Agritourism rural businesses are gaining ground: Here are 2 ways  countryside citizens are making them succeed

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 tips 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, agritourism means rural citizens, oftentimes farmers, invite their own community and/or 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 tip -- 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, but also not… no one). Plus, if the group already knows each other, they’re more likely to be a more well-behaved audience for your first event.

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

  • Preschools
  • Elementary schools
  • Homeschool groups (some have more formal group attachments)
  • Boy and Girl Scouts of America
  • Church members
  • Garden clubs
  • Senior centers
  • A local Slow Food Convivium. Slow Food is an international movement with national, state and local chapters. Members often love to tour farms. Each country has an online site that lists groups by location.
  • Audubon Society
  • Society of Retired Citizens
  • Veterans associations
  • Other civic and ethnic organizations

How to approach the group

If 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 tip -- Make your hobbies and passions part of your agritourism businesses

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 children.

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.

One dairy farmer loved being a dairy farmer, but also had a secret ambition to be a chef. He learned how to make artisan cheese and eventually taught cheese-making classes on the dairy farm as an agritourism sideline business. It fulfilled his inner chef while it also brought added revenue to the farm, and helped promote all other aspects of the farm via word-of-mouth generated by the students.

In other words, choose what you really enjoy. If you love working with kids -- include them in an agritourism venture. 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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