McCullough Brothers Promote Beef With Fall Corn Maze
Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) certified producers, John and David McCullough, Mercer, Penn., uniquely tell their farm story to thousands of western Pennsylvania consumers each fall at their “Coolspring Corn Maze.” In this issue of Quality Care Matters, we learn more about the McCullough Brothers growing agritourism venture and how they use innovative marketing tools to promote both their corn maze and beef.
John and David calve approximately 130 Angus cows each year, while managing their 400 acres of crops and pastures. Recently, the McCulloughs began finishing some cattle, selling quarters to customers. In addition to the cattle operation, the brothers also install livestock fencing and the Advantage brand of tarp style buildings.
The corn maze concept began seven years ago. “An area farmer had a corn maze for 3-4 years and when they closed, we decided it would be a good time to start our own adventure!” John McCullough said. McCullough thinks their farm’s maze helps fill an important void in the community. “I grew up in FFA, but now that we no longer have a chapter, I think our corn maze can continue to tell the story of agriculture,” McCullough noted.
Unlike many corn mazes, McCullough is the proprietor and designer. “I design the maze each year and this past February, won the best maze award at the North American Farmers’ Direct Marketing Association (NAFDMA) annual conference,” he said. This year’s theme commemorates the 10th anniversary of September 11, and is appropriately called, “American’s Heroes.” The maze opens to the public on Friday, September 9, and is open each weekend through the end of October.
Maze visitors also can purchase McCullough’s Angus burger and homemade apple cider donuts. Each year, the burger complements the maze theme. “My cousin manages our Facebook page and she used our page to gather name suggestions for this year’s burger, The Firehouse Burger,” McCullough explained. Almost 1,200 people “like” the page that keeps them updated with farm pictures and special events all year long. The McCulloughs also give away an assortment of their Angus beef to customers, via weekly drawings through the fall season. “The corn maze really helps build our beef business,” he said.
The McCullough Brothers also promote their 10-acre maze with an annual t-shirt. Their 2011 t-shirt, introduced at the Great Stoneboro Fair last week, has a unique message, with an 11 x 17 inch QR (quick response) code. “If you stand up straight, and there are no wrinkles, you can snap a picture of the QR code on the shirt, and with a software application on your smart phone (that reads the QR code), you go right to our Facebook page,” said McCullough. “Kids like to take shortcuts and I think they’d sooner take a picture than type in a website address. It’s free, so why not try it?” They also incorporated QR codes on their maze brochure, front and back, taking consumers directly to the maze Web site and also a YouTube video about the farm, produced by the PA Beef Council last fall.
On September 11, Coolspring Farm will host its annual Burger Cookoff Challenge. Restaurants and amateur cooks compete for $500 in prize money in various categories including Best Burger ($250); People’s Choice ($50); Best Display Booth ($50); Originality ($50); Best First Time Competitor ($50); and Best Presentation of Burger ($50). Eight – 15 teams typically compete in the Cookoff. “On Cookoff Day, we charge $9.95 for admission and a burger,” McCullough said. “$5 of the $10 goes to the Northwest Cattlemen’s Association, our local beef producer group.”
This year, contestants will use extra special beef to make their Cookoff burgers – Grand Champion Beef from the Mercer County 4-H Round-Up! “We partnered with a few local businesses and bought the steer from 4-H member Marshall McKean,” McCullough noted. Contestants prepare six burgers; five burgers for the panel of judges and one for presentation at their display. After the contest, each team prepares 50 quarter pound burgers for the public. “We average about 1,000 people at the event,” he said.
Visitors to Coolspring Farm also can enjoy a hayride and inadvertently, learn more about beef production. “When my brother or I do the hayride tour, we shut the tractor off when we get close to the cow pastures,” McCullough said. “We call the cows and they come over the hill. And more often than not, people want to know when we are milking the cows! It gives us an opportunity to explain the difference between beef and dairy cows. Even though we live in a rural part of Pennsylvania, people just don’t know agriculture,” explained McCullough.
To learn more about the Coolspring Corn Maze, visit the farm’s Web site at www.coolspringmaze.com or their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/CoolspringCornMaze.