Fall is a great time to wrap up the excitement of the farm and make the last little bit of money before the quieter time of the winter season.
Many farms nearby do events, such as tours for schools and host their customer appreciation farm-to-table dinners for the last time that year.
How do we prepare for a great fall event in order to make the most profit? Read on to get some tips.
1. Offer a Tour
People love to see what you have done or are currently doing. If you decide to host a farm-to-table dinner, be sure to add a tour of the farm for those who would like it.
And don't stress about the farm being perfectly spotless. People understand that a working farm is not going to be sparkling all the time. Find the happy medium that makes you feel like your farm business is clean enough to be presentable.
2. Add Signage
Letting people know where to go is always helpful. Plus adding a sign makes it so much cuter and people are going to stop and want to take pictures.
People like me.
In addition, it is helpful to you because nobody is asking for directions.
3. Understand the weather is fickle during the fall
You might have picked the perfect date according to the calendar and even the weatherman but that does not mean the weather itself will cooperate. I have lived in places where the fall means tornado warnings just like the spring does.
Try not to get stressed out and be creative if something does happen. For example, if it gets really cold during the event, start a bonfire and roast marshmallows (you should always have marshmallows on hand) or have the guests help you move the event to a more indoor location, such as a barn. That might mean they stay a little longer but just go with the punches.
4. Have a fun area for the kids
Have an area that is specially designed for the kids to have some fun.
Even at a school related farm function, it is always a good idea to include a little going-home goody that they can do either at the farm or at home.
We went to a hay ride/farm tour/corn maze thing at a local farm when we lived in Kentucky and at the end, they had a paint a pumpkin area that we spent quite a bit of time at before we left.
Sometimes the tours or events get finished earlier than expected and this ensures that the adults feel like they got their money worth.
5. Set a Date Early and Advertise
It seems to me like fall is extra busy. Almost as soon as school starts, I have culinary competition practice for my students, my oldest daughter starts theater practice, and my younger one has dance classes two nights a week. Then there are football games on Friday nights and car shows on Saturday. Not to mention, lesson plans, homework, and anything else we need to do as a family.
That being said, if you want your event to be a knock it out of the ball park event, be sure to let people know when you are holding the event as early as possible. The Chicago Food Festival starts planning a year in advance. Just something to think about!
There are so many great ways to tell people about events nowadays as well. If you are hosting a farm-to-table dinner for your Community Supported Agricultural program, then I recommend letting the customers know when they pick up their weekly/bi-weekly products.
A few more ideas: You could bring flyers up to the school or post an advertisement in the newspaper.
You could send a card through snail mail or you could create an invitation through Facebook. OR you could get super excited and do all of that.
Whatever you do, just let them know as soon as you do and get excited about it so the enthusiasm spreads!
6. Decide How You Are Going to Charge
I recommend working with a team to help you decide how to charge for the event. Get together and talk about the different aspects that you would like to see at the event and then discuss how you are going to charge. Will you charge a flat rate and the events are incorporated into that flat rate at the door? Or will you let it be a “free” event where people can pay to have their face painted or to take a pony ride, or any of the other events you so desire?
7. Decide Where You Are Going to Host It
I live in Texas so hosting a party outside in the fall is not a big problem. It is fairly cool outside in the evening by mid-September. My sister lives in northern Michigan and even though it is still August, she forgot to shut the windows at night and her downstairs was forty-seven degrees inside when she woke up. Brrrrr!
Therefore, you need to decide what is the perfect spot for your farm event. Maybe you have a really nice barn, or there is a perfect location where your crew eats during the day that is right beside the lake.
The key here is to make sure that you have enough space to host everybody that will be there. If you decide to do a hay ride type of event, decide how many can fit on the back of the wagon and how long other people will have to wait to have their turn.
On that note, make sure you have a place for parking as well. A big key to a successful event is planning!
8. Decide How Long You Want the Event to Be
There are two ways to do this:
- Set a to and from time and stick to it or;
- Be flexible and make it a day long event.
