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 joybilee-farm.blogspot.com, 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.