- Author: Rachael Callahan
This June, I had the opportunity to participate in a two-week USAID (United States Agency for International Development) Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer assignment in the Philippines. The program is a way for U.S. agricultural experts to share their knowledge by training farmers in developing and transitional countries.
In my role as a volunteer consultant, I was tasked with helping a community-based farmer organization, Ashon Sa Hirap, Inc. (ASHI), develop an agritourism strategy in two provinces, Laguna and Rizal, directly east of Manila on the island of Luzon.
The farmers that ASHI works with in these regions are small-scale, limited-resource, diversified vegetable farmers. The crops ranged from spring onions and bell peppers sold via a cooperative model to institutional markets, to pineapple, coconut, ube, long beans, bitter gourds, amongst others, for local markets. These farmers are extremely vulnerable to the risks of farming that have been exacerbated by climate change, including price instability, unpredictable growing seasons, and environmental disasters, such as increasingly powerful typhoons. ASHI sees agritourism as a strategy to mitigate risk by diversifying and increasing revenue for its members.
The conversations that I had with the farmers – once the ice was broken and regardless of the language barrier – told me so much about the challenges they face, their perspectives, culture, and beyond.
Farmers are adaptive and resourceful, so it did not surprise me that when asked what they thought about participating in agritourism, the farmers, in so many words, said “Sure, I think it's a good idea.” What did stick out to me, however, was how the farmers wanted to approach agritourism.
The majority of the farmers had no interest in developing their own agritourism business for their individual farm; instead, they wanted to create a collaborative agritourism experience with other farmers in their community. The farmers were quick to identify who has the land with the best view (for camping), who would be a good teacher (for educational activities), who is the best cook (farm-to-table meals), and so on.
Collaboration and partnerships are key to agritourism. We see this throughout California agritourism, with our farm and wine trails, and countless producer-to-producer partnerships, such as Apple Hill Growers Association, Fresno County Fruit Trail, and Sonoma County Farm Trail, to name a few. Discussing regional collaboration and shared marketing is a part of every agritourism training that I do. But what the Filipino farmers were suggesting was beyond shared marketing – they were proposing a truly communal business model.
It goes without saying that these conversations shaped the direction of the resources that I developed with ASHI, but they also helped shift the way I think about my agritourism extension efforts in California.
Could a communal approach to agritourism be appropriate for some small-scale California farmers? Would this increase the ability of a more diverse population of farmers to develop agritourism, use agritourism as a risk management strategy, and ultimately increase their resiliency and viability? Who am I not inviting to the table when the agritourism resources that I use are designed for individual businesses?
These are questions that I hope to explore further, in collaboration with UC ANR colleagues, trusted community-based organization partners, and farmers that don't see themselves fitting into the current model of agritourism.
While I was honored to share my knowledge and co-develop an agritourism strategy and resources that were tailored to the farmers in Laguna and Rizal, I found the experience much more of a reciprocal exchange. Not only was the experience personally enriching, I was introduced to an agritourism model that has the potential to increase accessibility of agritourism adoption by California's small-scale farmers.
- 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: 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/.