- Author: Penny Leff
“We really enjoy having people on our farm. We have started hosting tours, for fees, including 2 bus tours with more than 40 people. We also remodeled our 100 year old farm house, added a bathroom upstairs to make it ready for a farm stay. Our kids are very involved in these activities. Agritourism is definitely part of our farm plan now.”
Rancher Kathy Landini participated in a similar agritourism planning class in Orland two years ago, and reached different conclusions with her family about agritourism on their ranch:
“Although we are thinking of offering ranch stays, after a family conference we held off. We decided that family privacy and family time would be diminished if we had guests. The kids did not feel that they would be as comfortable coming home.”
Classes offered throughout California
Our goals – new skills and new networks
Because agritourism involves providing a memorable experience to visitors instead of (or in addition to) an agricultural product, agritourism operators must develop new and different relationships with their customers. Attracting and caring for guests usually also requires farmers and ranchers to learn new skills and to form new partnerships with each other and with risk management, hospitality and marketing professionals. Our goals for the classes were to increase understanding of the agritourism industry by participants, and to provide them with skills, resources and connections to plan, start and market their own agritourism businesses or to decide that agritourism was not right for their farm, ranch or family at this time.
Our process – interaction & local connections
The Agritourism Intensive classes used hands-on, interactive activities to guide participants in assessing their own farms or ranches for agritourism potential and starting their own business, risk management, and marketing plans.
Long term follow-up
After offering the classes for three years, we wanted to learn if we were meeting our goals. To learn whether the classes were useful to participants, we contacted the people who took the class two years ago in Fresno and Orland, and the people who completed the class in Sacramento a year ago. We asked if they had started or expanded agritourism activities since their class ended. We also asked whether they had stayed in touch with fellow class participants or presenters.
We heard back from 29 families, or 40 percent of those contacted. Of these, 22 were farmers or ranchers. (The others were tourism professionals, insurance agents, or other related people who work with agritourism operators). We learned that more than half of the responding farmers or ranchers had started or expanded agritourism activities since the class. We heard from a few who had used the class to decide not to pursue agritourism at this time. More than 80 percent of the people responding told us that they had worked with, collaborated with or consulted with at least one person who participated or presented in their class, since the class ended.
Here are some more excerpts from the responses to our inquiry:
Network is continuing
- I have pretty steady contact with some of the people from the class. People call a lot and ask questions about our trail-riding operation.
- The presenter from the Convention & Visitors Bureau has been a great resource to us, bringing some tour group leaders to us and referring other tour groups.
- I visited one of the class presenters and fellow participants to see and learn about his fishing pond operation.
- I purchased 2 mares for my summer camp from someone I met in the class
Many still moving forward…
- We are developing our lavender field and shop in preparation for opening to the public later this spring
- We got our roadside stand up. It's doing OK so far. We were investigating this possibility when we took the class
- Our blueberry U-Pick is still going. We were in the process of opening when I took the class. We have been open for a few years and would like to expand.
Some decided against agritourism…
- Concerns about liability squelched our initial plans to hold weddings on the site.
- Biosecurity has changed our plans for agritourism since we raise chickens.
Although our long term follow-up response was only a small sample, we were pleased to learn that the classes seemed helpful in growing agritourism enterprises and supportive networks. We learned that agritourism businesses can take time, sometimes several years, to grow, especially when farmers are busy farming. We also can say that local networks are important and durable resources for agritourism development.
View a presentation about the Agritourism Intensive classes and follow-up conversations given by UC Small Farm Program Agritourism Coordinator Penny Leff at the Women in Agriculture Educators National Conference, April 2014
- Author: Penny Leff
At a recent statewide summit, California agritourism leaders overwhelmingly agreed that a statewide organization would be a major step toward improving agritourism support in the California.
Statewide associations can develop and share resources and provide a unified voice for a growing agritourism industry. Many other states have developed statewide agritourism associations which help foster collaboration among county and state agencies, agritourism operators, local agritourism associations, tourism professionals and other supporters and partners.
Local organizations, local promotions, local regulations
California agritourism is primarily organized, regulated and promoted at the county or local level, resulting in a diversity of local organizational structures and branding efforts. The county-based regulatory system also leads to major differences in permitting, regulations and fee structures throughout the state.
Although some local agritourism associations are successful in drawing tourists to their regions and benefit their members by offering networking, training and marketing opportunities, many groups struggle with lack of organizational and marketing expertise and minimal financial or staff support. Many individual agritourism operators and potential operators in California are in regions with no supportive trade or marketing organization. Collaboration among local agritourism associations and county staff responsible for regulating or developing agritourism is weak, with wide disparities in regulations and agritourism support between different counties.
California's 58 counties bear the primary responsibility for permitting and regulating agritourism operations on agricultural land within their boundaries. The counties often struggle with creating allowances and ease of permitting for agritourism businesses, while ensuring that agritourism is a supplemental (rather than primary) activity on a commercial farm or ranch. Regulations also must ensure that agricultural production and local residents are not adversely affected by tourism.
