By Jackie Wasche | CCRCD Natural Resource Coordinator
Agritourism. Perhaps you’ve heard of the term, perhaps not. It has gained a lot of momentum in the last few years and is slowly becoming a whole new type of industry. But what is it exactly? The University of California Cooperative Extension defines agritourism as “a commercial enterprise at a working farm or ranch conducted for the enjoyment and education of visitors, and that generates supplemental income for the owner or operator.” With a definition like this it could include just about anything that brings the public onto the farm, right? Well, yes! Weddings, tours, hay rides, pumpkin patches, fruit stands, wine tastings, hunting, fishing–even Christmas tree farms, classes, and dude ranches (and much more) are all considered to be agritourism. These events all bring people out to the farm itself and provide a hands-on experience for people to learn about and enjoy agriculture, while still providing profit for the farmer.
This type of agricultural service has been growing in popularity in California for several years. Many counties are beginning to support and promote agritourism as a profitable and advantageous business that not only benefits the farmer, but the community as well. One of these benefits is that agritourism connects consumers with the freshest and best tasting products that come directly from the farm. It also exposes the public to local food production and teaches them how their food is produced. Additionally, by introducing the community to services and products through farm tourism it encourages them to learn about other producers and services that are within the community. It also gets people outside and experiencing nature, which instills a connection with their local flora and fauna that encourages environmental/agricultural awareness and appreciation. Finally, by having agritourism in a community it will draw a greater diversity of visitors to the local area, benefiting both the local economy and culture.
As for the farmer and the agricultural industry as a whole, farm tourism has many potential benefits. One of the most obvious benefits to farmers is a potential increase in profit through direct sales of their produce or other products. This is especially true for those producers that may not have a direct market aspect to their business, or those that may be struggling to sell one or more products through normal avenues. By adding a service component to the farm business, landowners can diversify their sources of profit, which not only increases total revenue but also ensures a more stable business model. This results in less farms and ranches going out of business and creates a sustainable enterprise that can withstand the ebb and flow of the market. However, potentially one of the most valuable benefits of agritourism to farmers and ranchers is the education of and connection with their consumers. By providing these hands-on experiences and giving the public a face to the farm, it encourages their support and may lead to less friction in the agriculture-urban interface. Additionally, tourism on farms allows the farmer to interact directly with their consumer, learning what they truly want and need from their products. This allows the farmer to adjust their marketing strategy in order to maximize the profitability of the farm.
While there are many potential benefits to agritourism, there is also much to consider. Farmers must be prepared to answer questions about their production process, while consumers must also be prepared to learn about the production process. Farmers must also make sure the farm is tour-friendly—is it safe? What products do you have to offer? When is the best time to plan an event? Is that the best time for the public? With all this in mind, agritourism is not meant for every enterprise. Offering an tourist event is something that should be well thought out and prepared for.
As for Colusa County, agritourism is already here and thriving. Many local producers are already offering fruit stands, pumpkin patches, wedding venues, hunting opportunities and much more. Successful farmers markets are located in the towns of Arbuckle and Colusa, indicating public support for local produce. Local organizations are even well into the planning stages of a Colusa County farm tour which will take customers to several designated farm stops throughout the county to experience their services and products.
If you or someone you know is interested in opening up their land to the public for agritourism events, or is interested in attending an event, please refer to the links below or contact the Colusa County Resource Conservation District at 530-458-2931.
-— Jackie Wasche is the Colusa County Resource Conservation District, Natural Resource Coordinator. She can be contacted at email@example.com. For more information about Colusa County Grown, visit colusacountygrown.org.