- Author: Rachael Callahan
Many farmers and ranchers list marketing their agritourism operation as one of their biggest challenges. Groups that support agritourism in their region, such as farm trail organizations, play a critical role in promoting local farmers and ranchers, using collective marketing to uplift the entire area's agricultural offerings. Here we highlight two farm trails' creative and collaborative approach to marketing their members this year.
The 2021 summer edition of edible San Luis Obispo included a 12-page insert Savoring Summer Along the SLO Co Farm Trail, highlighting the region's bounty from farm to table. The insert, produced by FARMstead ED/SLO Co Farm Trail is an informational and celebratory guide to the region's products, producers, and agritourism experiences. Lynette Sonne, founder of FARMstead ED, was inspired by Nevada County's Food and Farm Guide, but FARMstead ED was not in the position to publish its own full-length magazine, so Sonne approached Gail Cayetano, owner of edible SLO, a publication with a history of supporting and uplifting local farmers. Cayetano encouraged FARMstead ED to put its resources towards developing an insert, leveraging edible SLO's circulation while telling FARMstead ED's own story.
The result of this collaboration was a win all around. Sonne remarks, “As the saying goes, we are stronger as a herd, than individuals. Collectively, we showcased nearly 40 local businesses. The investment to create a marketing piece of this caliber is out of reach for most of these businesses budgets, so collaborating and cross-pollinating together with this high quality magazine shines a light on them, creating an opportunity for exposure of their products to 10,000+ print distribution and many more times via web, that they may not have had otherwise.”
The Savoring Summer Along the SLO Co Farm Trail insert is just one (high impact) example of collaboration – a concept that seems to be foundational to the agricultural community in San Luis Obispo county. According to Sonne, “Our partners are masterful in what we call cross-pollinating. They reach out to each other to gain ingredients and knowledge to create even more locally made products. Those who make body care products include local EVOO, honey & flowers and we couldn't grow our own cocktail garden without herbs & fruits.” For farmers and supporters alike, collaboration is invaluable. For many farm trail organizations, collaboration not only builds community, it is a necessity to achieve their missions with limited resources.
Another safety-minded change that SOFT made this year is extending the pass from just one weekend to the whole month. Johansson is hoping that offering the pass for the month will spread people out, which will limit crowds and make welcoming them easier for farmers, many of whom are experiencing staffing difficulties. SOFT has turned concerns over safety into an opportunity, encouraging visitors to ‘Go at your own pace' as they ‘Tour. Taste. Toast!' throughout Butte County.
Agritourism operators in Butte are excited to welcome back visitors with the month long farm and wine pass. “This kicks off the holiday season for us. It is a Christmas preview, visitors can shop for holiday gifts from the farms and vineyards while they are here.” And if they don't get to do all the shopping that they want during October, Johansson will be in touch with them to purchase one of the tasting boxes full of local products that SOFT compiles for holidays and special occasions – another way in which the organizations not only markets, but generates revenue for their members.
- Author: Rachael Callahan
- Author: Cooper Limon
Partnering for California
The COVID-19 pandemic hit farmers hard. Supply chains were disrupted and even non-traditional agritourism revenue streams such as hay mazes and on-farm events had to be canceled due to shelter-in-place mandates.
On the other hand, demand for local farm products skyrocketed, and thus many farmers and ranchers needed a quick pivot strategy and a set of new skills.
UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (SAREP) was well-positioned to support this shift toward direct sales, pulling in trusted community partners and experienced farmers and ranchers to put together a comprehensive webinar series, “Agritourism and Direct Sales: Best Practices in COVID Times and Beyond”.
Funded by a USDA Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP) grant, the webinar series is part of a three-year project, Strengthening California Local Food Networks with Agritourism and Direct Sales, which provides trainings and technical assistance to farmers and ranchers on how to diversify their revenue streams.
The strength of the series, which includes eight webinars that were recorded earlier this year and are available online, lies in the collaborations among the UC SAREP Agritourism Program, UCCE, community groups, and farmers and ranchers.
