- 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.
- Author: Penny A. Leff
Celebrate World Environment Day by joining ACDI/VOCA and Agritourism Experts David Visher & Penny Leff on Friday, June 5, at 11:00 am EST (8:00 am PST/19:00 GMT+4) for the live webinar “What Is Rural Tourism? Opportunities for Development.”*
As the COVID-19 crisis impacts traditional tourism and constrains travelers' ability to gather in large groups, we see small group rural tourism as the best way safely forward. Our discussants will examine rural tourism, how it can equip communities to prosper economically, and how host communities can prepare to leverage this promising change.
David Visher is a seasoned Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer, completing 17 assignments in 12 countries, among other accomplishments in academia and with NGOs.
Penny Leff is the statewide Agritourism Coordinator with the University of California Cooperative Extension.
Thelonious Trimmell, ACDI/VOCA Senior Agribusiness Advisor and former Chief of Party, will moderate the event.
*Access this live event on Microsoft Teams through the following link: https://tinyurl.com/ybpwwxsx
- Author: Penny Leff
Hello California farmers and ranchers. Are you considering inviting visitors to your land for extra income, public education and community connections? Or are you already an agritourism operator interested in networking with others involved in California agritourism? If so, we invite you to join us at one of the upcoming events where UC SAREP Agritourism Coordinator Penny Leff will be speaking about agritourism development that benefits growers and communities.
Sustainable Food and Farming Conference, February 7 to 9 at Nevada Union High School in Grass Valley, organized by Sierra Harvest. Penny will be joining Debbie Bierwagen, long-time agritourism operator of the Donner Trail Fruit Farm Market & Pumpkin Patch, in leading a workshop, "Adding to your income stream with agritourism," from 1:00 to 2:15 p.m. on Sunday February 9th.
Tuolumne County Agritourism Summit, Thursday, February 20 in Jamestown, organized by Visit Tuolumne County, This event, organized to leverage Tuolumne County's agricultural resources, will be held at the Hurst Ranch, giving attendees a chance to tour and hear firsthand from experienced and successful agritourism operator Leslie Hurst. Penny will lead a discussion about assessing the agritourism potential of your farm or ranch. Local farmers and ranchers are invited to sign up online or call (209) 533-4420. Cost is $20 per person, which includes lunch.
California Small Farm Conference, February 27 - 29 in Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County, organized by the Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF). Join Penny and founding members of the newly organized San Luis Obispo Farm Trail for a workshop on "Building a Farm Trail," from 2:15 to 3:30 p.m. on Friday, February 28.
We hope to meet you at one or more of these exciting California educational and networking events.
The University of California Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (UC SAREP), a statewide program of UC ANR, hosts an agritourism program dedicated to sharing resources and connections for the California agritourism community. We manage a directory and event calendar (www.calagtour.org) providing information to the public about opportunities to visit and enjoy California farms and ranches. Listings on calagtour.org are free to California farmers and ranchers offering any kind of on-farm or on-ranch direct sales or experiences, including tours, farm stands, tasting rooms, pumpkin patches, U-Pick, farm dinners, guest ranches, farm stays, classes, weddings, or other adventures. UC SAREP also produces a regular newsletter for the California agritourism community and hosts a website full of resources for those involved in the California agritourism industry, https://ucanr.edu/sites/agritourism/.
- Author: Penny Leff
From winery tasting rooms to pumpkin patches, apple picking and goat yoga, California farmers and ranchers are leaders and innovators in agritourism, utilizing tradition and creativity as they invite the public to visit and experience rural life. They mange farm stands, host on-farm dinners, offer school field trips, public tours, festivals, classes, on-farm lodging and guest ranches, outdoor recreation and multiple other experiences to diversify income and connect with their own communities and visitors from far away.
All Calilfornia agritourism operators are are invited and encouraged to take part in a national survey about agritourism and direct sales.
The survey is at: tinyurl.com/agritourismsurvey
The UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (UC SAREP), a statewide program of UC ANR, is collaborating with the University of Vermont and others to gauge the scope and impact of the industry nationwide. Farmers and ranchers throughout the country are being asked to participate in the short survey for a study led by the University of Vermont. The data will be used by cooperative extension and research personnel to develop resources to help increase the success of small and medium-sized farms and ranches that offer on-farm direct sales, education, hospitality, recreation, entertainment and other types of agritourism.
The survey, which will take about 10-15 minutes to complete, is available online at tinyurl.com/agritourismsurvey. All responses will be kept confidential, and participants may opt out of answering survey questions at any time.
Leaders of California's many farm trails and agritourism associations are encouraged to share the link to this survey with their members to ensure that California is well represented in this important national study.
