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How to Implement Agri-Tourism on your Farm

Agritourism: Agritourism is a form of commercial enterprise that links agricultural production and/or processing with tourism to attract visitors onto a farm, ranch, or other agricultural business for the purposes of entertaining or educating the visitors while generating income for the farm, ranch, or business owner.

Have you ever wondered if your operation has what it takes to incorporate agritourism? Perhaps you wrestle with the question of “Who would actually want to come experience our ranch/farm/garden (insert your specialty here)?” Well, a quick internet search shows that less than 15% of Americans live in a rural area.

I am here to tell you that people now, more than ever, are hungry for what you have to offer. Farm animals, row crop operation, orchards, vineyards, small- or large-scale gardening, whatever it is, people are curious and want to be invited to participate.

I am not an agritourism specialist (yet), but I am one of the few people I know that participate in agritourism, so I am going to give you a glimpse into our operation and give you my two cents worth of knowledge to help spark your interest in opening your own agritourism destination.

When we started raising bison, we didn’t have a vison of anything large scale. We knew we wanted to raise bison because we think they are pretty special animals. We also knew we wanted to sell bison meat. We decided a little retail store consisting of a single freezer and some unique products would be sufficient.

Since bison is the National Mammal, they are celebrated on the first Saturday of November every year. We decided to open the ranch for that day in 2020 (I know what you are thinking… 2020! Weren’t we on lockdown? Well… not in Iowa)! To our surprise, so many people were just waiting for the invitation to come see our herd.

We then decided to add a small 588 sq ft cabin to our ranch that we rent out on AirBnB, VRBO and directly book. We have heard people say, “Who want to stay in the middle of nowhere?” and “Why do they think because they have bison people will want to stay on their farm?” I internally struggled with the same thoughts. Now I can say that we have had people from all over the world stay at our cabin. And here is the ONE thing that people love most about our cabin, the ONE thing that has them craving just one more night… the LOCATION. Not some fancy destination, but rural America where they can have campfires and stargaze. Where the sound of silence is as loud as the sound of birds chirping in the morning. Where you can see miles and miles. The fact that we have bison on property is a close second place.

We quicky saw how many people loved just visiting our land. Watching from a distance as we hay our animals or harvest our crop ground. Or bottle feed an orphaned bison calf. We saw the spark of imagination in the eyes of the 4th graders who took a hay rack ride out across our prairie. We saw environmentalists light up knowing we have planted native grasses and rotationally graze our bison herd. We have invited groups from nursing homes and adult daycares to take part in what we are doing.

Now we have tours that we scheduled months in advance. We have added covered wagons for lodging and even built a bathroom for visitors in our retail store.

All this to say that if you build it and invite people they will come. Do you have animals of any kind? Do you have a little bit of land with a small garden of any kind? Do you have corn or soybeans that need planted or harvested? Do you have beehives? A fire pit? This list and the possibilities are endless.

A winery can CHARGE people for harvesting and crusting their grapes instead of PAYING someone a labor wage to do it and have the reservations fully booked. This alone proves the point that people want what you have to offer, and they are willing to pay for it.

Agritourism is alive and thriving. Think about what you have. Most likely it is something we take for granted (like the wide-open spaces of rural Iowa).

*This is not legal advice, and no promise of income has been made. This is for entertainment purposes only. Consult your federal and local laws, insurance agent and/or your attorney before making any business decisions.

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