By Jimmy Dula, NFU Intern
Diversity may be the hottest buzz word for agriculture, both large and small. Relying on one product or commodity to support the entire farm can be a gamble, putting the operation at higher risk. As farmers, we need to expand our approach to diversifying farm revenue to access as many potential markets as possible. We have to think far and wide; typically, that means more than just a new variety of squash or bean. As public interest in food production climbs, we have the opportunity to capitalize on a valuable public service: agritourism. Connecting consumers to their food by providing on-farm experiences will, in a major way, create the momentum and enthusiasm we need to reinvigorate American agriculture. I’ve seen this done in a thousand ways, from weddings to workshops to yoga with goats. If your five-year-old mind thinks it would be fun, it most likely will be, and people will pay money for the experience.
For example, a half-day fruit tree pruning workshop for 20 people at $15/person would put a quick $300 dollars in your pocket while also boosting your friends’ and neighbors’ agricultural literacy. Or think about planting a pumpkin patch for a community event where you not only sell your pumpkins but also provide an autumn experience. The possibilities are seemingly endless.
These are the major categories of agritourism and alternative enterprises:
Fee-Based Outdoor Recreation: Hiking, picnicking, camping, access to scenic sites, etc. You will likely need to have insurance for this one… or leave out the archery, but where’s the fun in that?
Equipment Rental: You don’t use that tractor every day, do you? Connect with beginning farmers, smaller producers, or backyard gardeners in your area who might be interested in renting. The equipment you take for granted could make a big difference to someone else.
Alternative Crops and Value-Added Products: This might be the most easily recognizable alternative enterprise, and for good reason. In the end, you’re a farmer and you want to make money from farming. New baby bok choy cabbages or dried mushrooms could be the next big revenue stream for your farm.
Alternative Marketing: Pick- or cut-your-own is good way to take a lot of the labor off your plate and still move product for one cool, fall afternoon. You can do this with a variety of products, including flowers, fruits, vegetables, and Christmas trees.
Public Events and Participant Experiences: From petting zoo to poetry nights to pumpkin carving, there are lots of great opportunities in this category.
Hospitality Services: Make your customers feel at home with cabin rentals, meeting and conference facilities for business, hosting a bed and breakfast (a major dream of mine).
Educational Activities: Market gardening training, beer brewing, canning, shrub making, meat smoking – this includes basically every fun thing you already do on the farm, but this time, invite more people and collect some dollars.
Agritourism is a great opportunity to get creative and highlight the most valuable aspects of your farm. For a deeper dive, check out NRCS’s guide to agritourism. Have you tried agritourism on your operation? What enterprises have you found successful?