To most of the country, fall means harvest, bonfires, apple cider, and pumpkin everything. On the farm, it’s also an opportunity to make some extra cash.
Agritourism is as popular as ever, annually peaking in many places from September to November. If you want to get in on the action and open up your farm to the public for a few weeks or month, but don’t know where to start, look no further. Here are the five important things to know before jumping into agritourism.
Accident-proof your farm
Your priority should be safety. Letting the public into your farm presents a laundry list of safety risks that are easily avoidable, if you take the right precautions. Rob Leeds, owner of Leeds Farm in Delaware, Ohio, says to make sure all of your hitch pins are strong, the sides of your haywagon are tall enough, the shields for equipment are in place, and your structures are secure. Farms are never 100 percent safe, but if you think about a someone with no agricultural background coming to your farm, there are significantly more ways they can get hurt compared with someone who knows the risks well.
Make sure you love what you do
In agritourism, you have to be prepared to put in the hours. Even though farmers don’t usually have a problem with that, it is worth being said. Setting up agritourism opportunities takes extra time, and during harvest, that can be difficult to come by. Loving what you do and wanting to share that with the public should be the true motivation for opening your gates.
Find your network of professionals
Local zoning officials, police departments, fire departments, a banker, an insurance agent, and an attorney are the people you need to be in contact with. By being completely transparent and upfront with your group of people , you will drastically reduce your risk of liability. Clearly lay out everything you plan to offer to the public, all the way down to how many people you will allow on the hayride at a time. When the liability of your farm is at stake, and the safety of your guests vital, no detail is too small. Justin Greene of Wapakoneta, Ohio, is a State Farm insurance representative who encourages increasing your liability coverage. Increased traffic through your farm from visitors who likely don’t understand the risks associated with agricultural work significantly raises the risk of injury. In the event of an issue, having your team well-informed about your operation will make the process easier.
Have the logistics figured out
Where will all of these people park? Can you give up that much space? Who will take care of your facility? Will your pumpkin patch be ready to pick from when you open? These are all factors that play a huge role in the success of an agritourism venture. If you have customers, that’s great! But they won’t stick around if they can’t park, see trash everywhere, and your pumpkins are green. The USDA has resources in local communities for all kinds of agricultural endeavors. You can find their website here.
Be ready to represent all of agriculture
No one person can represent an entire industry. However, in the context of agritourism, you may be the only link someone has to a farm setting. You become “farming” to them, whether you want to shoulder that responsibility or not. Take time to clean the pens and equipment, put away all of the castration tools, and make sure you know at least the basics about different kinds of farming. People coming into your farm probably can’t tell if you are organic vs. conventional, till vs. no-till, beef vs. dairy; it is your job to answer their questions to the best of your ability on topics you may not agree with or engage in . If you can’t speak to it, give them the contact information for someone who can.
There you have it: Five things to know before getting into agritourism! Opening your farm to people can be a great money-maker for you, and it can contribute to a general knowledge and understanding of agriculture. By engaging with the public and answering their questions, you are personifying a lifestyle. All people really want is healthy, sustainable food that is safe to eat. Agritourism allows people to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth.
Jessy Woodworth is a senior at The Ohio State University studying agricultural communication and animal sciences.