Saunders Farm setting the standard for agriculture-based attractions

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Saunders Farm had an interesting group of guests last weekend, and it wasn't just the witches, ghouls and goblins flocking to its annual Halloween Haunting Season.

Mark Saunders, the farm's director of fun, welcomed special guest Truett Cathy and his business partners from Georgia, who flew in Oct. 8 to tour the site.

Mr. Cathy is the founder and chair of Chick-fil-A restaurants, one of the largest privately-owned restaurant chains in the U.S. His business success is legendary in the field due to the fact Mr. Cathy started his empire with a tiny Atlanta diner in 1946 and has since transformed it into the second largest quick-service chicken restaurant chain with nearly $1.75 billion in sales in 2004.

Mr. Saunders says the delegation was interested in touring his setup to seek ideas and inspiration for their own 750-acre educational and entertainment farm ranch outside of Atlanta, Ga.

"We were the only Canadian spot they were taking a look at," he says. "They were very much impressed and I will not be surprised if there is some sort of partnership or we do some consulting with them. They're looking at setting up a farm attraction, not quite a theme park, but a place that will celebrate agriculture. Chick-fil-A has 1,200 stores now, so this would be a place that the Cathy family could give back to their supporters."

The business group toured the facility and photographed all of the entertainment aspects of the farm.

"They took pictures of every character we had, right down to the parking attendants and garbage people with little garbage cans on their backs," says Mr. Saunders. "They also weren't quite dressed for the weather, so by the end of the day they were all wearing Saunders Farm fleeces."

The family-owned 100-acre farm, which is located in Munster, started as one of the region's only pick-your-own strawberry farms in the '70s and then developed into a prime Halloween farm attraction in the '90s. Saunders Farm has now grown into an award-winning farm attraction that is home to North America's largest collection of hedge mazes and labyrinths and added an all-new water spray zone this past summer. The farm also hosts corporate events and features wintertime activities and Christmas parties.

Mr. Saunders says the delegation from Georgia was the sixth group to visit the site this season to gather ideas from the successful business. He has also previously acted as a consultant on a number of farm attractions throughout Canada and the U.S.

"In the spring I went to nine different properties in Alberta to jumpstart their rural initiatives and I'm actually going to consult with other tourism properties in Alberta in about three weeks," says Mr. Saunders. "I just love doing that because it's giving back and helping raise the product everywhere. The entertainment farm industry is really growing and it's saving a lot of family farms across North America."

By Kristin Harold

kristin.harold@transcontinental.ca

Organisations: Chick-fil-A

Lieux géographiques: Georgia, Atlanta, Atlanta, Ga. North America Alberta Munster Canada U.S.

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