Farm Visits Increase Farm Profits
Farm Visits Increase Farm Profits
It's the beginning of October and the weather doesn't exactly agree with the calendar just yet, but we’re hopeful. Autumn is approaching, and leaf season travelers are coming to escape city life for a little rural R&R. One of the most popular activities visitors look for are unique farm experiences to enhance their mountain escapades. Here in the foothills, there are plenty of rural farm activities from sheep shearing festivals to hayrides, and apple picking. All are wonderful ways to invite the public to your business (farming) to learn firsthand what you do, help them appreciate the value of what you contribute to the community. and diversify your income in what is traditionally a down time.
Today, more than ever farmers are flush with creativity about ways to attract new customers, redefine the traditional farming experience, take advantage of new technologies and a new generation of customers that prefer experiences over material things (60%). Agribusiness is the state's top industry with the military and tourism following second and third respectively. It brings in $91.8 billion dollars annually! Not everyone wants to stay at the Hyatt Regency or go to the finest restaurants. Clean up that old cabin on the property and you might just have yourself an Airbnb. I have to ask, Is your farm all that it can be?
Before you shut me down, please read on. I understand that farming is difficult and demanding work. Here’s the good news. Research (UNC/NCDC) reveals exciting data for farmers and ranchers. First, travelers want to focus more on comfort and happiness and second, 42% of travelers plan to visit a destination that makes them feel like a kid again! And what better place to be happy and feel like a kid again, than down on the farm? It could also mean an additional income stream for your business that could grow and sustain your farm for years to come.
The North Carolina General Assembly defines agritourism as any activity carried out on a farm or ranch that allows members of the general public, for recreational, entertainment, or educational purposes, to view or enjoy rural activities, including farming, ranching, historic, cultural, harvest-your-own activities, or natural activities and attractions.
Along with the potential to create another income stream there comes some planning and responsibility. There may be a financial investment to fix up that cabin or meet regulations for that fishing pond. Ensuring you have adequate labor for the activities you plan on providing is another consideration. Also, you will want to speak with your insurance provider to discuss things like safety and liability or any additional coverage you may need.
Agritourism, done well, is a way to promote the business of farming and agritourism to a new generation, preserve the farmland from development, and provide farmers with profitable ways to diversify their operations. A survey or farmers and rural residents conducted by the North Carolina State University Tourism Extension listed the following benefits of agritourism for their farms and ranches.
- Educate visitors and public about agriculture
- Preserve farms & farmland
- Share agricultural heritage & rural lifestyles with visitors
- Preserve rural heritage & traditions
- Generate additional income for landowners
- Provide quality local products & produce
- Improve relationships between farmers & local community
- Develop interaction between visitors & farmers
- Preserve natural resources & ecosystems
- Enhance the tourism appeal of rural areas
- Revitalize local economies
- Provide job opportunities for farm household members
- Enhance the quality of life of local people
- Provide scenic beauty & landscapes
- Provide recreation activities for visitors
So, how will your farm create agritourism activities to meet travel desires? There are several ways to incorporate agritourism into your farm. Success in agritourism requires your unique compelling farm story! Think of your farm as a destination as opposed to a location. Know the history of the land and its contribution to the community. Familiarize yourself with its history, its cultural impact, its economic impact. What unique story does your farm have that you can share?
Brainstorm worthwhile activities for your visitors. The local Cooperative Extension, health department, caterers, or civic groups, local chefs, and McDowell Technical Community College are great places to start developing ideas. Create package deals for tourists by partnering with neighbors and the community. If your farm provides products to local restaurants, consider partnering with them to create a Dinner at the Farm event where customers can come directly to the farm where the food is grown. Provide experiences of a lifetime to visitors. If you have a great fishing pond or creek, work with a civic organization and create a Catch & Cook family-friendly event that raises money for the community. Team up with a local winery or brewery to offer packaged experiences for guests staying at your farm. Think of things that that they would never experience in their home locale.
Provide excellent staff for the farm that are helpful, engaging, knowledgeable, and know your farm story. Incorporate a teaching element into your operation that gets the visitor engaged but can also be geared toward school children for year-round participation. English Farmstead Cheese gave an educational tour of their farm to all of our volunteers. They loved it! A weekend retreat in the mountains that includes instructional fly fishing, or grape stomping and ends with laughter around the campfire retelling the adventures of the day—Priceless.
There are several agritourism operations here in McDowell that might be willing to discuss their process with you. The Chamber is always open to helping businesses grow their operations in any way and our door is always open. Check out the list below with everything from farm stands and beekeepers to wineries and orchards.