Monday, June 27, 2011

9 compelling reasons to convert your stash into wool dryer balls today and how to do it.

If this is the first time you've read this blog, you're probably asking, "What's a dryer ball?"  Keep reading...

1.  Wool dryer balls are eco-friendly, made from renewable, natural wool.

They are nonpolluting, and unlike ugly plastic dryer pods or poly-dryer sheets they break down naturally in compost when you are finished with them.

2.  They don't give off toxic fumes when they are heated in your dryer. 

So wool dryer balls keep the indoor air clean and fresh.  If you have small children in you household you really need to consider the indoor air quality.  Chemical poly-dryer sheets off-gas harmful chemical scents even when they aren't in use.  When they are added to your dryer the scented chemicals permeate your clothing -- increasing the chance of allergens, polluting your home and even outdoor air.  When we lived in the city, you could always tell when our neighbor was doing her wash -- our house smelled like her dryer sheets.  And that smell increases the chances that your kids will develop chemical allergies.  Two of my kids did.

Those ugly plastic dryer pods will save you money over buying disposable dryer sheets, but they are a toxic alternative.  Being plastic -- a petrochemical -- they will off gas into your home during the dryer cycle and you may not even be able to smell the danger.

Wool dryer balls are the safer alternative.  Not only do wool dryer balls not give off harmful, toxic fumes in use, they absorb orders from your clothing, making your clothing fresher.  You can apply essential oils like lavender, tea tree, peppermint or lemon in drops to your wool dryer balls, if you like the "April Fresh" dryer sheets.  These scents disinfect and keep you cheerful and healthy while your dryer works, because they are natural.

3.  Wool dryer balls save you money by reducing the energy required to dry your clothes. 

The larger your wash load, the more you save.  Using 6 dryer balls the size of a tennis ball will reduce the time it takes to dry your clothes by 30 to 40%.  Heavy loads like work clothes and diapers benefit the most from the use of wool dryer balls.

Wool absorbs 30% of its weight in water without feeling wet.  So the more dryer balls you use in your wash load the less time it takes to dry your clothes.  Magic money saver.

4.  Wool dryer balls remove odours from your clothing. 

Chemical dryer sheets add a chemical scent to your clothing, masking odours and polluting indoor air.  Natural wool dryer balls absorb odours from your clothing, leaving it smelling fresh, without the pollution or chemical risks to your health.  They are naturally anti bacterial.

5.  Wool dryer balls last for years with regular use.

Ugly plastic dryer pods will become brittle and break down with constant use.  As they off gas into your house with their toxic fumes they are breaking down one layer of molecules at a time. This will shorten the life of your dryer, too. Wool dryer balls, on the other hand, will stay firmly felted with constant use.  When you want to freshen them, you just add them to a wash load and dry them again in your dryer.  With regular use, you don't need to worry about moth damage to them, but if you are storing them for the summer, because you're switching to line drying, you can put them in a cloth bag for storage and firmly clothes to exclude insects and they will last for years.

6.  Wool dryer balls break down static energy in your clothing because wool balances the electrons in your textiles.

Those dryer sheets contain silicone which coats your dryer and your clothing with an invisible film that damages your dryer, and prevents your clothing from naturally absorbing water -- a bad thing for diapers, towels, socks, and t-shirts.  The dryer pods are also made from a composite of silicone and plastic -- not a healthy alternative to the dryer sheets.  Natural Wool dryer balls break the static energy, naturally, because wool is naturally anti static.  Static in your clothing actually robs you of energy.  Switch to wearing natural clothing -- get the polyesters out of your wardrobe (that's another post) -- and you will have more energy for doing the things you love.

7.  Wool dryer balls are beautiful and make you happy when you take them out of the dryer, with your clean laundry. 
If you're happy you have more energy to do the mundane tasks, like folding towels or diapers, so its a win -win proposition.  Whether they are made from natural coloured wools or naturally dyed wool, they are attractive, and compel you to touch them, squeeze them and even play with them.  They're balls, afterall, not ugly, blue thorny pods.

8.  When not in use as a laundry additive, wool dryer balls are fun to play with.
My beautiful grand daughter visited me this weekend, and you can see how compelling the dryer balls were.  Even Celia's dad, picked them up to juggle with.

9.  Using wool dryer balls will save you money, and time and improve your indoor air quality.  

 Have I convinced you yet, to spend the next afternoon learning to felt your own wool dryer balls using up wool from your stash?  It takes only a couple of hours to felt 6 wool dryer balls and that will save your wallet, and give you more time and energy for doing what you love.

If you need wool to make these, Joybilee Farm has natural wool roving for sale.  We're happy to help you out on this great project.  But if you have lots of wool you're ready to start felting now.

Are you ready to start?  This is a great project to do with your family.  My beautiful DIL, Miranda, helped me make wool dryer balls this weekend in a couple hours and we had to card the wool.

You need:
300 grams of Wool that will felt. 
Make sure its wool fleece from sheep --  you don't want llama, alpaca, mohair, angora or silk.  These will not stay firmly felted and will make your clothes fluffy.  The best wool is at least 4 inches long and comes from long wool breeds like romney or lincoln which doesn't pill as badly as merino, but you can use merino if that's all you have.  It should be washed and carded or made into roving. 

If you are starting with a fleece you will need a way to fluff the wool, separate it into individual fibers that can be layered.  You can use a drum carder, or even a dog brush.  The main thing is to separate the fibers so that the felted wool has a smooth surface, rather than clumps of wool.  Layer your prepared fiber samples until you have a large bundle and then gently pull out into a roving.

A bar of natural soap
Although you can use detergent for this project, detergent will denature the proteins in your skin and its harmful.  Instead I use natural soap -- most bars of soap that you buy in the store are made from detergent so beware.  So find a bar of natural soap because your hands will be in it for about an hour, and you want it to be safe and nontoxic.

Both hot and cold water.  
You actually don't need a lot of water.  Just enough to dampen the wool balls.  I put two --  2 litre glass bowls in the sink -- one with hot water and one with cold.

A playful nature
Yes, you are going to play with soap and water for about an hour.  If playfulness doesn't come naturally to you anymore, I'd recommend doing this with a younger friend.  Its amazing how working with someone younger -- even if its only younger in attitude -- makes it really fun.

How to Do It:
To begin you want to wrap a ball of wool -- just like winding up yarn into a ball.  You want to wrap tightly to make a solid core.  You will go around North to South to North and then turn the ball to go around West to East to West, Turn the ball again, and continue this way until the balls are about 1/3 rd bigger than the size that you want.  We used about 45 to 50 grams of wool per ball.  You want to make 6 balls about navel orange size, for optimum wool dryer ball use.  They will felt down to tennis ball size when you are done.

Once you are ready, you want to dampen the outside of one wool ball.  I do this by wetting my fingers into the bowl of hot water and then splashing the outside of the ball.  Don't immerse the ball yet.  First you are going to felt the outside of the ball until you can no longer pinch up any individual fibres. 

Rub your wet fingers into your natural soap and begin to rub the ball of wool gently, being careful not to lift any loose fibres off the ball.  Stroke in the direction that the fibre is laying.  Keep dampening your ball, soaping your fingers and stroking the wool in the direction that it lays, while rotating the ball in your hands.  If the fibres are lifting, try squeezing the wetted ball in both hands a few times to get the fibres firmly in place.  Once the fibres are no longer lifting off the ball, you can start rubbing more vigorously with soapy palms.  If it doesn't seem to be felting then wet the ball a bit more.

