Many people think of farmers doing typical farming stuff such as raising animals, growing vegetables, and finding ways to sell the products that they grow or raise. For many hobby farmers, this is the goal- to one day be able to quit their day job and farm full-time.
What is not looked at as much is the different avenues that a farmer can make his money. More than just food, there are farms out there that provide an experience. Thinking along this way allows hobby farmers to break out of the mold and possibly break the bank making enough to make their goal and become financially stable enough to call in sick permanently.
Here are some ideas to get you started on the path of agritourism.
Ideas for Agritourism
1. Farm Stay
A farm stay is different than a bed and breakfast. The two things that set it apart, in my opinion, is that typically the guests stay in their own cabin and many of the activities are done on site.
The benefit to the farmer is that you are not opening your house to the guests. Blackberry Farm in Tennessee has houses for people to rent, that comes with a fully stocked kitchen, meaning the customers cook and eat when they would like.
Another thing the farm offers these guests is a golf cart to get around the farm. There are daily cooking demonstrations as well as just about anything “country” that you can think of – from horseback riding to fly-fishing to carriage rides and much more.
I have also seen farm stays that allow their customers to do hands-on work on the farm if they desire. Many of these people are looking for an escape from city life and come to the country to find tranquility and draw on memories past. Then there are other people who, like myself, just dream of going to the farm such as Blackberry Farm, in order to soak in the gloriousness of it all.
2. Bed and Breakfast
A bed and breakfast is almost the reverse of the farm stay. You will be creating exactly what it says- somewhere for people to stay (typically in a home) and breakfast. Other than a library and a stack of games, the bed and breakfast do not offer much else.
This would work well for a farmer who has a house that is larger than they need and who is located close to other nearby attractions that they can point people in that direction. Another key component is liking people and being okay with inviting guests into your home.
That does not mean that the bed and breakfast is near a large city. I grew up in Southern Illinois. As a kid, I thought there was nothing to do there. I swore that I would never live there again and I haven't; however, I see that about an hour south of where I lived was a bustling countryside complete with farms, wineries, waterfalls, and even a zipline tour!
So, look and ask around – hosting a bed and breakfast is beneficial to you and your community.
3. Give Education a Chance
For the Kids
A farm educational tour is something that would be great for a one person operation. Many farm tours happen during the year and are given to students at schools. The main thing that is required is paperwork protecting the farm in case a student gets hurt. I would also recommend a take home gift – something small but memorable from their event. Taking a class photo and sending it to the school is a great idea.
Urban Roots Farm in Austin has their tours divided up by ages and talks about the different offerings. For students past the third grade, they allow them to work on the farm for half an hour for hands-on experience in addition to the different educational aspects.
For the Adults
Another great way to go about this is to form an educational tour with other farmers in the area. Offer a set price and give the customers a chance to go to each farm on a given date. If it includes a dinner or something of the sort – even better.
Beyond the tours, you could also offer educational classes where people come to learn how to use your products. I, personally, am planning to take a cheese making class, cake decorating class, and an espresso making class all within the next year.
Adults find this fun, it's a chance to break away from their normal lives and learn something new. It makes a perfect date-night or girlfriend hang-out night. I'm fully convinced adults are just kids in bigger bodies and with more responsibilities.
And don't be afraid to get creative. There is a winery in Washington that is offering to teach the wine making process in four days scattered throughout the year, as well as another farm that teaches new farmers how to process their own chickens.
4. Farm Food Festival
This is a good one for the farmer who doesn't want to spend all year working in agritourism, instead, this focuses on a once-a-year event. Unlike farm-to-table dinners, a festival will bring in multiple people and different aspects of food life.
A great example of this is the Philly Farm and Food Festival which focuses on bringing people closer to the farmers that make their food locally in the Philadelphia area. By going to the website it is easy to see that this festival covers a wide variety of topics and caters to people of various backgrounds.
To go a little more in depth: for those who were just getting their feet wet in the local food movement, there is the CSA pop-up shop where farmers can explain their CSA and hopefully get new clients; for those who already have a CSA, there is the PF3 area where they can learn fun new techniques such as how to use sous vide with vegetables; and then for people like us there was the homesteading stage that taught canning, seed saving, and other great resources.
Even better make your festival family friendly, bring in an area where kids can pet animals and learn about the land as well. One thing that makes McDonald's so successful is because the children that grow up on Happy Meals are more likely to go through drive through as an adult in order to reminisce on their childhood, no matter if it is subconscious or not. We should be doing the same with kids and farms!
5. Skip the Farmers Market and Start a Farm Stand
This is the most common way that people get into agritourism, by creating their own “grocery store” if you will. Creating a farm stand is good for a number of reasons. One, it means you do not have to leave your home in order to sell your produce, and you don't always have to have someone manning the fort. Another benefit is that it brings people to you and gives you the opportunity to have complete transparency with your customers.
I currently shop at a farm store located in Gatesville, Texas. The farm store is run by Mill-King Farm.The great thing about their farm store is they go based on the honor system and have never had any problems. So if I wanted to go shopping at three in the morning, I am able to do so. I put my cash in an envelope and place the envelope in a locked box. Part of why they have never had any problems is because they have cameras all around.
Their system works well for me because they invite other local farmers and artisians to sell products in the building as well. If selling you and your neighbors produce excites you then go for it; however, make sure to check state and local guidelines.
Also, this is an opportunity where you can start small. You don't have to have a building and don't have to be open twenty-four hours like my store is. Start with a farm stand at the end of your farm and let your older kids be in charge of handling selling and negotiations.
6. U-Pick Markets
U-pick was one of my favorite things to do with my girls. We have almost always had a garden but they were never really big as we have also never had acreage. So heading out a few miles, we would find the nearest u-pick and have a ball digging and picking our own produce.
Depending on what produce you decide to sell in this manner, you can prepare events around it as well. For example, most u-pick pumpkin patches offer hay rides and other activities related to fall which helps to bring in more money.
A farmer I know who does pumpkin patches points out that this is not for the farmer who wants to be able to come in at a decent hour every day of the year. Instead, for two months out of the year you are working fourteen to sixteen hour days, you get a few months “off” afterwards and then everything for the remaining eight months is gearing you up for the two month stint again.
If this is something you would like to do on a larger scale, you can also alternate. Green Acres Farm in Milan, Tennessee is known for both their berry and pumpkin patches, so they are busy almost year round getting their gardens prepared for berries in one area and pumpkins in the next. The thing that makes me love their philosophy is that they alternate which patch goes where each year. Likewise, they did selling in the beginning and now rely on word of mouth because they are that good!
7. Start a Petting Zoo
Many times when I think about farming, I tend to focus all my thoughts on the vegetables but animals need love too. Dare I say more love since they have emotions that we can see. Delilah, the radio host, has several animals that are unique to her farm, such as a miniature zebra that was given to her by a rescue organization.
This is good for a family that feels their kids spend too much time on electronics. Start small and keep looking. So long as the kids are willing to do their chores this would be a really fun event that both kids and adults alike would enjoy.
When creating this event though, be sure to give the animals some quite time as you don't want them to get too stressed out from the extra energy that kids normally bring with them.
Don't be afraid to start small. Many of these items I suggested can be expanded on. For example, you could have a u-pick business with a farm stand out front for those who do not want to pick their own produce for what ever reason. If you do a fall event, you could start out with the pumpkins and expand to include a hay ride and petting zoo later on.
Agritourism is a great way to bring extra money to your farm and be able to do so in smaller steps. Before you know it, you will be able to say good-bye to the nine to five and create a life filled with tending to plants and animals you love while meeting people from a nearby town to halfway across the world!