One idea continues to lead to another at Fulton Valley Farms.
The latest means that thousands of people will have an opportunity to get their holiday photos made not just with Santa this year, but live reindeer, too.
“It’s a new adventure,” Betty Corbin says of four reindeer that are now home on the farm she and her husband, David, have in Towanda.
“We’re going to have fun with it,” she says. “They’re amazing creatures.”
The 250-acre farm has been in David Corbin’s family since 1863. The Corbins have their commodity trading business, Corbin Investments, in a former dairy barn on the property.
When the Corbins’ son, Richard, got married in 1995, he told them he wanted to have a reception in their hay barn.
“Then we’d do one or two a year once we got the barn cleaned up,” Betty Corbin says.
That morphed into a business that now has 80 weddings a year along with fundraisers and family photos.
“We had opened up the woods for picture opportunities,” Corbin says.
She wanted the woods to be lit at night, so she contacted David Hill at Superior Home Service about adding some spotlights.
“He got so excited about the property and what we were doing here,” Corbin says. “He said to me, ‘I want to light the silo.’ And I’m going, ‘No.’ … For three months. ‘Just let me put a few on and see what you think.’”
She finally relented and says she loved it.
“I was hooked.”
That led to Lights of Kindness, a fundraiser for Hill’s One Spark Foundation that helps the needy in Wichita. The Corbins sold tickets to see holiday lights around their property.
Then Betty Corbin’s good friend Jackie Vietti, the former president of Butler Community College, had an idea.
“Reindeer!” Corbin says Vietti told her. “You’ve got to have reindeer!”
Vietti was so excited about the idea, Corbin says she said, “‘I’ll come and take care of them, Betty. I’ll come and feed them.’ I said, ‘Sure you will.’”
So the Corbins paid a 20 percent deposit on three reindeer from Minnesota that weren’t conceived yet.
“You have to order reindeer two years out,” Betty Corbin says.
The reindeer were born this year – they’re 10 months old – and arrived at the farm in August. A second one came two weeks ago from Coffeyville. Corbin says the reindeer cost a total of $23,000.
She says she tried thinking of a fun name to advertise that the reindeer will be available for pictures and petting.
“I wanted to call it Fulton Valley Farms Reindeer For Hire,” she says. Others dissuaded her. “They thought that was pretty in your face.”
She turned to “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” for inspiration and came up with Dash Away Reindeer Experience.
This year, there are more than a million lights – Corbin says she thinks it’s 1.6 million but doesn’t want anyone to hold her to that – in the woods.
The Corbins hope for 25,000 people to visit through the holidays. They plan music, holiday acting scenes, concessions and a nativity scene from Nov. 28 to Jan. 4.
Though churches do nativity scenes, Corbin says, “For me, that’s preaching to the choir.”
She says it’s something else to have one in a secular setting.
“If I can slip in the live nativity and touch your heart, woo hoo. There we go.”
Though the reindeer will help raise money for One Spark, they’re also another enterprise for the Corbins.
“It’s a small business that we’re starting out,” Richard Corbin says.
The hope is to draw more people to the farm but also have the reindeer available to rent elsewhere throughout the year for $400 an hour with a two-hour minimum.
“Traveling with the reindeer is like traveling with a new baby,” Betty Corbin says of their trailer and gear.
There are four reindeer for now: Belinda – whose stage name is Prancer – Lena, Brownie and Itsy Bitsy. There will be a contest for children over the holidays to give stage names to the other reindeer.
The Corbins’ idea is to breed their own reindeer in the future.
Richard Corbin says he’s now the only Kansas member of the national Reindeer Owners & Breeders Association.
Betty Corbin says reindeer are gentle, laid-back creatures.
“They’re wonderful. Love them. They’re like big dogs.”
Richard Corbin is the one who feeds them, though. Betty Corbin says Vietti hasn’t fed the reindeer once or even met them yet for that matter.
She says she sent Vietti an invitation to a VIP kickoff for the holiday display.
“I sent it to her today and said, ‘You’ve got to be here. You’ve got to meet Prancer.’ We’ll see.”