The fibres will tighten down and your ball may become lopsided.  Correct the shape by squeezing and rolling in several directions to keep your ball round.  Like when you made play dough balls.

Once you can no longer pinch up any fibres from the surface of the ball, you are ready to immerse the ball into hot water, squeeze out and immerse in cold water.  Squeeze out and immerse again in hot water.  Do this 25 times.  The ball with firm up and lose a third of its size.  You're almost finished.

Squeeze the excess water from the ball and throw it into the sink, or the bathtub.  Or place a towel on your counter and use that.  You want to throw it hard onto the surface.  It will splash so take that into consideration and use a place you don't mind getting wet with soapy waterDo this 20 times.

Correct the shape again and you're done.  Now repeat until you've felted 6 balls.  

Wring out the excess water from your 6 felted wool dryer balls and put them in your washer on the last spin cycle.  You can air dry them now or just put them in your next dryer load and start reaping the benefits.

Don’t have time to make your own natural wool dryer balls, I’ll make some for you at Joybilee Farm — $47 for 6 dryer balls.

But if you want to have fun and save money, make your own with a friend.

I hope you found this tutorial on making natural wool dryer balls helpful.  Tell me about your afternoon trying out this fun project.  Do you have any other tips to add?  Leave a comment.

If you enjoyed this tutorial, please share the link with your friends.

Thanks for sharing your break with me.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The hidden dangers of Evil Plastic Dryer Pods and a safer alternative

I was in K-town yesterday.  I went into the Quilt store -- you know the one that sells patchwork quilts in a bag -- all made in China, for a price that is lower than the costs of materials.  I was at Orchard Park Place and I had gone down the wrong maze, looking for Chapters, but saw the store.  And within this store I totally embarrassed myself, and made my daughter proud of me.

It started innocently enough.  When asked if we needed help, I said we just came in to drool over the quilts.  And we glanced at other things in the store while I imagined what Sarah's bedroom would look like redecorated for her new adult, graduated self.

We were doing other coming-of-age things in K-town, like changing her bank accounts from child to student accounts, buying shoes for her grad outfit and eating ice cream (ok, some of it was regression).  So we innocently get lost in the mall and wander into the store and admire the colours and dream of home making,,,when out of the blue these two store clerks converse, and I catch the import of their words.

"Have you seen the new dryer balls."

"Yes, I saw them.  Are they ever neat.  Are there any more in stock?"

"No, just these two packages are left."

My ears are prickling.  Dryer balls.  I've been making dryer balls this Spring from our natural wool, some dyed with ecofriendly natural dyes.  They are amazing products.  About the size of a tennis ball, they bounce around inside your dryer disrupting static, absorbing moisture (wool can absorb up to 30% of its own weight in water without feeling wet), and making your clothes smell cleaner.  Naturally anti-bacterial, they even absorb toxins and odours making your clothes fresher.  They reduce drying time by 30 to 40%.  So they save you money, too.

So I wander around the front of the counter and look at the boxes of "dryer balls" that the ladies are speaking about.  And I am aghast.  All their accolades are over these ugly, plastic, pods, with spikes.  Some alternative to toxic dryer sheets -- another toxin.  Only these plastic pods will rough up your clothes, reducing their life, while they are heated in the dryer and will off gas petrol chemicals into your home.  And they will not degrade when you are finished with them, but remain perpetually on earth -- immortal ugliness.

The price tag for this toxic alternative to another toxin is a mear $19.95, for two.  My goodness, that's the same cost as 4 tennis-ball-size wool balls. 

By the way, some people pop tennis balls into their dryers to serve the same purpose but the tennis balls are also made with petro-chemicals (called dinosaurs, around here) and will also off-gas.  Plus you get all that florescent yellow fluff rubbing off on your black jeans.  Don't do it.

So I told the nice sales ladies about wool dryer balls and how they were a better alternative to dryer sheets and plastic dryer pods.  Usually when I launch into my passion -- natural living, natural fibres and natural cosmetics -- which means getting rid of the toxic, plastic, dangerous stuff from your life and embracing freedom and well-being -- I get this glazed look.  And I think they are thinking, "forget your medication again today, Dear?"

But they didn't.  They instead expressed interest.  They wanted to know where they could get these miracle dryer balls made from natural wool.  I told them they could make them from natural wool with their own hands, soap and water.  (Yes, I had to explain what natural wool was and how it was different than yarn, which might also be made from petro-chemicals) But they actually wanted to know.  They wrote down our website, and I told them about other online places that sell dryer balls ready made.  And they wrote that down, too.

And then I talked about the dangers of polyester clothing, how polyester clothing, like plastic water bottles, releases toxins like BPA into your body, which disrupt your endocrine system -- causing cancer, reducing your thyroid function and hurting you.

Then I started feeling embarrassed.  Maybe I said too much.  Especially when I started mentioning that bras are mostly made from petrochemicals and were a direct link to breast cancer and hormone problems.  For those few soap-box minutes we were alone in the store. 

I hastily excused myself and fled the store with Sarah ,feeling that I must have embarrassed my poor, almost 18 year old daughter.

"Sorry if I embarrassed you, Sarah."

She laughed, "You didn't embarrass me, at all.  I was proud of you."

There will be a tutorial on wet felting natural wool dryer balls later this week.  Check back.

And if you enjoy reading about natural living, natural fibers, and alternatives to dangerous chemical products, please subscribe to this blog using the RSS feed and add your name to our mailing list.

Back to you:

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Recipe: Tangy, Zesty Rhubarb Barbecue Sauce

One of the secrets to living life in the country and doing what you love, is learning to eat what grows on your own land.  This may seem obvious, but when we first moved to our acreage in Mission, B.C. in 1984 and I started a garden, I was afraid to eat what I grew.

The background:
I grew up in Vancouver.  All my life, my food came from the corner store or Woodward's (a department store with a grocery floor -- like Walmart only classy-er) When we moved to our 1 acre of land I had a garden and some ancient apple, pear and nut trees.  We planted more trees, blueberries, raspberries, and grapes.  I had a garden that I shared with the slugs.  I grew vegetables organically.  I would bring them into the house, wash them and freeze them or can them.  And there they'd sit while the recipes in the magazines called for cans of this and boxes of that.  I didn't know how to translate what I could grow with what we ate.  So my freezers and store room were full, and I still bought groceries every week at the store.  Cha- Ching!

Ok, fruit was easy -- desserts were no problem.  Broccoli was a bit harder -- especially the first time a bright green broccoli worm crawled out of the microwaved broccoli on my daughter's plate.  My eldest still can't eat broccoli -- its been 15 years. (Get over it!)

Now I live on a mountain.  With frost any day of the year, only hardy vegetables can survive long enough to mature in my zone.  So the choice is learn to eat what I can grow or make more money so that we can buy the food that we are used to eating.  A little creativity goes a long way to stretching the dollars and allowing us to live here in paradise, without a salary.

Bartering helps, too.  We are milking 6 saanan does and getting about 8 1/2 litres a milking -- two of the milkers are first fresheners but they will grow in their production.  Most days it gets used up feeding bottle babies, but once in a while the surplus goes in the freezer for goat's milk soap.  Two days ago my neighbour came to get some milk for a bottle lamb.  She wanted to pay for it, but I said I'd trade her my surplus for something that she had an abundance of.  Yesterday she brought over 2 huge bags of rhubarb.  Thank you very much.  But how many rhubarb pies, rhubarb crisps and rhubarb jam can a family of 3 eat? Especially when we are cutting back on sugar.

