City folk learn and enjoy at family farm

Mount Albert, Ont. – The Brooks family is in the business of growing fun.

They used to run a typical southern Ontario 100 acre farm growing corn and hay for a small beef operation.

“Our farm is now a major fun and educational attraction for kids 85 and younger,” said Alvin Brooks.

In 1991, he and his wife, Brenda, decided to stop competing in commodity crop production as land rentals escalated.

“Instead, we planted our first crop of strawberries for the U-pick market.”

Located an hour’s drive from Toronto near Mount Albert, presented the potential of more than three million urban customers.

By 1997, the U-pick berry patch had expanded to include pumpkins, squash, asparagus, raspberries and saskatoon berries.

The change in direction hasn’t necessarily eased the Brooks’ workload.

“Farming people isn’t any easier than farming crops. They are both weather dependent,” Brenda said.

In 1997, son Paul decided the family should diversify even further and opened an amusement park. That winter, Alvin and Paul built a Puff and Toot train out of old farm equipment to tour visitors.

They also planted new varieties of day neutral strawberries and ever bearing raspberries, which extended the U-pick season.

“The buy local campaign has really helped us,” added Brooks, who still likes to grow soybeans, winter wheat and corn.

Three years ago, aliens landed on the farm from outer space. With the help of Paul’s fiance, Kelly Hubbard, who has an artistic background, alien cartoon creatures now appear in a variety of forms. Aliens are built out of used cultivator shanks, field drainage piping, old water tanks, combine headers and parts of silage harvesting equipment.

Paul and Alvin have built these robotic creatures in their farm welding shop and use air rams to create movement.

One of the main attractions is a multiple firing pumpkin cannon that can blast a pumpkin more than 90 metres into the air.

The farm also features daily entertainment.

Pig races are a big attraction, while at the alien show, Paul tells the story of how the aliens landed on the farm and shows the audience the hole in the ground made by the impact of the space craft, which is actually a used anhydrous tank partially buried in the ground, with wings welded on the side and painted a vibrant colour.

As Paul tells his tale, the silage chopper, irrigation pump and combine header come to life. The music intensifies. A large water tank with gadgets and arms welded on the side begins to hiss and smoke and rock back and forth before a cannon hurls a new baby alien into the crowd. The crowd cheers and Paul takes a bow.

At the next show, Paul arrives in an old jeep truck with a pumpkin cannon mounted on the back. While telling another alien story, large air cannons fire pumpkins at the alien creatures.

Several thousand schoolchildren visit the farm during the fall. Brenda, a former public school teacher, has developed her own agriculture in the classroom program to teach urban children how food is grown.

“We want our farm to look professional and we want to sell quality,” Paul said.

“We want to make the visit to Brooks Farms a valuable experience and we want the city folk to have a good time and buy our produce at a good price.”

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