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.


  1. Fantastic advice. I am so interested. Thank you so much for taking the time to share your misdom and experience.

  2. I'm glad that you are enjoying the series on agritourism, Crow. Agritourism has been an important part of our business plan for the last 3 or 4 years. We first read about it in "Small Farm Canada" but there wasn't much information available on how to succeed. Although we're still learning as we go, I thought others might be looking for some concrete information, as we were a few years ago. I'm very glad that you left a comment to let me know that you are enjoying the series. Thanks. Chris

  3. It's great to see a blog of this quality. I learned a lot of new things and I'm looking forward to see more like this. Thank you.