Shermain Hardesty, the Small Farm Program director at UC-Davis, recently presented “Expanding an Agritourism Enterprise with Processed Products” at the International Workshop on Agritourism, focusing on some case studies in California.

She noted the most popular agritourism form in the state is farm stands, but other popular options include entertainment like farm dinners and corn mazes; education like wine or cheese tastings and school visits; farm stays; and outdoor recreation, such as picnicking and bird watching.

Sales of both edible and inedible products (such as flowers, sheep skins, etc.) also factor into these enterprises. “Processed products fit well with agritourism (such as specialty foods, ciders, oils, wreaths, fibers and soaps and lotions),” Hardesty said.

Her first case study was of Morse Mandarin Farms in Oroville, CA. Glennda and John Morse cleared and planted citrus trees in 2002 while still working full-time jobs. They built a small shop and farm stand and began selling fruit in 2005. Farm tours followed in 2007, and by 2010, they were marketing specialty food products.

The Morses processed imperfect produce into foods because consumers want perfect produce. They sold specialty food products at their farm stand, at 50 local food stores and at fairs and events. Hardesty noted that about 30% of Morse Mandarin Farms’s revenue came from these specialty food products.

In central Cambria, CA, John and Renee Linn started Linn’s Fruit Bin in 1976. They started with flowers and vegetables, but an Extension farm advisor suggested they look into olallieberries. They built a farm store and started U-pick operations for their vegetables and fruits. Renee started baking olallieberry pies, which became popular enough that a mail order program was established.

Renee expanded the products into olallieberry curds, jellies, sauces, fruit butters, baking mixes and vinegars. The popularity didn’t wane, so in 1988 the family started a restaurant in San Luis Obispo. (It closed in 2002.) Another restaurant began in Cambria in 1989, and about 60% of their revenue comes from Linn’s Restaurant. About 50 local stores sell their pies as well (account for around 15% of their revenue).

Full Belly Farm in Guinda, CA, was founded in 1985 by Andrew Brait, Judith Redmond, Paul Muller and Dru Rivers. It grows more than 80 different crops (including almonds, walnuts, tomatoes, flowers, grains and other specialty crops). Its first agritourism event was hosting the first Hoes Down as a fundraiser for EcoFarm in 1987 – and it continued to host the event through 2020. School tours began at the farm soon after that first event. The school tours evolved into kids camps, which ran for many years (until COVID cancellations in 2020).

Their Farm Kitchen was then developed to support the second generation of the family. Amon Muller and his wife Jenna Clemens started the kitchen after making various food products from the farm’s seconds at their local Grange. Their shelf-stable products include dried fruits, jams, tomato sauce, baked goods, oils and hot sauce. The on-site Farm Kitchen was completed in 2015 and is also used to prepare meals for monthly farm dinners, monthly pizza nights and for other special events.

Both fresh and dried flowers and wreaths are another important processed product for Full Belly Farm. The food and the flowers are marketed through a CSA, three farmers markets, online and at local co-ops.

The benefit to what these farms are doing is that processed products can create cash flow during “slow months,” make income from produce that would otherwise be discarded and even generate year-round employment.

“Agritourism enterprises can benefit from producing processed foods and other processed products,” Hardesty concluded. Financial benefits include those mentioned above, but there are other farm benefits too, such as increased consumer interest in farm visits (and purchases), more family involvement in farm activities and more community benefits with employment and education opportunities.

by Courtney Llewellyn