Marketing & Sales Series: Pt 8 ~ Agritourism as a Value-Add to Your Farm Business

Hoes Down Fest 100309 034.crop

Wagon tours at Full Belly Farm’s annual Hoes Down Festival in Guinda, CA

Written by guest bloggers, Penny Leff, Agritourism Coordinator for the UC Small Farm Program, and Scottie Jones, Founder of U.S. Farm Stay Association.

Today, our Marketing & Sales series continues with tips on the many things to consider when offering an agritourism experience on your farm. Agritourism continues to grow in popularity across the US and abroad as farms and agricultural businesses realize the potential for additional revenue and an enhanced customer experience. There are many types of agritourism – farm tours, U-pick, barn dances, and even overnight stays – each having its own set of considerations, benefits, and drawbacks.

Read on for some great tips to prepare you to add an agritourism element to your business. From a business plan to insurance, permits, and making sure your neighbors are on board, these tips will help ensure your new endeavor is a success!

1. Sell the experience; the products will sell themselves if your guests are having fun.

Think about what you, your family, and friends enjoy doing on your farm or ranch, and what aspects you are passionate about. It could be gathering eggs from your pastured chickens, picking fruit, making music under the stars, riding horses, distilling lavender oil, pruning trees, helping with the harvest, or just watching birds.

Think about how you might offer these experiences to the public for a fee. Could you offer tours or demonstrations? Workshops for do-it-yourselfers? A U-Pick operation? Farm dinners with a local chef? A fishing or hunting club? A festival? Farm camp for kids? A farm stay? A farm stand? A corn maze or pumpkin patch? An event facility for weddings, parties and retreats? Tastings?

And consider multiple agritourism offerings. If you’re offering a cheese-making classes, for example, maybe those same guests would love to stay overnight. How about U-Pick and then a Farm-to-Table Dinner with a cooking class for the preparation? How about a sheep shearing demonstration and then a weaving class with already cleaned roving from the farm.

Think about ways to add value to your venture so you can step up the income. This might not happen right away, but listen to what your customers are saying, and ask them for suggestions about what else they would love to do on your farm. You don’t need to charge for everything, and a package price is often better overall. Be creative and look for those added-value opportunities.

Swanton Berry Farm in Davenport, CA has a farm stand and U-Pick option

Swanton Berry Farm in Davenport, CA has a farm stand and U-Pick option

2. Get your team on board.

Talk with your family, staff, and business partners about your ideas. Your farm or ranch is usually your home and also your business, so any visitors would affect everyone there. Ask yourself how your agritourism enterprise may impact the home? How would your agritourism enterprise impact the agricultural operation?

3. Consider the time commitment of running an agritourism operation. 

Running an agritourism operation takes time away from farming. When a family decides to add this new endeavor, they need to figure out who will be the point person and how that person’s farming responsibilities will be covered. Another way to look at it is: Will the agritourism operation pay an equal wage to farming? Usually the answer is ‘yes’, but it’s best to make sure everyone is okay with the new workload.

4. Meet the competition and the community.

Visit other agritourism operations doing something similar to what you are considering so you can learn specific methods and tips.  However, you may want to do this outside of your market territory to avoid any feelings of competition.  Regardless, do still try to visit agritourism operations close to your farm or ranch; they are your community. Talk with the operators about what you are planning and look for opportunities for collaboration or cross-marketing. Be honest; they will find out what you are planning, and it is best that they learn from you.

McGrath Family Farm in Camarillo, CA offers farm tours for school groups

McGrath Family Farm in Camarillo, CA offers farm tours for school groups

5. Talk with your neighbors about what you are planning before you talk to the county officials.

Listen for any concerns or objections, and try to find ways to accommodate. Your neighbors can cause permitting problems and get you shut down (even before you start!) if they are not happy with your activities. Might they be involved or benefit in some way from your agritourism enterprise?

Lucky Goat Family Farm in Big Sur, CA offers farm stays for couples and families

Lucky Goat Family Farm in Big Sur, CA offers farm stays for couples and families

6. Location is key.

While great agritourism experiences can happen anywhere and become what we call “destination experiences”, these may take more effort than if you are located within easy driving distance of a large metropolitan area. This is not to say that you shouldn’t add agritourism to your farm’s economy, but be realistic about what you are offering. A pumpkin patch will likely pull locals, so look at the demographics of your area. How far would you drive for a pumpkin? The same could be said for a U-Pick or a Farm-to-Table Dinner. Where are your guests coming from? Alternatively, if you offer a farm stay, you might find you get the majority of guests from your state, or from across the country and even from foreign countries.

