Whether your rural business involves making money on a farm or involves a whole community eager to make money in a small town, a growing trend for both situations is agritourism. Farmers are finding prosperous financial return, and rural communities are being restored.
This article focuses on two methods to help agritourism succeed on one's own farm or rural property
Though sometimes tourists come from far and wide, even when just the local citizens are invited, this type of business means rural citizens, oftentimes farmers, invite community and out-of-area tourists to their farms or communities for various group activities like farm tours, sheering demonstrations, cheese-making workshops or choosing pumpkins from the field.
First method -- follow these tips on how to break in gently and gracefully:
Sure, someday you may host 5000 annual visitors at $10 a head to
enjoy your sheep ranch, orchard or heirloom vegetable farm. But tending
people and holding group activities is different than tending lettuce,
apples and sheep. The key to success is building up “crowd savvy” and
confidence by starting small.
Choose a small group that’s already a unit (a garden club, a scout
troupe) to experience whatever agritourism venture you have planned.
That way, you can count on a certain number showing up (not hoards, and not… no one). Plus, if the group already knows each other, they’re more likely to be a first well-behaved audience.
This works whether
agritourism rural businesses mean earning income directly by charging
for the event, or earning income indirectly just by attracting people to
the farm for free in hopes they’ll buy retail items sold on the farm.
For example, one woman with a very successful rural business and a passion for gardening invites people out to tour her pretty gardens for free, then they buy the garden starts and garden gifts sold from her greenhouse and barn.
Possible local groups to choose from
How to approach the group
you’re inviting them out for free, it’s a little easier. Contact the
leader and let them know this is an exclusive group activity just
for them. If they are interested, agree on a date, and have the leader confirm beforehand that enough people in the group
will show up.
If charging for the event, consider a fee you hope to charge in the future, then try to attract your group by offering a discount just this once, letting them know they are the first to get to try this rural event out, and they get a discount over future events. Have the teacher or group leader collect fees for you and turn them in the day before the event if possible to assure the group will pay and show up. As time goes on, you’ll gain more experience and confidence in collecting fees yourself from the general public.
Or, if it feels awkward to invite a group while asking them to pay you, consider using them just for practice and not charging, letting them know this will be a fee-based activity in the future, and they can just donate if they are able.
But don’t undersell yourself or set a precedent that you host group activities for free if that's not your ultimate plan. It’s often best to try to find a group you can charge from the beginning.
Second method -- Make rural businesses reflect your passions
When I interviewed farmers for the title,
The New Agritourism: Hosting Community and Tourists on Your Farm,
I noticed how much the rural folks loved what they were doing. Some
hosted five-star chefs on their farms and taught them how to use fresh
herbs. Others gave horse carriage rides or farm tours to school
Some indulged in their other hobbies such as quilting, bird watching or creative writing to turn the farm into a rental location for groups who shared that interest to hold meetings and be inspired by the surroundings.
In other words, if you love working with kids -- include them. If not, don't apologize, and instead target your agritourism rural businesses to adults.
(Always be sure you're following your area's regulations for holding events, and that safety and liability measures and insurance are adequate.)
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