The series features a range of speakers, including representatives from community organizations, technical experts, academic researchers, and farmers – all coming together to build resilience and adaptability for small-farming operations and the agritourism industry across California during the pandemic and after.
“It's great to collaborate with other organizations and regions, to learn from each other and to broaden our networks, as we are all working to create more resilient and sustainable food systems,” said Carmen Snyder, executive director of Sonoma County Farm Trails, one of the nonprofit partners on this project.
And because of those strong partnerships, the webinar topics reflected the on-the-ground needs facing agricultural producers.
“COVID initially dramatically affected farmers' restaurant contracts, with many losing more than 80% of their accounts overnight,” Snyder said. “CSAs [Community Supported Agriculture], on the other hand, couldn't keep up with the demand, and all of our CSA members were full and had wait lists for the first time ever. Producers pivoted by creating more online stores, including pick-up and delivery options. It was a challenge for them to navigate the new technology and platforms.”
The “Online Sales Options and Methods” webinar, a partnership with the Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF), provided an overview of several e-commerce marketing and online sales strategies that farmers can implement to diversify their revenue pathways and reach new customers. CAFF stressed the importance of farmers enhancing their resiliency through e-commerce.
The webinar also featured Ciara Shapiro, the owner of AM Ranch in Penn Valley, who shared her experience with online marketing and how it helped her and her husband survive the pandemic when the restaurants and farmers markets they sold to shut down. This personal and informative webinar demonstrated the effectiveness of online sales and marketing, while highlighting available resources from groups like CAFF.
The “Safe, Healthy and Successful Farm Stands” webinar was aimed at farms of all sizes and organizations that operate or advise agricultural operations using farm stands as a form of revenue. The webinar provided an outline of the rules and regulations that farm stand operators needed to follow during COVID – as well as during business-as-usual times.
It featured two guest speakers who run successful farm stands: Emmett Hopkins, the owner of Foggy River Farm in Sonoma and Reyna Yagi, the farm manager at Petaluma Bounty Farm. They shared their experiences during COVID and how they had to pivot to remain profitable and accessible within state guidelines.
Both farmers saw an increase in farm stand business during the pandemic, which Yagi attributed to the “traffic storm of people” who attended their annual plant sale fundraiser and came to participate in new farm outdoor activities and volunteer opportunities. Yagi also noted the growing number of low-income individuals who were unable to access fresh produce during the pandemic.
The speakers' shared experiences running successful farm stands gave audience members tangible examples and real-time information on how to incorporate farm stands into their businesses.
Carmen Snyder of Sonoma County Farm Trails, which helped circulate the recorded webinars to their network of farmers and ranchers, remarked: “these webinars were extremely helpful for local producers, to get clarity on best pandemic practices during these challenging times and to learn how other producers are adapting and navigating the circumstances.”
- Author: Rachael Callahan
- Author: Cooper Limon
As summer weather approaches and schools across California end their spring sessions, farms will finally have the opportunity to begin returning their operations back to normal. On June 15th, “All counties in California, regardless of how high or low coronavirus transmission is, will be allowed to all reopen at the same time”. The state is planning on releasing updated mask-wearing policies and emergency closure plans in the case of a resurgence in Covid-19 transmission after June 15th, but in the meantime all businesses and events below the “Mega Event” description will be allowed to operate under “business as normal” procedures. Outdoor events, like the fair, that estimate over 10,000 people to attend will recommend individuals to be tested and/or vaccinated.
The cancellation of summertime staples in 2020 such as open farm days and fairs last year, took an emotional toll as traditions were disrupted and opportunities to connect were missed, as well as a financial tool as these events often serve as a fundraiser for non-profits and a sales outlet for farmers and ranchers. Happily, this summer will see the return of many beloved community events - with some new modifications to ensure safety and comfortability.
