Thursday, June 09, 2011

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.

1 comment:

  1. These are some great general ideas. I like that you condense this important topic into these four parts. Are there any statistics or examples that prove the effectiveness of these ideas? Just how much value to each add to the farm? (You might not know, but maybe we can get some research going through comments!)