WAKEFIELD, N.H. (CAP) - Several lawsuits are threatening the popular "Thresh Your Own Grain" practice and other participatory activities at family farms, say local farmers.
Allowing visitors to use high-powered industrial threshers to separate large amounts of grain from stalks and husks has been the latest attempt on the part of struggling family farms to stay solvent. It follows promotions allowing guests to pick their own fruits and vegetables, shear their own sheep and spread their own manure.
"It's actually kind of amazing what affluent suburbanites will pay to do," said Tom Halverston of the National Farmers Union. "The irony is, we were getting to the point where we couldn't even get illegal Mexicans to do this stuff."
But the recent lawsuits could put an end to the practices, say industry experts.
"I know my client assumed threshing would be perfectly safe," said Mark Robertson, attorney for Karl Frankenheimer, a Massachusetts man who suffered several puncture wounds at Apple Time Farms in Wakefield, N.H., when he stuck his buttocks into the thresher "as a gag."
But farmers are saying the lawsuits are frivolous, and that allowing visitor participation has made all the difference in helping them stay afloat. "We've really cut costs since we've been able to stop doing most of the work ourselves, not to mention getting people to pay to do it for us," noted Robert "Farmer Bob" Isaacson of Cider Side Farms in Greenwood Village, Colo.
"It's not like we're not careful - there's a sign right there," he added, motioning to a hand-painted notice reading Warning: Thresher Sharp! along with a stick figure who appears to have lost a limb.
"The last thing these small family farms need is another obstacle to success," said singer and Farm Aid co-founder John Mellencamp, who debuted his new tribute song, Rain On The Thresher, at the latest Farm Aid concert, which was attended by more than three dozen people at a parking lot in Muncie, Ind. The song includes the lyrics:
Rain on the thresher, blood on the plow
My pumpkins have gone mushy and I'm down to my last cow
Son, I'm just sorry these stupid tourists keep threshing themselves, ow!
His fellow Farm Aid founder Willie Nelson was unavailable for comment, having been arrested for threshing under the influence at a pro-farmer rally in Ashwaubenon, Wis.
Despite their efforts, some in the industry wonder if family farms can survive this backlash. Even though most of the complaints have not been serious - Gucci bags gnawed by donkeys, children trapped in Port-a-Potties while picking strawberries - some are more problematic, such as the Chicago family lost in a Homer Glen, Ill., corn maze for three months.
"Fortunately, they had a lot of corn," noted Homer Glen Police Chief Sam Prentiss.
And nationally, farmers took a hit when the Supreme Court ruled that all hayride tractor drivers had to undergo criminal background checks, and it was revealed that almost 20 percent of them were convicted pedophiles.
But luckily for the family farmers, not all visitors have been deterred. "We come up from Cambridgeport every fall, and we just love getting back to nature," said Richard Vanderhaven of his annual visits to Apple Time Farms, where Frankenheimer had his buttock incident. "If you're careful you have nothing to worry about. And even if you do get threshed, it's worth it for a chance to buy those $14 bottles of jelly."
- CAP News Staff