The Next Generation of Diversification:
Legends of the Fog
Featured in Turf News January 2008 Edition
Over the last ten years, many farmers have traded their row crops for big lustrous housing developments. Growing populations of metropolitan areas are pushing workers into the surrounding counties, displacing farmers as a result. In these crucial areas of rapid development, farmers must diversify to stay afloat. Often, when the general public closes in on agriculture communities, there are more negative implications than positive. However, farmers can diversify their operations to use growing populations to increase their earnings through "Ag-Entertainment". Most recently, the Barberry Family from Aldino Sod Farms chose a unique approach to diversification.
The Barberry roots in agriculture dig back to the 1940's, when first generation farmers Harold and Ted Barberry began their sod installation company, Barberry Bros. Inc, specializing in soil stabilization and sod installation. While harvesting pasture grasses, on their farm in Darlington, Maryland, the Barberry brothers battled tough, rocky soil conditions using a three-point attached sod cutter. The Barberrys sold all the pasture grasses they harvested themselves, in addition to more than sixty percent of Aldino Sod Farms' crop, then owned by the Bryant family. In 1974, Barberry Bros. Inc. showed their first stint of diversification when they purchased Aldino Sod Farm in Churchville, Md. At that time, they were selling one hundred acres of turf, and farming more than one thousand acres of grain. Upon Ted's passing in 1982, his sons Doug and Mike Barberry took over the two businesses.
In the 1990s, Doug and Mike developed a taste for diversification with the development of the first working field net installer; the Barr-Nett C175. After five years of perfecting the net installer, they took the "Barr-Netter" to the market place. To this day, Barr-Net Inc. has sold more than two hundred fifty machines in nine different countries worldwide. Barr-Net Inc. was a diversification, which not only benefited Aldino Sod Farms, but also allowed Doug and Mike to finance their children's college educations. In 2005, Doug and Mike received Maryland's Innovative Farmer of the Year Award for Barr-Net Inc.'s worldwide success.
In 2002, Doug and Mike parted their separate ways; Doug sticking with Barr-Net, and Mike managing Aldino Sod operations. Since the split, Aldino Sod Farms has doubled its sales and tripled its inventory. The Barberrys now sell two hundred acres of sod per year and grow nearly three hundred fifty acres of inventory. With the an impressive fleet of equipment, strong quality of product and a well-structured business, Mike Barberry feels like the farm is operating rather effectively. However, the recent softening of the market is challenging his sales to maintain current operations. For Mike, the only question was, "how can Aldino diversify its operations, utilizing the available land, personnel, and equipment available to the farm?" Mike's son, Patrick, a recent Salisbury University graduate, proposed the idea of hosting a haunted hayride during the fall season, to continue productivity using the farm's strengths. Just like any other business decision, there was (and continues to be) much work to do to test the feasibility of the operation.
One of the most exciting and rewarding parts of the feasibility study was researching the competition. Mike and Patrick went to several other haunted attractions, often taking more than a ninety-minute drive. Most of the largest competitors feature three or more attractions: a haunted house, a haunted corn maze, and a haunted hayride. After waiting in long lines, their expectations were well exceeded. The sets were elaborate, the actors were enthusiastic, and, most of all, people's reactions were priceless! Walk-through haunts, such as mazes and haunted houses, often present the best scares because they are very intimate and often claustrophobic. Actors and large, animated mechanical props pop out from some of the darkest and tightest spaces, which is very startling.
The downside to walk-through haunts is that customers tend to be pushed through, and don't have much time to interact with the actors. The scenes are very short, and often ineffective. Most haunt-goers say the best scares and overall performance come during a haunted hayride. Lines often extend for more than three hours, but the ride is always worth the wait. Haunted hayrides have the most elaborate sets, the most enthusiastic actors, and have the best, most disturbing scares. Perhaps the most intense part of a haunted hayride is watching a grown man shriek in front of his kids.
For most haunted attractions, prices range from $8 to $15 per event. Many larger operations offer a combo ticket for $20 to $45 to view all events. On a good Saturday night, one place had more than ten thousand paying customers, causing a five-mile back up into the nearest town. Now, that's inspiring!
After scouting out the competition and evaluating their strengths, Aldino Sod Farms is confident that they can create an attraction to rival any haunt in the Mid-Atlantic Region. Mike, Patrick, family, and friends, decided to pull together their thoughts and resources to create a unified vision of how the haunt will begin. The challenge: to create an affordable and credible first-year haunted attraction catering to the 13 to 30 age group featuring a haunted hayride and a haunted corn maze. The new company, Aldino Entertainment, Inc., honed their focus on the haunted hayride, which takes place over a 1.3 mile trail through woods, sod fields, corn fields, and newly built structures. The farm crew planted more than thirty acres of corn with intentions to cut multiple corn mazes and provide cover for future actors to hide in. The stage was set.
The next step forward was to approach the Harford County Government for advice and requirements for the event. Upon meeting, Aldino Entertainment discovered a mountain of codes, licenses and regulations to complete. Luckily, many county restrictions did not apply to this venture because the events did not include a haunted house. Indoor entertainment facilities require extensive compliance with local and national fire codes and strict permits. Being an outdoor farm entertainment venue, the haunted hayride and corn maze fall under the agriculture umbrella for many regulations.
The next task was to find a large organization interested in partnering with Aldino Entertainment for community support. The search ended quickly with a favorable response from the Y of Central Maryland (formerly the YMCA). The Y is a well respected organization with strong ties to the community. The Y has an experienced core of management personnel with expertise in organizing public events in addition to a deep volunteer base. The Y's role in the hayride included support in the preparation, management, and marketing roles for the event. In preparation stages, Y representatives helped strategize the events' logistics, specifically highlighting volunteer management. Next, the Y helped organize several build workshops with volunteers from local clubs and sports teams. The Y influenced a strong support from the community and helped to provide an early sense of legitimacy.