In addition to demographic and farm information, the survey will collect data on direct sales and agritourism experiences offered, visitor numbers and goals, successes, challenges and future plans for agritourism. Farmers also will be able to provide input on the types of support needed to achieve success with agritourism including on-farm direct sales.
This multi-state survey and research project is being coordinated by Extension Professor Lisa Chase and Associate Professor David Conner, both with the University of Vermont, and funded through a Critical Agriculture Research and Extension grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Collaborators include research and cooperative extension faculty in California, Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon and West Virginia.
- Author: Laura Snell, UC ANR Modoc County Director and Airbnb Modoc Rural Retreat
Airbnb experiences are a relatively new program to Airbnb guests. People from around the world are offering tours, classes, shows and more to people wanting to “experience” new things on their travels. In California, hosts are offering horseback riding, cooking lessons, farm tours, and art lessons to name a few. Hosts get their own page on Airbnb and set their calendar to offer experiences. Airbnb handles payment processing, customer service, and up to $1 million insurance. There are a few things like rock climbing and scuba diving that the insurance doesn't cover so make sure you read the fine print.
A host can choose to participate in the traditional Airbnb program hosting overnight guests, trying out the new experiences program, or both on their small farm or ranch. When starting either program, I suggest that you aim for clean, comfy, and simple. Advertise what you can reasonably accommodate and guests can always ask you questions and you can always offer more if the opportunity arises. I find that guests like to be pleasantly surprised rather than disappointed. I have a full time job off the ranch so I offer a clean, comfortable private bedroom and bathroom and have snacks, bottled water, coffee and tea available for guests. I have a collection of hiking maps, restaurant menus, area maps, and local suggestions that guests can look through when they arrive. The space is self-sufficient in case guests arrive when I am at work, so they can immediately make themselves at home.
Over the last couple of years I have raised chickens and quail, raised a steer, cut firewood, and entered into a rangeland restoration project involving cutting down juniper for essential oils. I grow a good sized garden and have canned, dried, and frozen a lot of local produce. Airbnb guests have had the opportunity to ask questions, see new things, and even participate in the regular activities at my homestead. Airbnb guests have helped to bucket feed my 1000 pound steer, weed the garden, and even split firewood just for the experience. When I am able to offer these experiences to guests, I receive really favorably reviews and have often been a “super host” which is a rating based on number of guests and favorable reviews.
One of the reasons my Airbnb has been so successful is that I am one of the only places in my area that allows pets. I have a dog myself and I have found that more and more people traveling these days are looking to travel with their pets. Not only allowing pets but providing dog dishes, pet treats, and dog friendly hikes nearby has also given me an edge. I also try to make accommodations for kids and small families traveling. Although my space is not very large, it is comfortable for a couple traveling with a small child or two. This flexibility targets some of the fastest growing traveling populations. I encourage you to find your hosting niche - do you offer an amazing view, can guests pick fresh fruits and veggies from your garden, or do you offer a rural escape from the city?
I set my price about the average of room rates in Modoc County, $60 per night. The room was full roughly six months out of the year last year, which was plenty of business for me. If I wanted to work harder I probably could have, but Airbnb generated a net income of about $6000 in 2018. In more populated areas where lodging rates and guest interest is higher, I would predict larger income generation. Make sure to check and see if local lodging taxes apply in your area; Airbnb can help you find this out. In Modoc County there are no additional taxes.
Although Airbnb makes it easy, I still had some adjusting to do in sharing my house with complete strangers. The way my house is set up, there is a private entrance into a mudroom that leads to a private bathroom and bedroom for guests. Even though this is a private area of the house, it is still attached to the main house and the kitchen and living room are shared spaces. For my peace of mind and safety I do not use the automatic booking option on Airbnb. Automatic booking was not an option when I started and I feel more comfortable renting to people who are willing to write a short note or story about who they are and why they are visiting. I have denied requests for staying if someone writes a one word message or uses poor language. Using this system, I have had very few guests over the past four years that I would not invite back and I have never had a situation where I felt unsafe.
One of the things I get asked about really often is liability insurance and policy coverage through Airbnb. Although I have never had to file a claim (and hope I never have to) Airbnb has a pretty robust insurance policy of a million dollars for hosts. I choose to add extra insurance costing $12/month on my home owners' policy and feel comfortable with the coverage. There is also a million dollar policy on Airbnb experiences that covers almost everything you might want to do with guests. Even if you never thought of taking people into your home, Airbnb experiences might be a great way to offer tours of your property, take people on a favorite hike or teach them a new trade or craft.
Airbnb has provided many benefits for my homestead over the past four years from making new friends, educating the public and generating income. If you have ever thought about becoming a host for overnight guests or the new experiences program, I suggest you give it a try. Finding your hosting niche and telling your story will help you get more guests while also bringing interest to your property and community.