Sarah, my little genius, said, "Mom, can we make barbecue sauce from rhubarb?"  That's was how the Tangy, Zesty Rhubarb Barbeque Sauce came to be.  Its wonderful.  The perfect mix of sweet and sour, tangy and savoury.  It goes great on meats like lamb, veal, goat or venison.

Or spoon some over brown rice for a Meatless Monday Dish -- add a tbsp of sunflower seeds and spinkling of toasted sesame seeds, a spring greens salad and you've ready to change the world.

Tangy, Zesty Rhubarb Barbecue Sauce/ Pasta Sauce

2 tsp. cold pressed sesame oil
1 tbsp. coconut oil
1 onion, finely diced
1 c. celery, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
8 cups of rhubarb, finely sliced
1/2 cup of water
1 small can of tomato paste
1/4 tsp. hot, dried chilis or 1 jalapeno pepper
1/2 tsp. oregano
1 bunch parsley, chives, lemon balm, or cilantro, finely chopped (or to taste)
Bit of thyme, sage, rosemary or what ever you have growing in the garden 
2 tbsp. Dijon mustard
1/4 cup brown sugar, honey, or maple syrup or to taste
1/4 tsp. sea salt, or to taste

Put all ingredients in a heavy saucepan and simmer for 30 - 45 minutes.  Sauce will thicken.  Rhubarb will soften.  To use as a barbecue sauce, spread over meat while grilling.

To use as a pasta sauce, reheat and serve over rice or pasta.  May be thinned with water if its too thick to spoon out.  Sprinkle with sesame seeds or sunflower seeds before serving.

Wondering about the health benefits of eating rhubarb?  Here's what I found.

Rhubarb is harvested in Spring, and can be chopped and frozen for future use.  It has antioxidants, fiber, calcium, potassium and vitamin C.  It helps prevent some cancers, lowers blood pressure and bad cholesterol, and helps with weight-loss by increasing your metabolic rate.  Nice benefits for a vegetable that is so easy to grow in the North, and can pose as a fruit, too.

What do you do with Rhubarb?

Friday, June 17, 2011

10 reasons why bunnies trump sheep

French Angora Bunnies - 8 Ruby-eyed Whites
Joybilee Farm French Angora Babies have arrived.  3 litters are in the 6 to 7 week age and will be ready to go to their new adoptive homes next week. 

The waiting list this year is the longest its ever been with 27 bunnies on reserve.  However, no one will be disappointed.  Many of those who reserve a bunny prior to breeding have unforeseen issues that prevent them from following through with their intent.

I am confident that each of these beautiful babies will go to a forever home, where they will be loved, and their fiber will be spun into gorgeous yarn.

Here's the top ten reasons why angora bunnies are better than sheep:

1.  Bunnies purr when you handle them.  Sheep do, too, but not as loudly as bunnies.

2.  Bunnies jump up in your lap, while you're reading or watching TV, just to snuggle.  Sheep would rather watch you from the other side of the yard.

3.  Bunnies are softer than sheep -- they have the lowest micron count of any natural fiber.

Brandywine (Torte) and Warp (lilac) babies at 7 weeks

4.  Bunny wool (angora) is 8 times warmer than sheep wool.

5.  Bunnies can be litter trained, sheep need a pasture.

6.  You can fit 6 bunnies in the space that one sheep takes up and 6 bunnies and 1 sheep produce about the same amount of wool for spinning.  The bunnies produce less manure.

7.  Angora bunny wool is not sheared and it doesn't have to be washed and carded before it is spun on your spinning wheel, saving you time and money.

Chocolate Swirl (broken chocolate)  and Huckleberry (fawn) litter at 7 weeks
8.  You can talk publicly about keeping rabbits in the city.  Don't let the by-law enforcement officer neighbours find out about the sheep poodle, in the garage.

9.  You can take bunnies across the US/Canadian border as "pets" without paperwork.  Sheep are "livestock" and require an abundance of vet checks and permits to travel.

10.  It only takes a year to raise a flock of bunnies.  As you know, bunnies reproduce exponentially -- sheep have a single or twin lamb only once a year. It can take longer to populate a farm with sheep.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

10 Top Online Resources on Agritourism

  1. BC Government Agritourism fact sheet
  2. Virginia Tech Co-operative Extension paper on Agritourism (pdf download)
  3. How to Choose an Agritourism Venture to increase Farm income, from EHow
  4. Agri-tourism Option paper for State of Massachusetts
  5. Entertainment Farming and Agri-tourism Business Guide from National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service (pdf download)
  6. Establishment of an Agritourism Industry in Kentucky — White Paper (pdf download)
  7. Agri-tourism in Focus:  A Guide for Tennessee Farmers (pdf download)
  8. The Agri-tourism Market:  Drivers and Demand in a Growing Industry (pdf download with pictures)
  9. Agritourism Resource Manual (pdf download)
  10. Lesson Plan:  The Pumpkin Patch — a venture in Agri-tourism from Stats Canada (pdf download)
These are the best online resources available for Agritourism in North America.  Some of them are government documents, and some are non-profit research papers.

Use them as a starting place to gain a thorough understanding of what agritourism is, how it might be useful to your operation, how to include agritourism in your business plan and your risk management assessment.  These guides will also give you some perspective on the how many farms are engaging in agritourism in North America and what they are finding success in.

I hope you’ve gained some creative ideas on how to make your small farm more profitable, through this 5 part series on Agritourism.  Let me know what you think — leave a comment.

This is the final article in a series of 5 articles on Agritourism.

Part 1:  6 Compelling Reasons to Diversify with Agritourism
Part 2:  How to plan the Ultimate Agritourism Destination
Part 3:  Agritourism Advertising Strategies that Wont Break the Bank 
Part 4:  10 Creative ways to cultivate profit through Agritourism
Part 5:  10 Top Onlline Resources on Agritourism

Small Farms Find Profit in Agritourism

The New York Times has an article today on agritourism in the States. "Tilling the Tourist Magnet" discusses the struggles of small family farms to make a living in today's difficult economic times and the potential for agritourism to bring in income to balance the budget.

"The United States Department of Agriculture predicts that this year the average farm household will get only about 13 percent of its income from farm sources. Agritourism is appealing because it increases the family’s income from the farm, potentially reducing the need for off-farm jobs."

"The U.S.D.A.’s census of agriculture, which is conducted every five years, estimated that 23,000 farms offered agritourism activities in 2007, bringing in an average of $24,300 each in additional income. The number of farms taking part fell from the previous census, in 2002, but at that time the average agritourism income per farm was just $7,200.

California, the nation’s largest farm state, was among the leaders in agritourism, according to the census, with nearly 700 farms averaging more than $50,000 in agritourism income."

Since these stats come from 2007 figures, I wonder what the impact of agritourism is on the economics of small farmers after the September 2008 crash.  Is it still bringing in $50,000 in income to small farms -- more than the food farming income? 

Agritourism is a trend that is increasing farm income while giving city dwellers an opportunity to experience the rural lifestyle -- I'd recommend planting your crops and tilling the soil, even if you do give agritourism a go.   Diversify your farm income with agritourism, don't replace your farm income with agritourism.  Don't put all your eggs in one basket.

10 Creative Ways to Cultivate Profit through Agritourism

Agritourism brings visitors to your farm and helps you increase your income.  Well established agritourism farms don't rely on the farmer's market in town to sell their crops.  People come to them.   Established agritourism farms provide employment and increase tourism in a region and are good for the local economy, increasing business in all sectors.  But what can you do to enhance agritourism on your farm operation?  Where do you start?  Here's 10 creative ways to cultivate the right agritourism mix for your operation. 

