn maze which proved quite challenging for visitors during its first weekend of business.
“We’ve had people spend 30 minutes to two hours working their way through the maze,” Irene Buechler said. “We give everybody wristbands so we can keep track of them. We don’t want anybody getting lost in there.”
For the younger set, there is a kiddie train and a petting zoo which introduces children to a variety of farm animals, including a pony, sheep and goats.
Irene Buechler, who works full-time as an orthopedic nurse at Aurora Medical Center in Grafton, said making the farm available — even on a seasonal basis — has generated a real buzz.
“When I talked about the plan at work, a lot of people said their kids had never been on a farm. They were excited something would be available so close by,” she said.
An old barn has been converted into a cafe and country store offering fresh produce, food, decorating items and floral arrangements. Country decor accents are also available including hay bales, corn stalks, Indian corn and mums.
The menu includes chili, hot dogs, popcorn, nachos, pie, cookies and caramel apples.
“We made a point of bringing in local vendors, like baked goods from Bee’s Bakery and honey from Dutter’s Gibbsville Orchard,” Irene Buechler said.
Customers have proven to be quite discerning when it comes to their produce.
“We sold all our acorn squash on the first day. They were a big hit,” Irene Buechler said.
Like his wife, Brian Buechler also works full-time, running his own construction company.
“That kind of work takes its toll on you. I am looking at this as our retirement plan,” he said.
The Halloween attraction opened last weekend, and will welcome guests from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays through Oct. 31.
“The first day started kind of slow, which gave us a chance to work out the bugs, but on Sunday our business more than doubled — over 100 people. Everyone seemed to be having a great time,” Irene Buechler said.
Watching the people stream to the property, Brian Buechler said he couldn’t help but think about his late father.
“My dad was a real people person. I know he would approve of this,” he said.
The farm is at 5787 Hwy. LL.