Nov 14, 2019
Is agritourism right for your farm market?

Recently a few colleagues and I just led a two-day bus tour for retail farm market owners and managers visiting seven markets in Virginia. Most of the markets we visited are less than 10 years old. They not only had a market, but most had other functions as well such as event space, a corn maze, pumpkin patch and other family activities.

One key reason these markets have popped up is due to the loss of their wholesale markets.

Consolidation of businesses and shrinking infrastructure meant finding new ways to sell produce and new ways of keeping the farm viable.

These farms and others I have visited don’t have much background experience in agritourism. As one person said to me, you “learn as you go and hope at the end of the day you made a buck.”

So, if you are considering trying a new venture on your farm, I thought I would share some lessons learned that these folks graciously shared with us:

Have lots of seating, especially if you are serving food.

Rides or certain kinds of entertainment might be regulated, so check. As with an amusement park, certain rides may need to be inspected for safety.

Staffing for festival events can be a challenge. Staffing means you are hiring and training quickly for help that will only be with you for a few months and might not have ever had a job before.

Try to design entertainment that requires little or no staff oversight. (Duck races, straw bale maze, corn pit.)

Contract out entertainment. One farm I visited would contract with a company that would do panning for gemstones. For a flat fee, they would set up and staff the activity. Another would have a local alpaca farm come in with a few animals that people could pet and purchase alpaca products.

Have appropriate facilities. Do you have a diaper changing area? One farm realized they needed this when they saw a mother changing her baby’s diaper on a picnic table.

Look for ways to extend the season to lessen the weather risk of a short fall season.

Offer a “season pass” to entice families to attend more than once.

What’s the potential for school groups to come to the farm during the slow days?

Set up areas to take selfies. We have a whole generation of folks who like to have unique experiences and post pictures of themselves doing that activity on their social media.

Some other creative activities other farms have tried: A vineyard holds a “Help Harvest” day when the grapes are ready to pick. They also hold an annual “Run in the Vineyard”, and music with tasting events. A Christmas tree farm works with a local Newfoundland dog club that comes out on weekends and has the dogs pull the trees out of the field when they are cut. This got them on the Today Show.

Some vineyards, sunflower farms and Christmas tree farms get flooded with calls from professional photographers. Make sure you have photo policy for photographers who wish to bring clients to your farm. There is a tendency for people to treat your farm like a public park and think they can show up and do as they like, not realizing that this is someone’s home.

Finally, create an atmosphere of enjoyment so people will stay longer. The longer they stay, the more they purchase.

— Brian Moyer, VGN columnist; Photo: Brian Moyer

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