FORT HALL — When Mike and Wendy Swore purchased the farm on Ballard Road north of Pocatello in 2000, they wanted to build on the foundation laid by former owners George and Kin Sato. For a generation the Satos sold what many considered the best sweet corn in the area.
Eighteen years later, the Swores have taken that foundation and created a business offering much more than corn. They quickly realized diversification would be key to sustaining the farm if they wanted to avoid being one of the 330 farmers a week nationwide who leave the land for good.
“We used to have a lot of farming neighbors, now we don’t,” said Wendy, who was recently recognized as the Idaho Farm Bureau District 1 Farm Woman of the Year.
To meet the challenge, the couple first tried a “pumpkin walk” in the fall and it failed. But a corn maze with a pumpkin patch where visitors can pick their own pumpkins is a hit. The family offers a variety of events from wagon rides and face painting for kids, to date nights and moonlit walks through the maze.
Five years ago, they joined the community supported agriculture program where community members buy “shares” in the farm and get 20 weeks of boxes filled with vegetables, fruit, eggs and honey. The farm offers full, half and work shares.
The couple and their five children also sell produce at area farmers markets.
Mike is a third-generation farmer and Wendy’s father was a crop duster. Tapping this well of experience has led to educational tours of the farm. Visitors from as far away as South Africa, China, Russia and Brazil have taken the tours.
The farm invites all fourth-grade students in the Pocatello area to tour and learn about farming. Activities include farm safety, ATV safety, soil and water conservation, horticulture, beekeeping and basic agriculture. Children who visit go home with a bag of potatoes they pick themselves.
“My favorite part of the year is when we interact with the community,” Wendy said.
The farm supports the community by donating produce to schools and the local food bank. The farm’s Pumpkin Fairy leaves free pumpkins on the doorsteps of families in need.
The community, in turn, supports the farm. When dogs killed the Swores’ chickens, area farmers donated chickens and schoolchildren helped raise money to buy more.
The farm is still evolving and goals include more automation in the greenhouses, building a barn as an event center and expanding the market in the garage, the Swores said. Wendy also wants to improve the maze and have “more fun events for fall with a farm-home feel.”
As they look to the future, the Swores will be looking at more ways to expand the farm’s offerings.
“We wouldn’t make it without diversification,” said Wendy.