- 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: 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.
- Author: Penny Leff
Tony Azevedo's father moved the family from Watsonville, where he operated a small dairy, to Stevenson in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley in 1958. Azevedo rented 15 acres of land that had become alkaline through irrigation with no drainage for many years. He put in drainage, worked the land and put it into pasture. Starting with this land and adding 10 or 15 acres at a time, Azevedo developed the 400 acre Double T Ranch as the first organic dairy in the San Joaquin Valley.
Tony Azevedo, with his wife Carol and other family members, kept the organic dairy operating for many years until consolidation and competition in the industry forced them to get out of the dairy business. Fortunately, Tony and Carol had also been growing another passion on the Double T Ranch: The Double T Agriculture Museum and the History Train.
The Double T Agricultural Museum was built as a tribute to all the farm families of the past who have fed Americans. The exhibits reflect the life and times of family farmers and industry from the 1800s to the 1950s. From lovingly restored horse-drawn vehicles and carriages to a full-size restored steam locomotive, the collection is host to many vintage treasures. School-children enjoy visiting the old west town and learning the story of how trains transported California crops throughout the country and brought new life to small towns. Brides can enjoy a ride in an elegant historic horse-drawn carriage before their wedding ceremony at the Double T Ranch venue.
This year, with daughter Arlean Azevedo joining the team, The Double T is inviting the public to enjoy a train journey like no other. Here is how Arlean describes the latest adventure:
"Climb aboard our Historical Dinner Train for an evening of fine dining and a chance to see how the steam locomotive changed agricultural history in the San Joaquin Valley. Your evening will begin with a cocktail hour and a tour of one of California's premier Agricultural Museums. At the sound of the train whistle we'll begin boarding for the two hour virtual reality experience that includes a fifteen minute documentary while enjoying appetizers, followed by dinner. The History Train will leave you with a deep appreciation of what travel was like 100 years ago. Your evening will conclude with dessert and a walk through the “Baggage Car” filled with rail history memorabilia, antiques and collectibles."
Although the next History Train Dinner Tour on May 17, 2019 is sold out, seats are still available for the Saturday June 1, 2019 voyage. Prices are $70 per person and include all beverages, dinner and dessert. Advance reservations and payment are required.