7. Write a business plan.

This does not have to be elaborate, but you need to answer questions for yourself and any business partners. What will you offer and why will people buy it? Who will be your customers? How long will they stay? How many do you expect or need to meet your goals and pay your expenses? Does it “pencil out?” Who will do the work of caring for your customers? How will your customers find you? How will you keep them coming back?  Are your projections to break even and profit realistic?

8. Create a point person to oversee the details.

There needs to be a point person for your agritourism venture – someone who will come up with ideas and follow them through, handle the marketing, the operations, the details, the guests, the cash flow, and more. Even if there are multiple people involved with the day-to-day operations, there needs to be someone specific in charge. When problems arise, this is the go-to person.

9. Learn what permits or changes are needed to do what you’d like to do.

Talk with your county planning department about your ideas and bring your land parcel information when you go.

Tara Firma Farm in Petaluma, CA holds regular barn dances

Tara Firma Farms in Petaluma, CA holds regular barn dances

10. Get liability insurance and be honest with your insurance agent.

Your general farm insurance will probably not cover the activities of paying visitors. Your insurance agent may have to locate a different insurance company and an additional policy for your agritourism operation. Be sure to tell your agent about any activities you are offering to visitors (even if you choose not to tell the county) to make sure you are covered.

Branch Oak Farm, Lincoln Nebraska, hosts a farm dinner

Branched Oak Farm in Lincoln, NE hosts a farm dinner

11. Be hospitable and create a great customer experience.

Agritourism is a hospitality business, which means your point person and anyone who interacts with your guests need to like people and be friendly. This is not necessarily a character trait of all farmers! Your staff need to enjoy the company of strangers and show enthusiasm for the agritourism business, whether it is teaching guests how to collect eggs or make cheese or pick apples or find the best pumpkin in the pumpkin patch.

First and last impressions count, and good customer service is all about treating your guests in such a manner that they remember you and your operation favorably. It’s not really that hard, and positive word-of-mouth is better than any advertising you will ever do. If you are new to customer service, pay attention when you are out and about, and model those people who helped you that were memorable and treated you well.

Use clear signage to direct visitor traffic

Use clear signage to direct visitor traffic

12. First impressions are important.

Make sure your farm entrance and parking area is clearly marked, clean, neat, and inviting. Make sure your restrooms, even if they are porta-potties, are always clean and well-stocked.

13. Everyone loves a story. What’s yours?

Your guests would love to know how long you have been on the farm, how you do things, how stuff works, what makes your farm different from the one down the road, and why they should buy from you. The word ‘authentic’ has been hammered to death, but try to think what makes you a rock star farmer, even if it’s just that you love what you do and want to convey that to your urban neighbor. Did you grow up in a farm family? How many generations? Did you turn to farming as a second career? Was it about the food you eat? Urbanites are often in awe of farmers and the hard work they do. They like to meet the salt of the earth and your generosity at opening your farm to them confirms that.

14. These endeavors take time to succeed.

Don’t expect your agritourism operation to be successful immediately. It takes time to build a business and get known, and unless you are exceedingly lucky (like Sunset Magazine covering you in your first season!), you need to be patient and methodical with your marketing. You need that website and social media to tell your story. You need that local reporter to come out and do the first article. You need to have your guests talk to their friends about you, so think how you can reward their loyalty. If you are doing things right, you should see your business grow each year, and by year three, have a pretty good idea of your success.

15. If you aren’t online, you don’t exist.

Make sure your website is attractive, clear, inviting, easy to navigate, and updated regularly. Again, use social media. Collect your customers’ emails and start an email newsletter. Invite visitors to like your Facebook page. Stay in touch with regular updates, pictures, news of events, seasonal changes and activities. Post your agritourism operation and your events on Cal Ag Tour’s website to highlight what you’re up to.

Thank you to Penny and Scottie for these great tips! For more information on agritourism, get in touch with Penny: or Scottie:

We’re continuing to expand the Marketing & Sales Toolkit, so stay tuned for more resources.

If you happened to miss them, check out our other features in the Marketing & Sales series:

If you have questions or words of wisdom about selling at the farmers market, visit FarmsReach Conversations and post a question or comment!

If you have other great resources to share, get in touch. We’d love to hear from you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Post Navigation