July 7, 2011
Many small farms can’t support themselves without obtaining income from another job off the farm. To try and counter-act this, many farms around the country are turning to non-traditional ways of using their land to raise money. It’s known as agritourism, and farmers are finding many unique and creative ways to use their land for more than just crops.
Agritourism is when farmers open up their farms to the public, and guests can pay to enjoy a variety of provided activities. The available activities vary from farm to farm, but farmers get creative and people are starting to see these as destinations altogether. A day at the farm might include picking fresh peaches off the tree, petting animals, navigating through a corn maze, riding horses, learning to make your own jams, or even hunting. The income from guests can often be a big help to farmers. In some cases the income is enough to cover the entire cost of animal feed, one of the largest expenses for some farms.
Some farmers go beyond just providing daily activities for guests and provide multi-day experiences, turning their farms into bed-and-breakfast type lodges. Guests spend a few days on the farm, doing typical farm work and learning what it would be like to live on a farm full time. The guests are often from a nearby city, curious about where their food comes from and what a somewhat opposite life would be like. A farm’s owners will either run the entire operation or hire people to do it for them. In addition to teaching how a farm works, they cook the guest’s meals and provide amenities you would expect from a standard bed-and-breakfast.
Agritourism has been on the rise over the past several years. In 2007, approximately 23,000 farms took part in agritourism, with each one bringing in around $24,300. Compared to 2002, when agritourism brought in $7,200 per farm, this is a huge increase. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) projects that farm work will only account for 13% of the average farm income this year.
With agritourism growing so fast, one wonders if it will continue to grow and continue having a customer base. If every farm offered activities for guests, something would have to differentiate them to keep people interested. Many offer the same activities, just with slight variations. To continue providing family fun for years to come, farms need to continue innovating and finding creative new ways to use their land. What kind of fun would you like to have on a farm?