I think, to some extent, this depends on what kind of event you are hosting. For example, most farm tour and hay ride style events will go on from, say, ten am to four pm while a dinner would be guests arriving at 7:30 and leaving at 10.
Due to the crazy schedule that I mentioned earlier, it might be a good idea to host an open house, where people can come and go as they please.
If you do this, a flat rate would be the best idea I would think.
9. Create a Checklist
I seriously could not go without my to do list. Likewise, having a checklist is a good idea for any event because you want everything to go smoothly on that day.
I recommend writing it down. Simply the act of writing something down will help you remember what you need to get done. Even if it does not, you will have the list in front of you in order to remember exactly what you need to do.
Also, write the list well in advance so that way you can add to it as you go.
10. See if Other Farms or Craft People Want to Join Up for the Event
So many people believe that we are fighting against one another in the business industry when, in fact, this could be further from the truth if we so desire. Working alongside one another, we could create a force to be reckoned with.
If you know somebody who would be interested in joining you, let them. Working together takes the load off you both, and create a community that causes everyone to be excited. It could make you both bigger than you ever dreamed!
If you are doing the farm-to-table dinner, invite a chef to work with you. If you have a tight budget, seek out a chef-in-training who might be able to volunteer in exchange for getting a letter of recommendation or hours towards their culinary degree. They might have an eye for a recipe featuring your food that you had never even thought of before!
11. Lighting and Decor
Making sure you set the mood for exactly what you are looking for is key. If you are doing a day time event, chances are you are not going to be worried too much about lighting. For that reason, we will talk about decor first.
You already have a great thing going for you – you live on a farm! To truly get the ambiance of fall though, it might be a good idea to bring out the pumpkins. Make an area set up with bales of hay so that way families can get portraits while they are there. Better yet – buddy up with a photographer that is just getting started. They can tell others about their services and families might be able to get family photos done for cheap or free while they are at the event!
As far as lighting goes, at night candles and string lighting stretched in a v shape back and forth tend to look beautiful. Don't be afraid to get creative. Closer to Halloween, lights that have been covered with witch hats would be great as well and if you chose to do a Thanksgiving or Friends-giving, style dinner then pumpkins on the table with lighting around it will look beautiful.
12. Ask for Volunteers and treat them like Royalty
If you are going to have a decently large event, be sure to ask for volunteers. The CSA that I volunteered for several years ago hosted a big event that featured Joel Salatin and some other well-known farmers and sustainable supporters. It was very exciting and the volunteers for the event worked their stand for a few hours and then got to enjoy the rest of the conference.
That was worth it.
Likewise, you need to make sure that setting up the day before, working the entrance, or whatever the volunteer does – you make it worth it for them. Maybe just getting in for free is enough. If not, provide them with water or free t-shirts. Keep them happy and they will come back the next time you need them. Better yet, they will keep your customers happy as well. It's a big, beautiful circle.
13. Make Sure to Have Enough Bathrooms
Bathrooms are important. Even if you are having a dinner, eventually somebody is going to ask to go to the bathroom. If you plan to host several events a year I recommend investing in an outdoor bathroom that people can go in. If you just plan on having a dinner once or twice a year as an added bonus to your CSA members, then just keep your home bathroom clean for the event.
14. Start Small and Think Big
I know you want to have a killer event and feel like you are on the right path to your dream life but don't get too big, too quick. This will cause you to feel stressed and could potentially hurt the first event.
It is better to start small and have a spectacular event that people talk about with their friends over and over, getting a little bigger each time, until it's the size you desire than to have a big event that is mediocre leaving nobody caring if they come to another event or not.
So do us both a favor and don't stress out, have fun with your fall festival event, take the little bit of money that you make, and enjoy it.
Fall is an exciting time all over the United States and beyond. Take the time to use this to your farm's advantage by sharing what great things you have going on with the people who are already invested in your operation. It's also a great time for them to show their friends about who provides them with food.
If you follow some of these tips you are bound to have a great event that will take you and your farm business even further.