by Michael Wren
In recent years agritourism has grown by leaps and bounds. This is in part due to low agricultural commodity prices as well as importing foods from foreign countries. The low prices and rising operating costs are affecting small farm profits and forcing farm owners to supplement their incomes with off the farm jobs. Agritourism is a good way for many small farms to bring in more money while working on the farm. In the United States leisure travelers spend over 300 billion dollars and support over 5 million jobs.
Each year more and more consumers are looking for ways to connect themselves and their families with the farms that produce the foods on their plate. Farming has been scrutinized by the public for years because — in most cases — of the consumers’ ignorance of what farming actually is. Agritourism gives the consumers, and future consumers, a chance to see how farms really work, while gaining a respect for nature. Bringing agritourism to your farm can make it easier for future farmers for years to come.
While many farms have already adopted agritourism in one form or another, there is still a large market share for those who want to begin now. Bringing people to your farm does not need to be a summer long event. You can start small with a one-day event, tractor rides or a pumpkin painting contest or a weekend of tours around the farm. Adding a pumpkin patch and offering U-Pick is another easy way to let the public feel like they are part of the process. Just like any other business, sound marketing strategies are important to get your name and product to the public. Make sure your signs are large enough to read and visible from the road. Begin signs and advertising near your farm and work your way out slowly. Marketing can be expensive, but doesn’t need to be. If you are willing to put in the leg work, well placed fliers in your target market can be as effective as an expensive commercial at a fraction of the cost.
Melissa Fery, Oregon State University, worte an article for the Small Farms Program about a farm in Oregon that is including agri-education as part of their agritourism boost. Cynthia Kapple of Midway Farms began her foray into agritourism with a self-serve produce stand for farm surplus. Eight years later the farm’s red barn was turned into a storefront to sell produce and goods from Cynthia’s and nearby farms. Now Cynthia hosts educational school trips in order to allow children a way to see where their food comes from as well as getting an idea of what farm life really is.
On the University of California Cooperative Extension Small Farm Program’s website (http://sfp.ucdavis.edu/agritourism) is an article by Mike Wetter of Mike Wetter and Associates, a company which helps both those just starting out in the agritourism industry as well as those who have already ventured into it. Wetter lists key points to help a farm with agritourism. “People don’t come to hunt or fish or ride a horse or tractor. They come to have fun and relax.” This concept is an important idea to remember while in the agritourism industry. “Cater to as ‘high end’ a customer as you can and don’t be afraid to charge for your service,” reminds Wetter. “This is not a volume business, so you can’t go low-end and make money.”
The Virginia Cooperative Extension’s website suggests looking at these five things before taking the plunge into the agritourism market:
- Personal assessment
- Does my family like meeting all types of people?
- Do I like to entertain strangers?
- Do I mind giving up some of my privacy at home?
- Can I always be cheerful and helpful around my guests?
- Are my farm and guest facilities always neat and clean or can I ensure that they will be?
- Am I successful at managing and organizing my home and farm expenses?
2. Business goals and objectives
If you are interested in adding tourism activities to your farm, consider the goals and objectives that you already have established for your farm. If they lend themselves to agritourism then continue.
3. External resources
- Your local Extension office
- Your local Convention and Visitors’ Bureau (CVB)
- Your local Destination Marketing Organization (DMO)
4. Internal resource assessment
- What is my primary product or enterprise? What do I produce the most on my farm?
- Can this enterprise be an attraction for visitors? If so, what should I do to enhance its attractiveness? If not, what can I do to modify it and turn it into an attraction? Or, what can I add to it to make it attractive?
- What other products or services can I add to complement my primary enterprise?
- What other assets and resources do I possess that may attract tourists?
- Would other farmers in my area be interested in displaying their products at my farm?
- Would other farmers be interested in partnering with me to provide agritourism in our area?
- What additional resources will I need in order to begin an agritourism enterprise? Will it require additional labor? What kind of up-front financial investment will it require?
5. Business plan
- Description of business
- Goals and objectives
- Internal resources
- Market analysis
- Marketing plan
- Operations plan
- Organization and management
- Financial plan
Depending on which type of agritourism you decide to implement, you need to be aware of safety concerns of visitors to your farm. Keeping your customers’ safe is the most important task of hosting farm events. Safeagritorism.org list various walkthroughs and checklists to keep in mind when hosting the public on your farms. Insurance plans vary and you should contact your current insurance provider to make sure your guests are covered before inviting the public to your farm. Implementing best safety practices will help ensure the visitors are safe and happy.
Agritourism is not an all or nothing affair. No matter what size or scale your farm is there is always a way to make a start into the agritourism industry. It can help your farm with additional income and also allow the consumers to become more acquainted with the idea of farming.
For more information on agritourism and how you can become involved visit your local Cooperative Extension for more information.