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Ind. pumpkin patches, orchards see visitors swell

LAFAYETTE, Ind. – A struggling economy that has kept many people looking for getaways closer to home is fueling strong growth in Indiana's agritourism industry.

"It's skyrocketed. It's taken off more than we expected five years ago," said Ann Schmelzer, program manager for entrepreneurship and diversified agriculture with the Indiana Department of Agriculture.

Attractions like apple orchards, corn mazes and Prophetstown State Park near Battle Ground are reporting bigger crowds this year, especially with cooler temperatures and dry weather.

"We've been having a phenomenal year. This year we're up about 55 to 60 percent on the number of people who have been coming. It seems to be no end in sight," Tim Fitzgerald, president of Exploration Acres Inc., told the Journal & Courier in Lafayette. "Now that it's starting to feel like fall, we'll have a lot of people coming."

The site's attractions include a corn maze, hayrides and a pumpkin patch.

Brian Blackford, communications and outreach director with the Indiana Office of Tourism Development, said Indiana is trying to build interest in agritourism by mentioning sites on its blogs and through social media outlets.

The Department of Agriculture's website at www.in.gov/isda allows people to enter their location and get a directory for the type of product they want, such as Christmas trees and maple syrup.

"We know there's an interest in getting out and seeing the countryside. This is a great time of year to explore an agritourism site," he said.

Blackford said some of the interest in agritourism stems from a desire to understand where food comes from as people become less connected to the land each generation.

Tourism contributes about $10 billion a year to the state economy and employs more than 260,000 people.

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