1.  Farm Market 

Farm markets replace the farmer's market in your business plan.  It can range from a seasonal farm kiosk that sells cut flowers, corn, or berries from your farm gate, to a full fledged fruit stand or produce store that's open in season or year round and relies on produce from neighboring farms as well.

In BC this is the most common type of Agritourism -- so common it is no longer thought of as agritourism.  Drive by business relies on impulse buying.  Drive along any rural back road in the Fraser Valley and you'll see unmanned kiosks with bags of produce or bouquets of flowers sold on an honour system.  On larger farms the stand is manned by a teenager or a farm worker, who shows up when you ring a bell.  Along fruit stand row in Cawston and Keremeos you'll see rows of fruit stands with several seasonal varieties of fruit with competitive pricing.

To be successful with an on farm market you need to be close to a major highway, have signage on the highway, and generally sell for less than the grocery store.  People will drive to your farm if they can save money.

2.  U Pick

U-pick sales also rely on traffic volumes and good highway signage to promote sales.  Berries, apples, corn all work well for u-pick sales.  When farm pickers are hard to come by, U-pick is a good alternative.  In the Fraser Valley (BC) Krauseberry Farm has a successful u-pick that includes ready picked.  Now its more than that, with an on farm bakery and restaurant, as well as special event promotions.  However, when I visited Krauseberry Farm in the 80s and 90s, to pick strawberries with my family, it just had u-pick berries.  Looking at their website will give you a good idea of how they grew their on farm agritourism business.

3.  On Farm Dining
The on farm dining experience brings people out to the farm to eat as well as experience the rural landscape.  Ranging from seasonal or special occasion dining to a full service, year round restaurant specializing in farm raised meat and produce, the on farm dining experience can increase profits while promoting your special niche.

Here's some examples of on farm dining that I find very appealing:

A to Z Produce and Bakery in Stolkholm, WI,  aka The Pizza Farm, produces pizza from 100% farm raised ingredients -- sausage from their pigs, cheese from their cows and veggies in season from their own produce.  The farm is open Tuesday night from 4:30 to 8pm.  They only provide the pizza.  You  have to bring everything else -- including tables and chairs,  wine, candles and pack it out with you when you leave.  They live near Chicago and sell out regularly during the summer at 200 pizzas at $25 a pop.  Pizzas are baked in a brick oven outdoors.

Pasu Farm, Carstairs, Alberta, offers fine dining in their on farm restaurant, specializing in lamb and beef grown without hormones or antibiotics on their farm.  Their restaurant is open Tues to Sat 12 to 4 with fine dining evenings on Saturday.  Reservations are essential.  They employ a full time chef for an upscale dining experience.    They also have a boutique that sells wool products produced all over the world.  Located in the same town as Custom Woollen Mill, they have a natural audience for lamb and wool products.

Wine Tasting Galleries are used to full advantage at the Okanagan wineries near Oliver, B.C., where the climate is perfect for world class wines.  Rustico Farm and Cellars caters to a romance-loving public on their farm near Oliver.  Mead and cider tasting are also opportunities where beverages are the main money maker.
Tugwell Creek Honey Farm in Sooke, B.C. (video) has a mead tasting room.

4.  Agri-Arts 
Partnerships with Arts organizations or artisans fuel several galley gift shops that are springing up.  The premise is that artisans are willing to let you sell their work with no risk on your part, through consignment sales.  Your cut, from 30 to 45%.   Tourists that visit your farm for your on-farm market or produce, also visit the gift shop and may purchase local artisan crafts, as well.

Spencer Hill Orchard and Gallery operates on this basis, near me, in Grand Forks, B.C.  Small impulse items work best in this environment.  Larger purchases require an ongoing visit to sell well.

Artisans that grow their own medium, like Joybilee Farm , also work well in this niche.  At Joybilee Farm, we show visitors each step from wool to finished product and have a working studio and gift shop.  Artisan demonstrations are daily, as visitors catch us in our work.  This mix works well for us.  Every product for sale in our gift shop is made by us on the farm from our farm produce and wool -- from goat's milk soaps to herbal moisturizers, yarns, felted clothing, and naturally dyed bags and handwoven accessories.

In Grand Forks, BC, Spencer Hill Orchard and Gallery have summer events where a  local dance troupe performs, with music, accompanied by coffee and pie from the on farm restaurant.  This year's performance is part of a larger Kettle River Arts Festival.

5.  Agri-Education
 Educational events such as workshops or school field trips add to the bottom line and give you an opportunity to pass on your message about sustainable living, and organic farming. 

School field trips bring lots of excited people to your farm.  They give you a rapt audience for your message and allow you to make good memories, influencing a large demographic, while increasing profits.  Large classes work best if divided into learning groups.  Here's an account of a school field trip at Joybilee Farm to give you an idea of how you might use this in your business plan.

Day-camps are an option if you can organize what you have to teach into learning centres -- forestry, fiber arts, organic farming, or even music camps work well.  If it can be taught at a summer camp it can work for an on farm day camp.  Keep the group small or hire staff to help and you can create a successful niche for school age children during the summer season.

Workshops are special event days that teach adults coveted skills.  At Joybilee Farm we teach workshops in hand spinning, rigid heddle loom weaving, wool processing, felting and natural dyes.  Groups of 5 to 25 people can be accommodated.  To stretch the space, we put temporary shelters up in case of inclement weather.

6.  Agri-tainment
Corn mazes, willow mazes, cultured landscapes and gardens and hayrides all fit into agri-tainment.  They attract people to your farm for a good time.

Often agri-tainment venues also have an on farm store selling produce and local crafts, as well as extra staff for ticket sales, first aid, and running the store.  Extras include a petting zoo, corn cannons, special events that bring groups to the farm again and again over the season.

I visited the Meadows Maze in Pitt Meadows about 12 years ago.  The main crop on the farm was cranberries, but the corn maze brought in more business and they've since expanded. 

Minter Gardens, near Chilliwack, is another example of agri-tainment, bringing people in for weddings, special events and just to buy from their greenhouse or tour the grounds.  I attended a wedding in the '80s at Minter Gardens.  We were seated under the leaking roof on an outdoor, undercover, portion of the restaurant. Rain poured in over our plates during the seated reception.  Since then they've improved their restaurant and seating to become a world class venue. 

7.  Farm Tours
Farm Tours allow you to spread your message to an appreciative audience.  They give people a chance to see your farm up close, ask questions, and learn how sustainable farming works.  They give you an audience for your produce, too.  For Joybilee Farm, its important for us to be able to tell people why we do what we do and that clothing grows on farms, too.

Studio Tours and garden tours are once or twice a year events that can compliment your  other agritourism products.  "Painters in a Potters Garden" was an annual rural event in Mission, B.C. at Jo Priestley's pottery studio.

Jo Priestley, although not a farmer, produced a quality venue to show case local artists and brought quite a few visitors to her rural property.  Significantly, her property was not on a main highway nor did the event have a lot of advertising and signage.  In fact, we got lost a few times looking for it.  It was packed with buyers, none-the-less.

Winery Tours and Bus Tours are other ways to promote your farm.  These tours are organized around a common theme and bring tourists to your farm as one stop, on a several stop tour.  You need to have good parking, washroom facilities and ease of access to participate.  Contact your local tourism association for more information about getting involved in these lucrative opportunities.

