New this year – snow in Lathrop!
Christmas carols fill the air, Santa chats with children in the general store full of sweet treats and local crafts and families meet live raindeer and baby farm animals. Meanwhile, a crew of farmworkers-turned-snowmakers work 24 hours a day blowing 100 tons of snow onto a tube-sledding slope. It's all at the Dell’Osso Family Farm right off Highway 5 just south of Lathrop. Welcome to the latest family adventure in the San Joaquin valley, Holidays on the Farm.
Ron and Susan Dell’Osso started taking their October pumpkin patch and corn maze seriously about eight years ago, and last year about 140,000 people showed up to buy pumpkins, enjoy the corn maze, haunted house, pony rides, pumpkin blaster, and otherwise play on Dell’Osso Family Farm. Tourists contributed about 50 percent of the San Joaquin County farm’s gross annual income. The other 50 percent of income comes from 350 acres of pumpkins, Indian corn and other seasonal specialty crops sold wholesale through a broker to grocery stores throughout the Western United States.
This March, the Dell’Ossos started researching Christmas attractions in order to extend their agritourism season. They bought a train and a zipline, built a general store with a bakeshop, learned how to make snow and opened the first annual “Holidays on the Farm” in late November. The train, zipline and store make business sense when they are amortized over both the October and December holiday seasons. The Snow Tube Mountain is already popular, with online reservations recommended for the $15.00 90-minute sessions of tubing, since the hill can only hold 250 tubers each session.
Why would these third-generation farmers turn to corn mazes and snow-making? Susan Dell’Osso explained that agritourism spreads the risk. Commercial farmers hope to make a three percent return on crops like alfalfa or pumpkins, and some years, like last year, 50 percent of the pumpkin crop can be wiped out by wet weather and mold problems.
Holiday attractions like Dell’Osso’s are also great ways to connect to and support the local community and offer low-cost entertainment for local families. Dell’Osso Family Farm tries to keep the prices low. There is no charge for parking or admission and some activities like the hay rides and go-cart speedway are free. They also include more than twenty local non-profit organizations by offering concession opportunities for volunteers to donate their time to benefit organizations including the Lathrop Senior Center, the Lathrop Police and Fire departments and the Lathrop Square Dance Club. In addition to extending the work season for many farmworkers, all of the agritourism employees are hired locally, and the popular operation is a major contributor to the local tax-base.
Watch for more pumpkin patch operators to jump on the December holiday wagon next year!