Sunset Magazine ran an article this month encouraging readers to consider a farm stay for their next vacation. Beside a tranquil and scenic break from the office, farm visits help small-scale farmers sustain their operations, the article said.
“Farmers are recognizing that people are willing to pay for this experience,” said Penny Leff, agritourism coordinator for the University of California small farm program, whose researchers have seen a boost in the number of farms catering to visitors in recent years.
The small farm program maintains an online list of farms at http://calagtour.org that offer a wide range of agritourism opportunities to the public, from farm stays to U-pick operations, petting zoos, corn mazes, hay rides and farm stores.
The Sunset article details what it calls the "Top 8 Agritourism Experiences," including cattle herding, chicken butchery, wine making and goat cheese making.
Before the new law took effect, the water board asked landowners for estimates, said Allan Fulton, a University of California Cooperative Extension advisor who serves Colusa, Glenn and Shasta counties. Fulton is an irrigation and water resources expert.
"There is a statewide effort at trying to more precisely understand and quantify how water is being used," he said.
UC Cooperative Extension will host a workshop March 31 to discuss the new requirement.
"I've had enough questions that I thought we ought to organize something," said Larry Forero, a UCCE director and advisor in Trinity County who specializes in livestock and natural resources.
Agritourism generates income, promotes farms
Tim Hearden, Capital Press
Agritourism, or activities and products offered on working farms to generate extra income from visitors, is a growing movement in California.
A recent UC survey determined that about 2.4 million visitors came to California farms in 2008 to enjoy some facet of agritourism, which could include lodges and cabins, pumpkin patches, corn mazes, "U-pick" operations and special events such as weddings and conferences.
"I think it really does help" farms, said UC agritourism coordinator Penny Leff. "It helps their name recognition if they're selling at the farmers' market or local stores. It helps in general for people to understand what farming's about, that food comes from farms."
This week, the UC small farm program's final agritourism workshop in a series of five convenes in Monterey, winding up a whirlwind educational and promotional tour of California aimed at selling the farm - to visitors.
All over California, farmers are inviting visitors to participate in farm camps, harvest festivals, horseback riding, hiking, hunting, bird-watching, tours and farm stand activities like tasting and picking, according to a Corning Observer story about the Feb. 23 agritourism workshop in Red Bluff.
"Agritourism is a good way for farmers and ranchers to connect with the community and make money doing it. The main objective is to make the business work," the article quoted Penny Leff, UC agritourism coordinator.
The workshop series is offering professional development for people involved in agritourism and building a stronger infrastructure for successful agritourism in the region. Participants are learning that agritourism could be profitable, but it is also challenging.
"Don't quit your day job," agritourism entrepreneur Bob Nash said at the Red Bluff event. His small small pumpkin patch on the Old Oregon Trail has evolved to include wagon rides, a petting zoo, an antique tractor show and tractor pulls, corn maze, haunted house and a variety of activities and demonstrations. "It doesn't happen overnight and it takes a lot of marketing."
Other speakers advised talking to city and county planners, doing research, assessing a competitive advantage, understanding the market, finding an angle, navigating the permit and approval process, collaborating with partners, developing a trusted product and marketing it to customers, wrote reporter Susan Meeker.
The final agritourism workshop will be from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Thursday, March 3, at the Monterey County UC Cooperative Extension office. Find more information here.
The San Diego Union Tribune ran a 1,500-word story on local agritourism last Friday, featuring UC expertise and resources front and center.
UC's agritourism coordinator Penny Leff provided reporter Emily Rizzo with a definition of agritourism, "a commercial enterprise on a working farm or ranch conducted for visitor enjoyment and education that generates supplemental income for owners."
Promoting agritourism in San Diego has been underway for years, but positioning the Southern California city as an agritourism destination, said UC small farm advisor Ramiro Lobo, is a relatively new concept.
In 1993, Taco Bell's founder opened Bell Gardens, a 115-acre educational farm that attracted 100,000 visitors annually to picnic, buy fresh produce and ride a mini-train. The ranch attracted busloads of agritourists but closed in 2003, the article said.
“It was obviously a heavily subsidized operation, but (it) created attention,” Lobo commented. “Entrepreneurial farmers started tapping into this as a real alternative to diversify their income stream.”
San Diego County now has more than 100 self-identified agritourism businesses, Lobo told the reporter.
Leff and Lobo agree that consumers want to visit real agricultural operations and have a keen sense when it comes to discerning hokey operations from working farms.
“You don’t have to create a Disneyland,” Lobo said. “We want working farmers to be able to capitalize on this without having to spend a ton of money to create something artificial. Pseudo-farms, for the most part, never really did a great job. Those have come and gone.”
Among the UC agritourism resources mentioned in the story were:
- The UC California Agricultural Tourism Directory, which highlights farms and ranches to visit and upcoming events, at CalAgTour.org.
- University of California Cooperative Extension in San Diego County
San Francisco consumers learned of educational and fun opportunities for agritourism from a clip on KGO-TV news yesterday about a trend that boosts the bottom line for farmers involved in quaint agricultural industries.
The segment focused on an organic dairy in Petaluma, an apple U-pick operation in Sebastopol and a sustainable farm that offers over-night stays also in Sebastopol.
"People come from all over the world, although there are many people who just come from San Francisco or Sacramento; it's a short drive to us, it's an easy weekend," Christine Cole of Full House Farm told the reporter.
"More agritourism businesses increase tourism to the county overall," Leff said. "If there are more things for people to do when they are visiting the community, they are more likely to stay overnight. And they are more likely to eat at restaurants in town. Generally there's a great spill over from agritourism businesses to community development."
The TV story also plugged the ANR publication Planning and Managing Agritourism and Nature Tourism Enterprises: A Handbook, and the Small Farm Program's online database of California agritourism operations, http://calagtour.org.