8.  Petting Zoos
Lots of farms with other types of agritourism, add a petting zoo to give young visitors something to do.  Goats are a favourite petting zoo character because they are curious and give a good show to visitors.  Other petting zoo candidates include bottle lambs, bunnies, and caged poultry.  Animals in petting zoos need to be given regular rest periods so that they aren't stressed by interactions with inquisitive children.

9. Farm Stays
Farm stays include cabins on the farm, B & B accommodation, cattle drives,  shepherd huts and weaver cottages.  In our area, PaVan Ranch, near Grand Forks, has cabins that are rented out to visitors and include ranch type activities in the mix from hay rides to cattle branding. 

Averley Sheep Ranch, Vavenby, BC, offers farm stays to experience spring shearing, lambing and alpine pastures. 

Ian Dalziel and an unknown helper

10.  Community Supported Agriculture
Finally, while we don't normally think of CSA as being agritourism, when the CSA brings people to your farm to pick up their produce, it becomes agritourism.  Many of the farms I've used as examples in this article use CSA to sell their produce.  CSAs give you a built in audience for your agritourism and help spread the word about what you have to offer.

CSA clients pay at the beginning of the season for the produce they will take home during the season.  They share the risks of crop failures with you.  They sometimes pitch in with the work.  They become part of your farm family.  Consider it as part of the larger agritourism mix.

I've given you 10 broad ways to cultivate agritourism on your own farm operation.  Each of the farms, I've given by example, started with one or two agritourism products and then expanded as they grew their business and saw a need that they could fill.

This is the 4th article in a series of 5 articles on agritourism.

Part 1:  6 Compelling Reasons to Diversify with Agritourism
Part 2:  How to plan the Ultimate Agritourism Destination
Part 3:  Agritourism Advertising Strategies that Wont Break the Bank

Your turn:
Can you see an agritourism product fitting in to your business plan?  What is hindering you from adding agritourism to your product mix?  Leave a response in the comments section.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Agritourism Advertising Strategies that won't Break the Bank

Agritourism brings visitors to your farm to help you diversify your farm income.  Visitors interrupt your work day, but often leave some cash behind and can be a lucrative income stream to diversify your farm income.  In the first article we looked at why you should consider Agritourism as a viable plan for your own farm.  In the second article we talked about the essential items that need to be considered in the planning of your agritourism project. 

You can beautify your farm and get it ready to WOW visitors for years and not have a significant impact on your bottom line.  You need to advertise that you are open and do that in an inviting way.  In this article I share some advetising strategies that we use at Joybilee Farm to draw visitors to the farm.

  • Know your niche.  

Can you describe your niche in words?  Who is your prospective visitor? What are their needs that a visit to your farm will meet?   Spend a few minutes writing down your distinctive market niche -- organic veggies, apple and pies, alpaca and its fuzzy yarns, family fun -- Once you have a few key phrases that decribe your niche market you are ready to create the advertising that will bring them to the farm.

  • Write a great farm brochure that tells people how visiting your farm will meet their needs.   

 Forget hiring a professional to write your farm brochure or even print it.  Not only does it cost a lot of money, but it will need to be revised several times as you fine tune your  niche marketing strategy.  Your brochure is not about you and your farm.  It is about your prospective visitor, their needs and how a visit to your farm will satisfy those needs.  That's why you need to know your niche and who your customer is before you start to write.

So forget about the phrases like "I've been farming for 20 years and raising sheep for 10".  Strangers who pick up your brochure for the first time don't care how long you've been farming.  They want to know how a visit to your farm will satisfy their hunger for real food, an adventure, or help them manage their restless kidlets for an afternoon.  Make sure your brochure tells them.  And tells them with great pictures, a map and driving directions.

  • Print your farm brochure yourself -- invest in a colour printer and learn to use your computer and your digital camera

It costs more than $1 a page to print a colour copy at the copy store.  A two sided brochure costs $2 to copy at a copy store.  Print it yourself.  Get a colour inkjet printer that automatically prints double sided and you will be able to print your own brochures at a fraction of the cost.

Our printer is an HP Office Jet Pro All-in-One, L7650.  I love it.  It has individual cartridges for each colour and will stop in mid print when ink runs out so you don't need to replace the ink until its really empty. We print over 2000 brochures a year. It paid for itself in the first month of use and we've had no problems in two years of daily printing.  The newest version is in the side bar -- it has the same great features and a lower price at

  • Take out ads in tourism publications that are specific to your market 

When you are considering which tourism publications to buy paid advertising in, be careful.  Don't just buy in because its in your region.  Most of the government sponsored tourism magazines have a wide coverage and you will be lost.  They are for expensive resorts with $Thousands$ to spend on advertising.

But don't overlook publications that serve your niche.  We advertise in the local artist glossy magazine "Articulate", that serves our region.  We also advertise in the local Visitors Guide.    For special events we've taken ads out in the local paper as well, but we haven't seen any increase in visitors because of paid advertising in the local paper.

  • Network with local businesses that share your niche

Joybilee Farm is an artisan business.  So we network with the art gallery, and local shops that sell artisan wares.  They have our brochure and know us well.  When visitors come in, they point them to our farm.  We've made good sales from these referrals.  If your niche is organic veggies, network with your local farmer's market, the organic cheese dairy and other local organic food farms, even a local restaurant.  Don't be afraid to share your visitors with other businesses in your niche -- meet the needs of your visitors and they will come back.

  • Know who your visitor is and write to their needs

I've already mentioned this, but it bears repeating.  Your advertising is about your visitor, not about you.  Know your visitor well.  What are their needs?  How can you satisfy them?  Where do your visitors hang out?  Make sure you are advertising in these places.

  • Send out press releases with great pictures 

Your local paper needs great copy and great pictures to sell papers.  They also want to sell you advertising.  But they'll give you advertising for free if you give them great copy with great pictures.  Everytime something interesting happens to you or your farm -- write a fabulous article with great pictures and send it to your local paper.

This is a place that I am lax.  I should do it more often but it takes time to write a really good article that focuses on what the reader needs.  I'm working on an article for the paper about the Mother-Daughter Project and will send it in to the local paper when the jacket gets sent to New Zealand in a few weeks.

  • Support your local businesses and they will support you

Buy local.  And when you shop have a pocket full of business cards to hand out.  Tell the local businesses who you are and what you do.  Don't be shy.  You have something distinctive that will meet their needs.  They should know who you are.  And once they know you, they'll tell other people about you, too.

  • Get involved in tourism planning in your region

Your region will have an economic development committee and/or a chamber of commerce and/or a tourism planning committee.  Get involved.  Attend the meetings.  Talk about your unique niche and how your farm-business satisfies the needs in that niche.  There's a stereo type out there that farmers are stupid and uneducated -- the Heehaw Hick stereo type.  Break it.  You are educated and interested in local economics, because if the region prospers so will you.  By participating in your regional tourism plans your business will stand out and you will get referrals.

  • Create a Facebook page for your farm and post to it daily

Facebook is free.  You are already on Facebook, right?  Create a page for your farm.  Keep your niche in mind and post interesting links, pictures, videos, and facts to Facebook everyday.  The rule of thumb is to spend at least two hours a week on your page, updating your fans.  Facebook lets you build relationships with your fans.  Your fans are similiar to your niche audience.  Remember, Facebook is free.

Advertise your Facebook page on your blog, your website, your brochure and your business card.  If you give your fans valuable content they will read it and engage with you.

Hint:  You can become a fan of Joybilee Farm by clicking on the Facebook button on this page.

