Yesterday, I attended the all-day Agritourism workshop that was part of the West Virginia Small Farm Conference, put on by the state extension service. The rest of the conference starts today and goes through the weekend–and wouldn’t it be nice to attend all that?! But alas, I can’t afford the time away from the farm and home or the cost of the whole conference, so I went there and back in one day for the separate Agritourism session.
Agritourism is “a commercial enterprise at a working farm, ranch, or agricultural plant conducted for the enjoyment of visitors that generates supplemental income for the owner.” It encompasses many things, from fee hunting and/or fishing to pick-your-own orchards, camping, corn mazes, and just about anything you can do on a farm. Specifically in relation to my goals, it includes on-farm cooking classes and farm stays, along with other events I’m interested in providing here.
One of my main goals in attending the session was to get ideas and resources for promoting my farm because, after all, if people don’t know about what I’m offering, how will they show up? I was very pleased that one of the presentations was by WV Tourism Commissioner Betty Carver, who explained what they do in their office and how someone like little ol’ me can, for example, get a brochure in every Welcome Center in the state.
She also talked about working with your local Convention and Visitors Bureaus, and we were given really exciting (really!) mailing lists of travel organizations looking for tourism opportunities for their customers, and also a CD with another mailing list of people to contact with information about our agritourism. Another speaker, Charles Bockway, from the Cultural Heritage Tourism project also talked about getting involved in tourism itineraries. Everybody was also given a neat book called Fresh Grown Promotions filled with ideas and strategies for promoting your agritourism events.
So–yay! That was a total score and worth the trip just to get that one thing I was looking for–ideas and resources to “sell” my agritourism. And if you’re reading this and interested in this same kind of thing, start by contacting your local/state tourism offices and your local/state extension agency. (People have started emailing me asking me for advice about getting started in agritourism. Yikes! I’m barely starting myself. This is the best advice I can give you because it’s different wherever you are and for whatever you’re doing–start by finding the local/state resources in your area. Who knows, there might be an agritourism workshop coming up near you! I wouldn’t have known about this one if I hadn’t gone to my county extension agent, sat down with her to explain what I was trying to do, and she whipped out a brochure for this workshop and said, “You should go to this.”)
Note: The Fresh Grown Promotions book isn’t easy to find, but I found the author’s website here where you can also find other materials about building an agritourism business on your farm. I also found the book used (for less) on Amazon here, if you’re interested.
My other goal for the day was to get ideas about things I could do on my farm that I haven’t thought of yet and to hear other people’s experiences. This was also a score. One of the speakers was Hugh McPherson, who created an entire Maze Fun Park at his Pennsylvania farm, and even franchises his “Maize Quest” corn maze business for other farms. Talk about turning a farm into an empire! He was an awesome speaker, too, by the way. Very entertaining. He gave several talks about making goals for your farm, managing people, and advertising strategies. Other speakers included: this really super cute young couple (Josh and Rachelle Hedrick) from Smokehole, where they offer fee fishing and log cabin rentals at Seneca Rocks, WV; Donna Alt from Brookdale Farm in Fort Ashby, WV, where they do a corn maze, pumpkin patch, playground, birthday parties, and all kinds of other things (I can’t find a website for them and it wasn’t on her business card either, so they need to fix that!); Mike Perry from Heritage Farm Museum and Village; Dean Hardman from the Farmstead at Jackson’s Mill, which is actually operated by the WVU extension service not an individual, but–they offer a lot of activities that anyone could also offer on their farm like gardening, candlemaking, soapmaking, etc, and he gave an interesting talk about how he has worked to get schools and children involved; and Melissa Stewart, who works with the state extension service, and gave a really fun presentation about the Junior Master Gardeners program.
She had everyone participate in some hands-on kids activities from the Junior Master Gardening program, which was fun.
By the way, this is Merino Mama (on the left) that some of you may know from the Chickens in the Road forum. She was making a “suck-a-bug” small insect collector.
I got to meet her at the Agritourism workshop. She owns Tawney Farm, conveniently located in the Gauley River Gorge, where they offer primitive camping and a live music venue on their farm.
The lady on the left in the photo with Merino Mama is wearing one of the garden “sombreros” that is a Junior Master Gardener project for kids to teach them about making wearable art that comes from a plant. (The newspaper, from a tree, and then in real life in a real garden they could decorate them with flowers, leaves, etc.) People looked like this when they were making them:
Anyway, I was very interested in the information about children’s gardening programs as I would like to make a “teaching garden” here. Recently, I inhaled Mel Bartholomew’s All New Square Foot Gardening (which I think has some differences from the original book) and am planning my garden.
She had another very simple project that works perfectly with square foot gardening and is a way to teach kids in a very visual way about plant spacing by letting them space and glue seeds on paper towels (which can then go into the garden).
There were about 25 attendees at this workshop, all of them doing all sorts of different things, from fee hunting to pick-your-own farms and petting zoos to even an orchard and small distillery. There are so many ways to start a business with your farm! For everyone I listened to and spoke to, the one thing that was the same within all the different ways they utilize their farms was the desire to stay on the farm. It’s difficult to make a living in traditional farming. Pretty much, you have to be a major operation. The world is all about mass farming now. But smaller family farms can do things those mass farms can’t do–bring people into the atmosphere of a family farm, teach them old-fashioned skills, give them personal attention and one-on-one experiences in a vanishing lifestyle–and at the same time, save that lifestyle from vanishment. Agritourism truly is the salvation of the family farm today for those who are determined to hang onto their land, think outside the box of traditional farming, and open the doors to bring people in to learn, share, and experience.
I came home feeling really excited about the possibilities on my farm, filled with new ideas and resources to make it successful. I walked in the door and Morgan said, “There’s some puppy poop in the kitchen.”
Man. Is it too late to go back to Morgantown for the rest of the conference?