- Author: Penny Leff
“We really enjoy having people on our farm. We have started hosting tours, for fees, including 2 bus tours with more than 40 people. We also remodeled our 100 year old farm house, added a bathroom upstairs to make it ready for a farm stay. Our kids are very involved in these activities. Agritourism is definitely part of our farm plan now.”
Rancher Kathy Landini participated in a similar agritourism planning class in Orland two years ago, and reached different conclusions with her family about agritourism on their ranch:
“Although we are thinking of offering ranch stays, after a family conference we held off. We decided that family privacy and family time would be diminished if we had guests. The kids did not feel that they would be as comfortable coming home.”
Classes offered throughout California
Our goals – new skills and new networks
Because agritourism involves providing a memorable experience to visitors instead of (or in addition to) an agricultural product, agritourism operators must develop new and different relationships with their customers. Attracting and caring for guests usually also requires farmers and ranchers to learn new skills and to form new partnerships with each other and with risk management, hospitality and marketing professionals. Our goals for the classes were to increase understanding of the agritourism industry by participants, and to provide them with skills, resources and connections to plan, start and market their own agritourism businesses or to decide that agritourism was not right for their farm, ranch or family at this time.
Our process – interaction & local connections
The Agritourism Intensive classes used hands-on, interactive activities to guide participants in assessing their own farms or ranches for agritourism potential and starting their own business, risk management, and marketing plans.
Long term follow-up
After offering the classes for three years, we wanted to learn if we were meeting our goals. To learn whether the classes were useful to participants, we contacted the people who took the class two years ago in Fresno and Orland, and the people who completed the class in Sacramento a year ago. We asked if they had started or expanded agritourism activities since their class ended. We also asked whether they had stayed in touch with fellow class participants or presenters.
We heard back from 29 families, or 40 percent of those contacted. Of these, 22 were farmers or ranchers. (The others were tourism professionals, insurance agents, or other related people who work with agritourism operators). We learned that more than half of the responding farmers or ranchers had started or expanded agritourism activities since the class. We heard from a few who had used the class to decide not to pursue agritourism at this time. More than 80 percent of the people responding told us that they had worked with, collaborated with or consulted with at least one person who participated or presented in their class, since the class ended.
Here are some more excerpts from the responses to our inquiry:
Network is continuing
- I have pretty steady contact with some of the people from the class. People call a lot and ask questions about our trail-riding operation.
- The presenter from the Convention & Visitors Bureau has been a great resource to us, bringing some tour group leaders to us and referring other tour groups.
- I visited one of the class presenters and fellow participants to see and learn about his fishing pond operation.
- I purchased 2 mares for my summer camp from someone I met in the class
Many still moving forward…
- We are developing our lavender field and shop in preparation for opening to the public later this spring
- We got our roadside stand up. It's doing OK so far. We were investigating this possibility when we took the class
- Our blueberry U-Pick is still going. We were in the process of opening when I took the class. We have been open for a few years and would like to expand.
Some decided against agritourism…
- Concerns about liability squelched our initial plans to hold weddings on the site.
- Biosecurity has changed our plans for agritourism since we raise chickens.
Although our long term follow-up response was only a small sample, we were pleased to learn that the classes seemed helpful in growing agritourism enterprises and supportive networks. We learned that agritourism businesses can take time, sometimes several years, to grow, especially when farmers are busy farming. We also can say that local networks are important and durable resources for agritourism development.
View a presentation about the Agritourism Intensive classes and follow-up conversations given by UC Small Farm Program Agritourism Coordinator Penny Leff at the Women in Agriculture Educators National Conference, April 2014