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Carroll Biz Challenge: Willet Family Farm looks to give back to community through agritourism

Carroll Biz Challenge Finalist Jeremy Willet at Willet Family Farm, which, employing partnerships with local and global organizations, is establishing a peaceful homestead with an organic community garden, pond and stream, pasture for small livestock, walking trails, campsite, and a gathering space for events that inspire change.
Carroll Biz Challenge Finalist Jeremy Willet at Willet Family Farm, which, employing partnerships with local and global organizations, is establishing a peaceful homestead with an organic community garden, pond and stream, pasture for small livestock, walking trails, campsite, and a gathering space for events that inspire change. (Dylan Slagle / Carroll County Times)

When a fire destroyed Jeremy Willet’s 100-year-old family home in 2017, he and his family were left with nothing.

Willet and his wife had just purchase the home on Baumgardner Road, between Westminster and Taneytown, that spring, fulfilling a dream by bringing the property back into the family after more than a decade under different ownership.

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The home was rebuilt last spring and the farm has remained in business with hopes of bringing the community together to create an inclusive environment for experiences that inspire change through partnerships with local and global organizations. The Willets also grow their own produce in an attempt to bridge the gap for members of the community in need during the coronavirus pandemic.

Carroll Biz Challenge Finalist Jeremy Willet in the century-old barn at Willet Family Farm, which, employing partnerships with local and global organizations, is establishing a peaceful homestead with an organic community garden, pond and stream, pasture for small livestock, walking trails, campsite, and a gathering space for events that inspire change.
Carroll Biz Challenge Finalist Jeremy Willet in the century-old barn at Willet Family Farm, which, employing partnerships with local and global organizations, is establishing a peaceful homestead with an organic community garden, pond and stream, pasture for small livestock, walking trails, campsite, and a gathering space for events that inspire change. (Dylan Slagle / Carroll County Times)

“Even though we did lose everything, every single need that we had was met within hours by our community,” Willet said. “We want to be a place in Carroll County where we can offer that same thing back to our community and our neighbors, whether that’s in the form of food or a rural getaway, especially in a time where people have been quarantined during shutdowns and stuff, a place to come and experience nature, sunshine, and fresh air.”

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Willet Family Farm is one of five finalists in this year’s Carroll County Biz Challenge, a “Shark Tank” style competition in which local entrepreneurs pitch business ideas, make connections, get publicity, and compete for a $5,000 cash prize and thousands of dollars worth of additional prizes and services. Sponsored by the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce, the event is in its ninth year.

The other finalists, chosen from 29 applicants are Covalent Spirits, Dirigible Systems, RetroStrap, and Together Studios. They will compete in the live finale at 6 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 27, with contestants making their pitches to judges live at the Carroll Arts Center in Westminster. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, there will be no audience this year, but people can stream the event live at CarrollBizChallenge.com or watch it on Comcast channels 19 or 1086 and vote for their favorites.

The Willets recently partnered with Hipcamp, an online marketplace company that offers outdoor stays and camping experiences via a website and mobile app. Private landowners list campsites, RV space, and cabins for users to discover and book based on listing type, location, landscape, and amenities offered.

Since opening campsites, the Willets have welcomed at least 200 guests from eight different states and two countries.

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“What we love about this is in the welcome pack for all our camping guests, we use that as an opportunity to promote local tourism and support local businesses,” Willet said. “There’s information in there about Brewery Fire in Taneytown, French Twist Cafe, Furnace Hills for coffee and stuff like that.

Carroll Biz Challenge Finalist Jeremy Willet at one of the camp sites at Willet Family Farm, which, employing partnerships with local and global organizations, is establishing a peaceful homestead with an organic community garden, pond and stream, pasture for small livestock, walking trails, campsite, and a gathering space for events that inspire change.
Carroll Biz Challenge Finalist Jeremy Willet at one of the camp sites at Willet Family Farm, which, employing partnerships with local and global organizations, is establishing a peaceful homestead with an organic community garden, pond and stream, pasture for small livestock, walking trails, campsite, and a gathering space for events that inspire change. (Dylan Slagle / Carroll County Times)

“It’s really generated income for our farm business, but it’s also contributed to the economy of Carroll County because of the promotion of local businesses.”

The Willets host quarterly special events at the farm as well, such as the Barnstorm Music Festival, Christmas in the Barn, and they partner with international organizations such as Child Fund International to raise money for sustainable agriculture and clean water in countries in Africa.

The pandemic forced the Willets to cancel events they had hoped to host on the property this summer, but Willet hopes to expand even more in 2021 should he win the Biz Challenge.

The prize money would go to upgrading sections of the barn and its surrounding facilities, Willet said. He hopes to expand the parking lot to increase adequate parking for guests as well as use some of the funds to offset expenses for future events.

Pay what you can bread and eggs are offered along the road by Carroll Biz Challenge Finalist Willet Family Farm Wednesday, August 12, 2020.
Pay what you can bread and eggs are offered along the road by Carroll Biz Challenge Finalist Willet Family Farm Wednesday, August 12, 2020. (Dylan Slagle / Carroll County Times)

Willet added that the farm’s produce and other goods are available on a pay-what-you-can basis to aid in any economic relief for families struggling during the pandemic.

“We want people to know they are welcome on the farm and that extends beyond just finances, that extends into your faith systems, your beliefs, your religion, sexual orientation, the color of your skin, documentation,” Willet said. “We really try to provide a place that is inclusive to everybody regardless of any of those things.”

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