More visitors on your farm, spending more time with you and possibly spending more money, seems to be the obvious goal of agritourism, but for a lot of those in the ag community there’s more than that. It’s about educating the public. It’s about sharing your passion.

Carla Barbieri, professor and Extension specialist at North Carolina State University, recently spoke on “Measuring the Educational and Marketing Value of Agritourism” at the International Workshop on Agritourism – because accurately measuring the quality of something shows how you can improve it and what it’s really worth.

Barbieri explained how her team developed pre- and post-visit surveys for families visiting agritourism operations from 2018 – 2022 in North Carolina (adults and at least one child aged 9 – 13). The surveys looked at seven farms and 12 different schools that participated in field trips. This first study examined the value of education in the enterprise.

A second study looked at the value of marketing, asking questions of 328 adults participating in family visits.

The surveys asked the youths questions about what when they learned about agriculture, and for the adults, their likelihood to purchase products. The results may not be a surprise, but they do have hard evidence backing them up which you can use to help market or structure your business.

In student education, knowledge improved in all categories: matching a food with its source crop; the source of energy for crops; the type of crop by region; the effects of weather and seasons on crops; and local production. The areas that saw the largest increase in knowledge between a pre-visit survey and the post-visit survey were the effects of weather and season and the type of crop by region.

Even better for those who can’t necessarily host large groups all the time? “Virtual experiences had better results than family visits and field trips,” Barbieri noted.

When it came to the impact of marketing to adults, the biggest impact pre- and post-visit was seen in looking at labels to see where food comes from, followed by the intention to shop at a farmers market, buying food with the “Got to Be NC” label (as the study took place in North Carolina), intending to visit a U-pick farm, buying more local foods and last, eating at a restaurant that offers local food. Barbieri said all the increases seen were statistically significant.

“Education does actually increase agricultural literacy in children, no matter the delivery method,” she said of the power of agritourism education. That knowledge can also nurture future local foods consumers.

The survey also demonstrated the proof of willingness of adults to increase their budgets for local foods. The next step would be to measure their actual purchasing behavior – to see if they follow through on their intentions.

But what comes next in this journey of discovering the value of agritourism? When it comes to advocacy and education, Barbieri suggested schools requiring field trips to farms as part of the curriculum and fostering more farmer-teacher partnerships.

As for on-farm management, farmers could help enhance on-farm interpretation of information for visitors of all ages, facilitate the on-site sale of more local foods and even brand local products. A head of lettuce from a farm stand is nice – but a head of lettuce, labeled with your farm’s name, sends a stronger message.

by Courtney Llewellyn