One area taking advantage of the new COVID-19 protocols is Suisun Valley, a unique and diverse farming community in Solano County, northern California. Suisun Valley is bringing back their annual staple event, Passport Sunday on August 8th, featuring 12 different vineyards, food trucks, and more. This event is limited to 600 people, a decrease from their usual 1,000 person occupancy to ensure the safety of all people in attendance.
In San Luis Obispo, the SLO County Farm Trail will be showing off all that their region has to offer during their Open Farm Day on July 17th, including cider tasting, sachet making, and plenty of demos. Similarly, the Pleasant Valley Agriculture Association, an association of farmers in Vacaville, who have a collective interest in agriculture tourism and land preservation recently announced that 12 farms in the area will be participating in Open Farm Days on June 26th and 27th. These farms will be in compliance with the updated covid-19 standards and will be featuring products ranging from fresh honey, produce, and jams, and facilitating activities like farm tours and Alpaca feeding.
As agritourism operations and organizations navigate how to reopen safely and within their capacity, this summer will bring back a sense of normalcy with the return of many cherished agritourism events.
- Author: Penny A. Leff
Are you considering agritourism or nature tourism on your farm or ranch?
Would you like to expand your current agritourism or nature tourism business?
Agritourism Intensive 2021 classes are now open for registration by farmers, ranchers, agritourism operators and others involved in agritourism in the Central Coast (SLO) and North Coast (Mendocino) regions.
Learn more & Sign up today to save your space!
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, this year's classes will be mostly virtual, conducted via Zoom, with one in-person field day in each class series if allowed by health authorities. However, each class will be regionally-focused, participatory, and limited to participants from within the region.
- Local agritourism operators will share their own experiences and will be part of a supportive network of advisors as class participants plan and start new enterprises.
- Participants will learn from experts in business planning, regulatory compliance, risk management, hospitality and cost-effective marketing, including social media.
- The hands-on, interactive activities will guide participants as they assess their own farms or ranches for agritourism potential and start their own business, risk management and marketing plans.
- Each participant will receive by US mail a free copy of the extensive handbook, “Agritourism and Nature Tourism in California,” used as a text for the class.
Important: The SLO region Agritourism Intensive classes is open only to farmers, ranchers and others involved in agritourism in San Luis Obispo, Monterey and Santa Barbara Counties.
SLO Class Format: 6 participatory 2-hour Zoom meetings, every Tuesday from January 12, 2021 to February 16, 2021, 9 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. (a possible in-person field day Jan. 26). Shared zoom participation will be available at the SLO Farm Bureau office for those with poor internet access.
SLO Registration: http://ucanr.edu/agtourslo
Important: The Mendocino region Agritourism Intensive class is open only to farmers, ranchers and others involved in or planning agritourism in Mendocino, Lake and Sonoma Counties.
Mendocino Class Format: 4 participatory 2-hour Zoom meetings, every Wednesday morning from March 3, 2021 through March 24, 2021, and one in-person field day on the site of a Mendocino County agritourism operation (location TBD) on March 31.
Mendocino Registration: http://ucanr.edu/agtourmendo
Workshop fee: $40 (for all class sessions, including class text mailed to you and lunch at on-farm field day session)
Information & scholarship options: Penny Leff, email@example.com, 530-902-9763 (cell)
- Author: Penny A. Leff
The USDA Agricultural Marketing Service recently published the recipients of Farmers' Market Promotion Program 2020 grants. The UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (UC SAREP) is excited to announce that our project proposal, Strengthening California local food networks with agritourism and direct sales, was selected for funding. UC SAREP will manage this three-year project in collaboration with a team of ANR Cooperative Extension advisors and staff working with established agricultural and agritourism associations to provide education, technical assistance, promotion and networking support for farmers and ranchers throughout California who are engaged in direct marketing and agritourism activities.
With the emergence of “shelter-in-place” directives, California's small-scale direct-marketing farms and agritourism operations faced drastic and immediate disruptions to operations causing major losses in revenue and lay-offs for staff. Particularly hard-hit were agritourism operators who had to cancel visitor- serving activities, often reducing staff or not hiring for seasonal employment. Positively, the disruptions in food supply and mobility brought the existence and importance of local farms and ranches to the attention of much of the public.