One of the first steps of the process was to establish an identity and a theme. Very early, the decision was made to base the attraction on a story. The objective is to not only want to scare our audience, but entertain them with theatrics and classic story elements (characters, setting, conflict, rising action, climax, resolution). The group of writers mainly consisted of Patrick Barberry, his wife Robyn, and good friend, Dave Barnhouser and his wife Rachel. Dave is an audio/visual systems integrator, and a former film major, with a huge hunger for horror. In addition, Dave and Rachel own a professional photography business, "the 13th Hour Photography." Robyn Barberry, a high school English teacher, is a seasoned writer specializing in narrative non-fiction. Finally, Patrick Barberry, is the hands-on sod farmer and entrepreneur of the bunch. Once the writing team chose a creative direction, and developed a theme and a plot, they named the show "Legends of the Fog." Over several months, the story development took place. Dave provided most of the original ideas for constructing the story, Patrick translated these ideas into viable builds, and Robyn wrote the story (www.legendsofthefog.com/legend.html).
To compliment the story, the group decided to film a short promotional video for local horror conventions and the internet. More than thirty volunteers came out and showed support for the filming process. The video was shot over the course of four long nights, deep in the Aldino woods. Dave filmed and directed the video while Patrick coordinated the events. Nearly twenty minutes into the first night, a young actress with a prosthetic slit throat let out a blood-curdling scream for a successful first clip. Twenty minutes later, a Harford County Sheriff's deputy accosted the cast and crew, looking for a distressed young lady in the woods. After many long nights of filming and editing, the video paid off. At a horror convention, enthusiasts who religiously visit annual haunts surrounded the television to watch the filmed preview. The video was thereafter posted on www.youtube.com/legendsofthefog and Legends of the Fog's main web site, and viewed by more than three thousand haunt enthusiasts on the internet. The intensity and tone of the film built momentum going into the construction process.
Construction began in early August. Many sod farm employees, family members, and friends, helped construct the hayride. In addition, many local businesses donated raw materials and equipment to assist with the project. Most major construction, purchases, and designs were intended to serve both the event and daily use at the sod farm. Vice President of Aldino Sod Farms, Lucas Sullivan, lead the construction of four heavy-duty ten-ton wagon chassis and flat-beds which serve a dual purpose for the hayride and sod hauling. Mike Barberry's son in-law, Donald Stuchinski, a skilled carpenter and painter, put his paint and drywall business on hold, and wholeheartedly took on the major projects along the hayride trail. Don and his assistant Rudy, erected more than ten sets and built many creative props. Some of the sets ranged from building façades, 10' scarecrow posts, to a pull-thru pole barn structure. Don and Rudy spent countless hours painting and constructing props. Their involvement was a true blessing. After fourteen long months of dreams, dedication and deep digging, opening night finally was upon Aldino Entertainment.
September 27th, 2007. It is opening night. Aldino Entertainment, Inc. invited state senators, county government officials, and local business owners to come out and view the Legends of the Fog. It was an excellent opportunity to invite the county's best and brightest to come and see what the Barberrys have been doing in the local woods. Local vendors provided pit-beef, funnel cakes, and fries, accompanied by local bands performing a wide variety of live, original music. Mike's wife, Charlene Barberry administered the box office while his daughter, Lorraine (7 months pregnant) helped with t-shirts and merchandise sales. As the events began, Mike, Lucas, and Nancy Donnelly (Vice President, Y of Central Maryland), lead the distinguished guests in conversation and dinner. Meanwhile, Patrick, Robyn, Dave, and Rachel, were franticly slashing throats, bloodying costumes and teaching crash courses in acting. Nearly thirty minutes after the scheduled departure, the first hayride is underway.
The Barberrys anxiously watch from across the sod field as the first wagon approaches Donnie and the "Junk Yard Boys." The now famous, "Smitches' Junk Yard", features twenty-five dilapidated cars, trucks and pieces of farm equipment. Twelve of the cars are wired with working headlights, taillights, and horns, all controlled by one person operating a switchboard. The two hundred foot long set was laden with screaming victims, low-lying fog, and intimidating zombies.
The ride proceeds through a dark, wooded trail, followed by nearly a half mile of corn. Natural settings create excellent cover, disguising some of the most unsuspecting characters, such as ghost Civil War soldiers and camouflaged scarecrows. After many scenes of intense acting, aggressive scares, and squirming patrons, the wagon comes to its finale where the Legends of the Fog reach an unsettling conclusion.
After five excruciating weekends, Legends of the Fog came to a close on October 28th, 2007, just before Halloween. Aldino Entertainment successfully scared more than five thousand paying customers in ten operating nights. Opening night began with one hundred sixty customers, and came to a peak on October 20, when more than fourteen hundred tickets were sold. Unfortunately, the last weekend before Halloween was rained out, turning away an estimated four thousand customers. On the way out, riders stopped to comment about this a unique experience offered to the community. One customer claimed "Legends of the Fog is the best thing to come to Harford County," while many others claimed to like this ride more than ones offered by far more experienced competitors.
Overall, the Barberrys claim Legends of the Fog to be a success. This diversification not only utilized much of the Sod Farm's strengths, it reached out to the entire community. The month-long event presents a good fit to the sod business. On one hand, preparations and financing occurs during the planting season. On the other hand, the main events begin at the end of the planting season and finish in the end of October, thus, recouping investments before the winter months. In addition, drawing the public to the premises provides excellent exposure to the sod operation. In the long run, Legends of the Fog will help support Aldino Sod Farms, the Barberry family, and community organizations such as the Y of Central Maryland.
Article By Patrick Barberry, Mike Barberry, and Robyn Barberry