  • Create a blog and write articles with your customer in mind

If you don't already have a blog, create one.  Its free.  You can use Blogger, Wordpress or another blogging site.  Or you can upload Wordpress to your own website and own your blog.  Then write good content that your niche audience needs to read.   Refer back to the first point.  Write a relevent article at least once a week.  Plan to spend two hours a week both uploading an article and interacting with the comments section of your blog.

If you don't know what to write about, ask yourself, what does your niche audience need to know?  Are they beginning weavers?  New farmers?  Hungry Tree Huggers? Young families with kidlets?  If you write about their interests, they will read and remember you.  You are building a long term relationship and offering them something that they need.  That's love.  And its smart business practice, too. 

  • Rewrite your website focusing on what your visitor needs to know

I'm on the third rewrite of the Joybilee Farm website.  My first website was about me and my farm.  My second website was about my niche visitor, and my new website is going to look better, and be more focused, as I've more clearly defined my niche.  I'm glad that I learned to create my own website.  I don't have to rely on other people to upload my changes or do my writing for me.

You can create your own website and fire your expensive webmaster, tooOnce you can do it yourself, you don't need to be afraid of making mistakes and having to rewrite.  You can upload pictures within minutes of taking them and your website will be a great showcase of what visitors will experience when they visit your farm.  If I can learn to do it, so can you.  Its good agritourism pracitice to have a great website.

This article about advertising your Agritourism destination is the third in a series of five articles about diversifying your farm income with Agritourism.  You can read the other articles by clicking on the links below.

Part 1:  6 Compelling Reasons to Diversify with Agritourism
Part 2:  How to plan the Ultimate Agritourism Destination

Your turn:  What advertising strategies are you currently using?  What is working for you?  What hasn't paid off like you'd hoped?  Leave your thoughts in the comments section.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

How to plan the Ultimate Agritourism Destination

Agritourism allows you to diversify your farm income by inviting people to visit your farm.  But how do you turn your organic farm into a place that people want to visit?

Creating a successful agritourism venue takes planning. But the preparation that goes into your agritourism project can enhance other areas of your operation, as well.  Here's the essential items that you need for a successful agritourism project.

  • Attractive Road Signage
People need to know that you want them to stop.  A sign at your driveway lets people know that you are open for business, your hours of operation and who you are.  If your farm is on a major highway, you may qualify for additional signage that can warn traffic to turn, prior to your actual driveway.  If you have an artisan venue, like we do, in BC the artisan "A" highway signs are free.  Qualifying agritourism businesses also have signage available in B.C., for a fee.  Highway attraction signs are also available.  The initial investment in hwy signage pays dividends over many years.

Joybilee Farm Road Signage

  • Fencing 
Fencing defines where you want people to walk.  It keeps animals out of your garden areas and people out of your animal paddocks. Visitors to your farm feel safer with fencing to show them where to go. At Joybilee Farm we define our animal grazing areas that are close to the house with fencing.  Our gardens are also fenced to keep the animals out.  Visitors respect these fences and don't enter those areas.  You probably already have fenced areas on your farm, that can be utilized to help visitors know where to go.

  • Hand Washing Stations
If you have animals -- even dogs -- you will need a hand washing station to satisfy tourism or insurance requirements.  The hand washing station doesn't need to be a brick and board structure and doesn't need to break the bank.  A sink with running water, paper towels, hand soap and a garbage can are the essentials.  A temporary hand wash station can be set up with a Jug of water with a spigot and a bucket to catch the flow.  Long term hand wash facilities require less preparation.

At Joybilee Farm we have a stainless steel barbecue sink set up as a hand wash station -- purchased at Canadian Tire for $200.  You can build one for less using a recycled sink, faucet and lumber.  We set ours up near the studio during our open season and store it under cover in our off season.  It has a tap for cold water and is fed with a garden hose.  There is a bucket underneath to catch the flow.  We plan to set it up in a small shelter eventually, so that the paper towel rack can hang above the sink and a garbage can can be under cover beside it.  Then we'll dig a sand pit and feed the outflow into a pipe in the ground to the sand pit.  

  • Public Toilet
The toilet can be a washroom inside your home or a separate structure outside.  We began our agritourism project using a bathroom inside the house.  However, when a family used this as a distraction so that they could shoplift from the studio, we moved the bathroom outside.

We rented a plastic porta-potty for an event, but found that people didn't want to use it.  So we built an outhouse, aka. compost toilet.  The outhouse is a real hit with city folks.  Its a wooden structure, with an 8 foot deep pit, and a wooden seat.  It still needs a coat of linseed oil.  Lots of visitors use it.  Its an adventure.  We've even had photo ops at the outhouse.

It is equipped with toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and an ash bucket to keep it fresh smelling.  We check it after visitors and clean it once a week.

  • Regular Open Hours 
These don't need to be 7 days a week.  You can open at the hours that fit into your farm work schedule and family time cycle.  It can be "open by appointment only".  The important thing is to be open when you say you will be.

Joybilee Farm is open Tuesday to Saturday 10am to 5pm.  If I have to make a trip to town during those hours, someone stays at the farm to greet any visitors that drive in.  On the rare occasion that we have to be closed when we say we are open -- we post the change in hours on our website, Facebook and on the blog -- and call the Tourist Info Centre in town and let them know.

  • A Welcome Attitude
Attitude is half the battle.  When people drive in and interrupt your work, smile and say, "Welcome to Joybilee Farm (insert your farm name here)"  Sometimes interruptions are aggravating and sometimes welcome but if you are open to the public always act welcoming.  "Fake it till you make it" is a great adage to remember.  After a few interruptions that result in great conversations and an increase in cash flow, you start to really welcome the interruptions and be genuinely happy to see strangers drive onto your place.

Keep your dogs under control.  Lots of people are frightened by large, barking dogs.  Keep yours leashed when you expect visitors or behind a fence.  Or train them not to bark at visitors.  (we're still working on this one.)

When you get farm visitors, ask if they'd like a farm tour.  Charge for the farm tour -- its taking you away from other work.  Invite them to visit the farm store or studio and talk about what you have to offer -- farm fresh eggs, freezer cuts of lamb, yarns, gifts etc.  Ask where they are from, and what made them stop.  Carry on the conversation and focus on the needs of the visitors.This is how relationships are built.  Our goal at Joybilee Farm is long term, happy relationships --- not necessarily immediate sales.  Happy relationships result in sales over the long haul.

Part of the attitude is calling farm visitors - "visitors" instead of "customers".  A visitor is a friend who might be stopping in for coffee or a stranger who needs introduction before he becomes a friend.  A customer is someone with money who needs to make a purchase to be valued.  Value your visitors.

  • Liability Insurance
Public liability insurance is necessary for government approval of your agritourism status.  There is a difference between your private liability, as defined in your home owners or farm insurance and public liability that covers you when customers come on your farm.  You need both.  Our public liability insurance is from Lloyds of London and comes through the BC Agritourism Assoc.  It is an additional policy from our farm insurance.  It covers us for every business venture that we undertake -- including selling at fairs and farmer's markets.  

  • First Aid Certificate
Its good practice to take a First Aid Course and keep your first aid certificate up to date.  It can save a life.   It can make you a better farmer and help you when treating livestock problems, too.  It can help you know what to do in a family emergency.  If you haven't already taken a first aid course, sign up today.   And if its been more than 3 years since you've recertified.  Do it.

Our liability insurance requires someone with a valid first aid certificate to be on the premises at all times when we are open to the public.