Increased awareness by the public of local farms and ranches indicates that potential for local agritourism and direct sales opportunities will increase when shelter-in-place restrictions are relaxed, offering needed options for small-scale farm and ranch diversification. Agritourism can provide farmers and ranchers with diversification options to help reduce risk, but diversifying with agritourism introduces new risks and challenges for producers that can be overcome with training, connections and resources.
The UC ANR team, working under the direction of UC SAREP Director Gail Feenstra and coordinated by UC SAREP Agritourism Coordinator Penny Leff, includes Laura Snell, County Director, UCCE Modoc County, Luis Espino, County Director, UCCE Butte County, Margaret Gullette Lloyd, Small Farms Advisor, UCCE Solano County, Karen Giovannini, UCCE Sonoma County Agruiculture Ombudsman and Laura Crothers, UC SAREP Communication Specialist. We will partner for this project with the Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF) and established producer based agriculture associations Modoc Harvest, Sonoma County Farm Trails, Sierra Oro Farm Trail (Butte Co.) and Pleasants Valley Agriculture Association (Solano Co.).
Training & technical assistance
In Winter 2020-21, with travel and group gathering restrictions still in place, we will enable rapid response to COVID-19 and changing marketing conditions by California's small-scale producers through a series of webinars for farmers and ranchers adopting and adapting new and modified direct marketing and agritourism activities. The series of one-hour webinars (which will be recorded andshared for future use) will be on the topics below:
#1 Online sales options and methods
#2 Getting started with CSAs and box delivery programs
#3 Operating a safe, healthy & successful farm stand
#4 Best practices for U-Pick operations
#5 Best practices for visitor interaction with animals
#6 Best practices for farm tours, workshops and farm-based education
#7 Creative marketing and staying connected with social media
#8 Community collaboration – farm trail groups, tourism connections and other options
In project year two, with the expectation that travel restrictions will be relaxed by Fall 2021, the project will build in-depth, hands-on learning and increased collaboration by farmers and ranchers through a series of four workshops/field days in each of four California regions severely impacted by COVID-19 restrictions. The workshops will be held in Modoc, Sonoma, Solano and Butte Counties. The half-day workshops/field days, held on the farms or ranches of experienced operators of the activities being discussed, will focus on the following topics:
#1 Expanding direct-to-consumer sales through online sales/on-farm pickup, CSAs, farm direct delivery and commercial or contracted shipping
#2 Developing and marketing successful community-serving farm stands and U-Pick Operations
#3 Planning and marketing farm dinners, tours, workshops and other on-farm educational activities for the local community
#4 Community collaboration, community events and shared marketing - examples and best practices for increased connections, producer support, successful marketing and shared operations
Marketing: Connecting farms and ranches to local communities for resilient local food systems
During the project, the experienced leaders of the four partnering agricultural associations will conduct marketing campaigns promoting direct sales and agritourism activities at local farms to local communities. The campaigns will be different in each region, but will include a mix of social media marketing, print, radio and paid media advertising, signs, postcards, fliers, and creative collaborative direct sales and agritourism events or activities.
Organizing: Regional networks for ongoing support of direct sales and agritourism
The agricultural marketing association leaders will also convene and facilitate quarterly meetings of regional “Direct Sales and Agritourism Networking Groups.” Each networking group will include the partnering organizations as well as regional farmers' market associations, tourism bureaus and local farm advocates, and will regularly discuss issues, provide peer support, and work together to strengthen local food security and connect farmers and ranchers with their communities through direct sales and agritourism.
We are excited to begin this project and look forward to working with California farmers, ranchers and their communities to strengthen skills and collaboration and increase revenue to small-scale producers.
Funding for this project was made possible by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service through grant #AM200100XXXXG177. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the USDA.