Each county’s staff must research the general plans and zoning ordinances of other counties when updating their own, but there is no central clearinghouse for this information. Interpretations and enforcement of state-level environmental health and direct marketing regulations, which affect agritourism enterprises, also vary widely among the counties.
At least sixteen other states have organized statewide agritourism associations, most of these involving partnerships between state departments of agriculture or tourism, university extension and agritourism operators. At least 23 states have enacted statutes that address agritourism, varying from liability protections for agritourism operators to tax credits to zoning requirements. Many other states include agritourism promotion and resources for operators on state department of agriculture or tourism websites.
Views from the summit
At the statewide agritourism summit, organized by the UC Small Farm Program and UC Cooperative Extension Nov. 4 in Stockton, the approximately 120 participants talked together in regional breakout groups, including one group representing statewide interests. Six of the seven groups agreed that a statewide agritourism organization would be an important part of building better support for California agritourism.
- Facilitate the sharing of resources, ideas and best practices among regional and local agritourism organizations
- Create a resource clearinghouse of county policies, ordinances, regulations, fee structures, procedures, guides and general plan language related to agritourism; and foster more communication about these issues among county planners and stakeholders
- Participate in state-level discussions and planning committees about issues relating to agritourism and advocate for the interests of agritourism operators in statewide regulatory changes. Issues mentioned by summit participants as needing change included:
- Easing direct marketing laws to allow cooperative marketing or reselling of local produce with exemptions from strict food facility environmental health regulations
- Limited liability statutes for agritourism
- Easing environmental health requirements for small-scale non-potentially-hazardous food processing
- Cross-county standardization of interpretation and enforcement of state regulations
- Create partnerships with state agencies including the CDFA Division of Fairs and Expositions to promote agricultural education and use by farmers and ranchers of county and state fair facilities for mutual benefit
- Foster better connections between agritourism operators and county and state economic development departments
- Create educational materials and help educate city, county and state government staff, elected officials, chambers of commerce, convention and visitor bureaus, etc., about agritourism
- Organize a statewide agritourism promotion campaign/brand which supports regional branding campaigns
- Provide staff to coordinate all these activities and to maintain communications among all those involved in California agritourism
Potential obstacles and issues facing the formation of a statewide agritourism organization were also brought up in the group discussions:
- Defining and explaining organization’s benefits and value to potential members
- Recognizing and working with the limits to farmers’ time to participate
- Funding the organization while keeping membership affordable
- Recognize the need for state unity vs. the need for county regulatory autonomy
- Defining agritourism
- Deciding on and defining organization’s priorities
- Maintaining membership control of organization
The UC Small Farm Program, working with the UC ANR-based Agritourism and Nature Tourism Workgroup and other partners, is committed to helping coordinate further discussion among everyone involved in California agritourism about the next steps for building effective statewide support.
The summit organizers, in cooperation with representatives from interested state agencies and organizations, are preparing a white paper to explore the potential process for organizing a statewide agritourism association in California.
Formation of a statewide organization might begin with agreement on a sponsoring agency for a start-up group, would need start-up funding, and would involve wide discussion with potential membership about needs, issues and organizational structure.
Presentations, handouts, and small group reports from the summit are available on the UC Small Farm Program’s website. Summit participants also received contact information for participants who agreed to share their information, in order to better facilitate networking and communication.
Back to the newsletter: Find more Small Farm News articles from our Vol 1. 2012 edition.
- Author: Brenda Dawson
May 18 may be just another day, but it will be a busy one for the UC Small Farm Program.
That's because on May 18, the Small Farm Program will be in two places at once — hosting two educational meetings in two different locations in the state.
Before I go any further, here are the details in case you are interested in attending either one:
- Blackberry and blueberry field tour
9 a.m. – 3 p.m., Parlier
Visit grower fields and packinghouses, with discussions about field establishment, acidification, irrigation, harvest practices, postharvest handling practices and pruning. (The tour will be followed by a blueberry field day on May 19.)
- "Growing Agritourism" workshop
8:30 a.m. – 4:15 p.m., Salinas
Meet with other agritourism operators, tourism experts and government officials to discuss marketing and planning topics. (This is the fifth offering of this workshop, which has already been offered in four other California regions this year.)
(See other small farm-related events on the Small Farm Program calendar.)
At both events, participants will be sharing research, swapping experience and networking, networking, networking.
When it comes to production, small-scale farmers can differentiate themselves by growing niche specialty crops — like blueberries. In fact, UC Cooperative Extension farm advisors with the Small Farm Program (most notably Manuel Jimenez and Mark Gaskell) have been instrumental in introducing blueberries to California farmers as a niche crop. (Here's more information about growing blueberries.)
In marketing, small-scale farmers can often get a leg up on the competition by connecting directly with consumers — and agritourism is one way to do so. The Small Farm Program has been a leader in California agritourism for more than a decade, with a statewide directory of farms to visit (CalAgTour.org) and education about agritourism for farmers (currently managed by Penny Leff).
Juggling both production and marketing can be a challenge for any farmer — just like being in two places at once.