  • A driveway alarm  
We installed battery operated driveway alarms after the first time a visitor came into the studio and surprised me, while I was working at the computer in the office.  The dogs didn't bark.  I had no idea that I wasn't alone in the house, until I heard a man's voice that I didn't recognize.  We have one alarm at the farm gate that rings when a visitor drives over the cattleguard and another alarm, with a different song, that alerts me when visitors drive up the hill toward the house.  We know when a visitor is on the property but hasn't come to the house yet, too.

It gives us time to prepare for visitors, grabbed the dogs so they don't frighten vistors, comb hair, brush teeth, or maybe get dressed, and even turn some lights on in the studio.  The scene that ensues when that first driveway alarm goes off in the morning would make a viral you-tube video.

The added advantage is the alarms work 24 x7.  We've been woken after midnight by strange trucks driving in but the alarms let us know to expect visitors and we were prepared.

  • Beautification Plan
Make your farm look like a place that you are proud to invite visitors to.  The beautification projects will probably be on-going but get them started.  Your working farm doesn't have to be perfect before you put out the open sign, but do a  few things to make it look inviting and get people talking about your venue.

Goats are cute, and a goat climbing station gets people talking.  Plant some flowers, or put signage pointing out native plants.  Clean up the burn piles or move them away from visitor areas.  Get rid of hazards and move junk piles away from visitor areas.  Visit the dump with a few truck loads and clean up broken plastics and discarded housewares.  Plant flowers, weed the garden, repair broken gates -- did I mention its ongoing.

Think of it as an investment.  Beautiful farms invite visitors and get comments.  And if you don't have time to beautify then emphasize the unusual -- Put up signage pointing out native plants and  their value to the landscape.   "Golden rod.  Native to Canada.  Has a golden yellow dye in the flowers."

A few minutes planning for your successful agritourism project can make your farm an attraction that visitors talk about for months after their initial visit.  And it can bring them back again, with friends.  

This is part 2 of a 5 part series on "Diversifying with Agritourism". 

Part 1, "6 compelling reasons to diversify with agritourism".
Part 3, "Agritourism strategies that won't break the bank"

What do you think?  Let me know in the comments section.

Monday, June 06, 2011

6 Compelling Reasons to Diversify with Agritourism

If you raise sheep, goats, alpacas or other fiber bearing animals, or just raise veggies and fruit for your local community market, you are subject to the unpredictable nature of market prices and weather.  "Diversify" is one word that farmer's banter back and forth.  Diversification can include adding a crop, for instance, if you raise sheep, adding angora goats or angora rabbits.  If you raise vegetables, adding a fruit crop.  Diversification increases your income and adds a cushion to your financial plan for years when the weather doesn't cooperate, market prices drop suddenly, or feed prices sky rocket.

One way to diversify is to invite people to come on your land -- Agritourism.  Many farmers, especially organic farmers, baulk at the idea of multitudes of people, with their dirty shoes, walking on their land.  Where were those shoes last?

There are several compelling reasons to give agritourism a try:

1.  Agritourism gives you a chance to educate people about the value of the organic lifestyle.

Joybilee Farm uses agritourism to teach people that clothing grows on farms, too.  It allows us to explain the symbiotic relationship between happy sheep and goats, fertile grass pastures, well grown vegetables and dye plants and aesthetically pleasing clothing and accessories.  I know you love the lifestyle so much you'd talk about it for free, but through agritourism we share our passions with a paying audience.

2.  Agritourism allows you to bring happiness to children and the child within.

Children love baby animals.  Lambs and kids leaping in the pasture bring joy to everyone.  The contact with animals -- touching, kissing, stroking their long fiber -- is healing in our disconnected, citified society.  Allowing people to touch one of your animals will bring lasting joy to them --  and happy memories.  People with happy memories will come back to your farm and tell others about you and your products, too.

Worried about bio security?  At Joybilee Farm, we have areas that are off limits due to bio security -- within all animal paddocks, inside barns -- especially the rabbit barn, inside the vegetable garden.  But as with any animal operation, there are wethers, or bottle babies, that are kept for their cuteness factor or their exceptional fleece and these make the best ambassadors.  Agritourism doesn't need to interfere with your other areas of operations.  You can set limits according to your needs and still bring joy to others.

3.  Agritourism can increase the value of the other products you sell.

By inviting people to visit the farm, take a farm tour, visit the artisan studio and see natural dyeing, weaving or linen culture first hand, we increase the love of fine craft and demonstrate the effort and skill involved in each piece for sale in the studio/gift shop.  This allows us to command a higher price for our products, like goats' milk soap, woven scarves, or felted hats and slippers.  Once people understand the work involved, they stop expecting "farmer's market" bargains, and don't mind paying for value.  Our work stops being a commodity and becomes a coveted purchase.

4.  People visiting the farm are usually tourists or locals with out-of-town visitors and bring in new money. 

They bring in money from outside the area -- called "new cash" in economic discussions.  New cash is money that isn't already circulating in your community and this increases the local economy. When these visitors have a good time at the farm, they will tell others and plan to visit again on their next trip through town.

Joybilee Farm has many repeat visitors who stop in to get Goat's Milk Soap, or more wool and silk roving, on their way through the area from Calgary to Vancouver.  We met these visitors through our agritourism efforts.

5.  Agritourism lets you reproduce yourself. 

If you love what you do, you naturally want to see others embracing the same lifestyle choices.  After all, you chose the lifestyle that you did because its the best.  Right?  Farm tours allow you to explain your lifestyle choices and to encourage others to pursue the same life style. You've already learned some valuable secrets of success and through agritourism you can share those secrets and help others along the way.

This is especially important today.  Younger farmers need encouragement, while many families are looking at the rural lifestyle as an attractive alternative.  Many of the people visiting Joybilee Farm ask questions about how we can be profitable doing what we do.  How many sheep does it take to make a living as a shepherd?  How do you sell the fleece?  How many acres do you have?  How many acres do you actually use?  What they are really asking is:  "Can I do this, too?"  We want to say, "Yes you can and here's how."

6.  Agritourism allows you to tell your story and build stronger relationships with your customers and your community. 

Selling today is about relationships.  Relationships are built by telling your story and letting people know how that story can help meet their need.  It takes time to build those important relationships.

Joybilee Farm has been in Boundary Country for 8 years.  Its only in the last 3 years that we've become known in the community.  Through that time we consistently sold at the farmer's market and volunteered for various jobs in the community, like organizing the annual Canada Day artisan's market.  But through our farmer's market and committee work very few relationships resulted in sales.  That is, until we invited people to come to the farm and see first hand what we do.  That was 3 years ago when we became members of the BC Agritourism Association.  Now the name "Joybilee Farm" is well known in our community and when people meet us, for the first time, they say, "Oh, you're Joybilee Farm."

If you've thought about agritourism and rejected the idea as too time consuming or not organic-friendly, I'd like to invite you to reconsider this lucrative farm practice.  Over the next 4 posts I will adress different aspects of Agritourism that will allow you to consider how agritourism might fit into your business plan.  As well, I'll share with you some of our own failures and successes as we've added Agritourism to our business plan at Joybilee Farm.

If you haven't done so already, become a follower of, so you don't miss any of these important articles.  Use the "follow" button on the left at the top of this page.

Part 1, "6 Compelling Reasons to Diversify with Agritourism"
Part 2, "How to Plan the Ultimate Agritourism Destination"
Part 3, "Agritourism Advertising Strategies that won't break the bank."

Also, I wanted to let you know, we are having a draw among our Facebook fans for a $25 gift certificate redeemable at Joybilee Farm or by mail order.  If you haven't done so already, become a fan and participate in this free draw.  Click here to participate.

