- (Focus Area) Economic Development
- 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
Nevada County Grown board member Sammie Bass is coordinating the event. Today, a few days before the big weekend, she shared a little bit about the process and challenges of organizing something never done before in Nevada County.
Organizing participating farms and ranches: Sammie started planning the July event in April and May, so, understandably, communication with potential participating farmers was a major challenge. It was difficult to get clear answers from farmers about what tours, product sales and activities each would be offering to visitors, and to make sure that each participating farm was appropriately safe and prepared. Sammie visited each of the farms and worked with the owners to plan parking and safe access. Would room for ten cars be enough? Is the turn into the driveway from a busy road safe enough? She had no way to know.
Permits needed? Nevada County recently adopted new zoning ordinances that clarified that agritourism activities including tours, farm dinners and U-Pick are allowed by right on agricultural zoned lots over five acres. To make sure that all interested farms and ranches qualified under this zoning, Sammie shared her list of fifteen potential participants with the county agricultural commissioner. The Commissioner rejected several on the list as being less than five acres or zoned rural residential rather than agricultural, so not eligible to host visitors on their land without an expensive conditional use permit. However, as a work-around, these few farms are allowed to have farm stands and to sell their products during the event, but not host tours or other activities.
Day-of ticket sales? The Passport Weekend ticket (actually a wristband) is priced at $20 for advance sales and $25 on the day of the event. It was tough to organize enough volunteers to staff check-in and ticket sales tables at each of the twelve participating venues. Therefore, four visitor check-in hubs will be set up at four of the venues. If visitors show up at the other locations without wristbands, the participating farmers and ranchers will include them in tours and activities and instruct them to check in and pay at one of the four check-in hubs for their next stop.
Food? Lunch stop? Since this is the first-ever Nevada County Farm Trail Weekend, and since most of the farms and ranches are not set up to cater food for guests, Sammie investigated inviting a food truck to feed the guests. However, she could not promise more than 150 - 200 visitors total, which is not enough to pay for a food truck's time, labor and travel costs. Instead, the Nevada county Food Bank, one of the stops on the trail, will put on a barbecue, offering lunch for a donation (on Saturday at least) and giving tours of the Food Bank Garden. Farm Trail visitors may want to bring along a picnic this time.
Promotion: Good Day Sacramento came out and took videos, as did CBS13, helping to promote the event. In addition, local newspaper, The Union, interviewed organizers and wrote an article showcasing participating farms and ranches to local readers.
Sponsors? Maybe next year.
Sammie Bass and other Nevada County Grown organizers are expecting about 150 to 200 visitors for the first annual Nevada County Farm Trail Weekend. This will definitely be an adventure. If you see Sammie on the trail, be sure to say hello and thank her for her hard work. Learn more: nevadacountygrown.org/
- Author: Penny Leff
California agritourism operators report regularly that navigating the permitting and regulatory process is a major challenge for farmers trying to invite the public onto their land for festivals, tours, dinners, classes, lodging or other activities. Some help is now available, at no cost, in some places.
Five Northern California counties offer non-enforcement person-to-person consultation to farmers and ranchers exploring the regulations and permitting requirements for agritourism, food processing or other farm-related activities. If your farm or ranch is located in Marin, Sonoma, San Mateo, Yolo or Solano Counties, you can call your Agricultural Ombudsman or Farmbudsman to discuss your ideas and plans.
County Agricultural Ombudsmen help farmers and ranchers understand what rules and regulations will apply to an individual diversification idea or plan, and will help them to navigate the various permits and departmental approvals that might be required. The ombudsman will make the process approachable and accessible, and will explore options and alternatives with the person planning an expansion or a new activity on his or her farm or ranch, including giving the farmer or rancher a sense of where "red flags" might be in the process. Importantly, these services are confidential. Marin County Agricultural Ombudsman Vince Trotter explained the job this way, "We try to bring the conversation to "How can we make this work?" We don't expedite the process ourselves, but we do try to bring the rancher together with the regulator."
Examples of Agricultural Ombudsmen's help include:
- Helping a rancher understand the state registration process required for a new pond.
- Helping a poultry farmer understand the state, federal and local regulations they needed to confirm to for on-farm commercial slaughtering.
- Helping a pumpkin patch operator know when a permit is required for a farm dinner.
- Explaining the size limits for starting a small winery under an administrative permit.
- Helping a brewery and winery design their expansion to avoid buffer issues
- Researching an existing use permit to clarify that a vineyard operator with short-term lodging was allowed to hold one-day open house events without an additional health department food permit.
In addition to their consultation work with individual farmers and ranchers, most of the agricultural ombudsmen organize useful information online - guides, factsheets and links to common permit applications. See the end of this story for contact information and websites links.
Contact your local Agricultural Ombudsman:
Vince Trotter, Agricultural Ombudsman
Sarah Hawkins, Farmbudsman
Stephanie Cormier, Farmbudsman