ANDREW D. BROSIG, firstname.lastname@example.org
The laughter of school children filled the East Texas countryside near Bullard this week as Moore Farms threw open its gates for the annual fall harvest tours and festivities.
Between now and Oct. 31, roughly 3,000 children from schools around the East Texas region and as far afield as Lufkin will learn the ins and outs of pumpkins, get introduced to livestock and farm life around the beginning of the last century and play on the almost century-old, multi-generational family farm. This is the 16th year Cleve Moore and his wife, Lesley, have welcomed the groups.
The highlight of the day is a tractor-drawn hay rack ride through the farm to a field of freshly picked pumpkins. Each child and adult on a school tour is invited to wander between the rows and select their own, perfect pumpkin.
The crew at Moore Farms "engage the kids," said Melinda Love with Reach High Early Learning Center in Whitehouse. She's been bringing groups of her preschool students to the farm each October for about 10 years.
"They know how to work with the kids," Ms. Love said. "They're not talking over their heads."
Jessi Cooper, kindergarten teacher at Northside Primary in Palestine, agreed. This is the second year Ms. Cooper's class of advanced pre-kindergarten students have come to the farm.
"We chose Moore Farm because it's educational," Ms. Cooper said. "The children always leave knowing more than they came with."
An educational experience comes almost second nature for the Moores. Lesley Moore, whom her husband credits with developing the idea of the farm tours, is a teacher in Bullard.
An agronomist by training, Cleve Moore worked for several large cattle operations after graduating from Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches in the early 1990s. But he knew he wanted to return home to the family farm.
The Moore family was one of the first to adopt a new model for their operation when they started running the school and public weekend tours, embracing the idea of agritourism, introducing outside visitors to the inner workings of a farm or ranch.
"That word didn't even exist when I was studying agriculture," he said. "Now, we're people farming.
"People learn a bit about the farm, see the animals and take home a pumpkin," Moore said. "They learn where their farm products come from - the farm and not the grocery store."
The school tours for this season filled up by early September, said field trip coordinator Whitney Lamonte. She also runs the Pumpkin Guts Class, giving students a look at the inner workings and the life cycle of the common pie pumpkin. But the farm is open to the public each weekend between now and Halloween.
Moore Farms is still a working farm, Cleve Moore said. Sweet corn and pumpkins are the primary cash crops, with most of the corn going to the farmers market. But it's about more than just making money and living on his family's land.
"Agritourism is probably the best thing that's happened for the future of agriculture," he said. "Even though this is a small farm, it's close to my heart.
"I want to spread the word, let kids know there's a future in agriculture," Moore said. "We have to have farmers in the future."
IF YOU GO
Moore Farms is at 22142 County Road 181 in Bullard. From U.S. Highway 69, exit on Farm-to-Market Road 344 in Bullard. Go west approximately 3.5 miles to County Road 181. Turn north and the farm is about a mile on the left.
The farm is open to the public 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays through Oct. 31.