Have you considered agritourism as an income stream for your farm-business?  Are you already engaged in agritourism and has it made a difference for you?  Tell me about it in the comments section.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Are mosquitoes bugging you?

My friends up the North Fork at Pa Van Ranch, are complaining about the mosquitoes this year -- more than normal -- with all the rain and cold weather we've had this Spring.  Normally I am bugged by them, too.  But last year Robin picked up a bug light with pheromones and I hadn't been bothered much this year.  That is until the pheromone ran out on Friday. 

Friday night I noticed the pesky biters buzzing around my face when I came in from the car, like other years.  Today Robin replaced the pheromone and (sigh of relief) no more bothersome biters.

Our bug light is a low energy electric light with a pheromone packet that attaches to the underside and gives off its seductive (to mosquitoes) scent by the heat of the lamp.  We keep it plugged in from May until frost and it keeps the mosquitoes under control.  The pheromone needs replacing every 3 to 4 weeks, so if you get one make sure you also pick up extra pheromone packets.

Our light protects 1 acre.  There are larger units that protect up to 2 acres and smaller units for a 1/2 acre.  Ours protects both, us near the house, and our livestock in the barns.  When the livestock are in the pasture they are still bugged, as are we in the lower garden.  There are propane units based on the same principle for areas away from electric power. 

One draw back with the lights is that ours has bars around the light that allow larger moths through.  I would prefer a grid that would keep larger moths, like the sphynx moths, away from the light.  The new ones that Amazon carries, have grids but I'm not sure if the holes are small enough to protect the larger moths from harm. We're going to build a cage of chicken wire around ours. 

The lights also work for wool moths and food moths and have been used successfully in food business and grain mills. 

I was really happy to find a solution to this irritating problem.   And now Joybilee Farm visitors don't have to slap mosquitoes when they come to the studio.

How Joybilee Farm survived a 50 persons - 5 dogs Siege -- last Friday

On Friday, Cheryl Grant's class from Wild Flower Academy in Nelson came to Joybilee Farm.  There were 26 students grades 1 to 6, with their siblings, plus parents and Cheryl -- 50 people.  The field trip was to start at 11am but the cars arrived at 10:15 -- we were scurrying around, setting up indigo vats, putting flax breaking equipment in the greenhouse, looking at the sky and wondering if the sun would continue to shine.  And I thought, 45 minutes early?  This is going to be a long day.

But I wouldn't have missed it!

Cheryl's class was the best group of school age kids we've ever had on the farm.  They were intensely interested in learning everything we could tell them about organic farming, raising sheep and goats, locally raised clothing, the economics of raising wool, making your own wool roving for felting and spinning, linen culture and processing, indigo chemistry and the environmental impact of chemical dyes and the unique cultural beauty of Japanese shibori.  The field trip speaks to the issue of the environmental impact of clothing and how we can live with locally grown, locally sewn clothing and textiles.  It teaches that clothing comes from farms, too.  It touches on history, social studies, science, math, phys ed, and art.

We created 4 learning centres and divided the class into four groups.  Each group had 7 or 8 students plus their parents -- 12 to 13 people -- and moved through the 4 stations at 45 minute intervals.  The day was divided with 2 stations in the morning, a 45 minute break for lunch and 2 stations in the afternoon -- finishing at 2:45.   Over the lunch break and after the last session, students continued to work in the indigo vats to complete their shibori dyed cotton fabric.

The stations included a farm tour.  Robin took the students to the pasture area, visited with the lambs and kids.  There were photo ops with the llamas.  I asked one group if they got any llama kisses and one girl said that two llamas kissed her on both cheeks at the same time and her mom took her picture. He spoke to the issue of chemical agriculture and its environmental impact.  He talked about growing clothing -- wool, linen, natural dyes and the need to rethink the cheap imported clothing with its high environmental and cultural impact.  And the lambs and kids put on a great show as they rushed to the fence to greet the human visitors.  There were lots of questions from parents about how to make a living doing what we do.

We invited, no make that begged, our friend, Evelyn Brown to assist us with the class.  Evelyn was in charge of the linen processing area.  We set her up in the almost completed, greenhouse with two flax breaks, a doukhobor tartar comb to act as a hackle, and a huge quantity of water retted flax.  Evelyn demonstrated the steps of rippling or taking the seeds off the flax stalks, breaking using two flax breaks -- a coarse one for the initial breaking and a finer one for scutching.  And the students used the comb as a hackle, finishing the job with a Flick carder.  Evelyn is a retired home ec teacher, as well as an organic farmer, and was a great sport in taking on this challenge, learning the process herself, as she worked with the students.

For more about this process come to the Joybilee Farm Linen Festival on August 6.

I had the topic of wool -- my expertise!  The students, at school, had needle felted an angel at Christmas and wet felted around a plastic egg for Easter, all using commercial roving. I showed them how they could use a flicker brush, or cat brush to comb wool locks, stack them and pull them into a roving.  I showed them hand carding but the technique is more complicated to learn than I had anticipated, so by the third group we had abandoned the use of the hand cards.  I set up an Ashford Wild Carder and the kids were thrilled to try it out.  I had a basket of washed fleece on the table, some natural white, some indigo dyed blue and some sunshine yellow dyed with golden rod.  The students picked their own combination of colour and carded up some roving.  Then I had a batch of goat's milk and honey soap, unpackaged, just waiting to be made into woolly soaps for the kids to take home.  We used wet felting techniques, like they had already done with the egg.  Some students were more successful than others.  Those who carefully carded their wool had better success than those who had been less thorough.  But all students had a woolly soap to take home at the end of our session.  I sent a small bag of fleece locks back with Cheryl, to repair any soaps that didn't quite work so that there would be no disappointment for the students when they got back to class on Monday.

Sarah had her specialty -- natural indigo -- to teach.  She spoke about the chemistry of natural indigo, indigo precursors in plants, the reduction vat and demonstrated various shibori (tie dye) techniques.  Students were given a strip of cotton fabric (prewashed and ready for dyeing) and went to the resist table to clamp, twist, tie and fold their piece of fabric.  Each piece was immersed in the vat for 5 minutes, and oxidized for five minutes -- 3 times -- for a light medium blue.  The 45 minute time was just short of what each group needed for the project. I gave Cheryl a pattern for the origami bag, so that the students could sew their strips into a bag when they get back to the class.

For more about this process come to the Joybilee Farm Indigo/Woad dye day on July 23rd.

The hand wash station was essential.  Students visited the hand wash station after each learning station and the drain bucket overflowed more than once.  We will have to give it a permanent drain before the next field trip.

All told, it was a very successful day.  The comments from the students:  "This was the very best, most interesting, and funnest field trip we have ever been on."

"I'm coming back this summer for the Indigo Dye Day if I can.  I love it."

"I love the animals, and the wool and the indigo dyeing.  Thanks."

From a parent:  "That's the cleanest, best smelling outhouse we've ever seen.  How do you keep it from smelling?" (I answered, "natural wood ashes")

Even though our brochure says, "No pets please" several dogs arrived with the class.  I was at first dismayed after having our beloved milker mauled by the neighbor's Rottweiler last year.  But these dogs were just as well behaved as the class.  We requested that they walk them only on crown land -- Joybilee Farm is surrounded on 3 sides by crown land --  and not leave them unsupervised, but we had absolutely no problems with doggy doodoo or bad behaviour from the dogs either.  It was a very pleasurable day, good weather, teaching what we love and being appreciated for what we do best.

Thanks, Cheryl, your students,and families, for a very memorable day.