Leaves are falling, combines are rolling and pumpkin patches, corn mazes and orchards are attracting urban and rural visitors for some farm fun. An increasing number of farms are opting to add an agritourism component to their operation. One of the reasons a farm may choose to diversify with agritourism is the opportunity to bring another family member into the farming business without adding more cows or more acreage.

Devaney kimmi
Editor and Podcast Host / Progressive Dairy

There is no one-size-fits-all model or approach with agritourism. Activities can include corn mazes, pumpkin patches, orchards, Christmas tree farms, U-pick operations, farm markets, farm tours and much more. Any activity that brings the general public to the farm for agriculture-related activities can generally be considered agritourism. I’m sure there are some exceptions to this rule. For example, a bouncy house in the middle of a corn field with no other activities and no educational component is not what we are talking about.

Finding common ground is a strategy for telling your story and it also applies to agritourism. Find activities that your target audience enjoys that you can offer on the farm. Add an educational component and a dash of entertainment and you have a winning recipe for success. Of course, there is much more to it than selecting activities, ensuring they are educational and fun, and making them happen. It is important to remember that while agritourism can be fun, it is also a business and should be treated as such. There are many considerations for a farm considering this new venture, a few of which are detailed below.

1. Vision – If this new agritourism destination could be anything, what would it be? How will it look? What activities will you offer? How will it make visitors feel when they leave? These are all important questions to consider when developing your vision. A good place to start is by determining the purpose. Why do you want to do agritourism? What impact do you want to make and on which demographic? Consider what makes your venture and your farm unique, and play to your strengths.

2. Long-term goals – It is necessary to have a long-term plan. Where should the business be in three to five years? How about 10 to 15 years? Will it expand over time? Add or change activities? Not everything has to be set in stone, and time can change your long-term goals. Therefore, flexibility is a key ingredient here.


3. Target audience – Target audience depends on the purpose and may range from school children to community organizations, or it may include the entire community and anyone who wants to enjoy the activities offered. Knowing your goals and long-term outcomes can help determine the target audience that is the best fit.

4. Business plan – An agritourism destination is a business and needs a business plan. Many states have a state agency focused on economic development and entrepreneurship that may have resources to assist in the development of a business plan. Also consider the human resources involved. Do you need to hire others not currently employed by the farm? Full time or part time? Seasonal? What training will they need?

A business plan will help with several components of the overall plan, including figuring out how to finance it. If applying for a bank loan, they will likely request projections and balance sheets, and may also ask for a copy of your business plan. Cash flowing the new venture also requires a good understanding of annual costs and overhead. An accountant may be able to help. Additionally, it is wise to consult an attorney about setting up the business to protect the remainder of the farming business from liability.

5. Develop a network – Each operation is different, and what works for someone else may not work for you. Visiting with other agritourism operators is a great way to learn more about the topic. Join the state association if there is one and attend any conferences. These are great for learning more about the business side, activities and meeting others involved in similar activities.

6. Make it memorable – Developing a memorable and unique destination takes a team, and that team may include your local tourism organization. Here in Indiana, they are called CVBs (Convention & Visitor Bureaus). They know the local landscape and can help you play to your strengths with your marketing efforts and create an experience that resonates with visitors, and they can also assist with resources.

7. Marketing – Marketing and promotion can be the fun part of creating a new business (fun compared to zoning and permitting, at least). Creating a logo and branding strategy can make the business more identifiable, and most graphic designers can create logos. Branding will create a consistent look across all social media channels, websites and other marketing materials. Increasing awareness among the target audience is another aspect of the overall marketing strategy. This may include social media or more traditional marketing, such as community newsletters, websites, newspaper ads, billboards and radio spots. Local tourism organizations can assist with developing a marketing strategy and promoting your destination.

8. Liability insurance – Liability insurance is another important consideration. If someone were to get hurt, you want to make sure you are covered. Every insurance company offers different policies, so it is worth the time to talk to your current agent and potentially others to find the best deal. The agent may move the agritourism policy from the general farm policy to a commercial one, and you may need different policies for various activities based on risk. Ask questions and make sure you are on the same page. After the agritourism venture is operating, check in regularly to ensure nothing has changed from their end. The last thing you want is a call two weeks before opening day saying they changed their rules and you no longer qualify.

9. Land use and zoning – Land use and zoning regulations within a county may come into play depending on what the community deems as agricultural activities on agriculturally zoned land. You may need a special use permit, a variance or another type of exception. Or, you may not need anything at all. That’s the frustration with all of this – every county operates differently. Whether it involves working with the county health department on permits and requirements or potentially rezoning your land, whatever worked for someone in the next county over may not work for you. Long story short – get to know the area planning commission staff, and they can usually answer your questions or point you in the right direction. If your county has a building department, they may also need to be involved. Some counties outline zoning or agritourism and agribusiness in their ordinances, but others may not be aware there is agritourism within their area. Hancock County, Indiana, is an example of a county with an agritourism and agribusiness ordinance.

10. Food service – Serving food offers another revenue stream. It also results in more permits from the county health department. Develop a menu and consider how many people the farm can accommodate at one time. Can the cooks keep up if it is at capacity with the menu you created, or do you need something simpler? This is a great topic to discuss with your network of agritourism operators to learn what worked well for them and what to avoid.  end mark

Kimmi Devaney is the agricultural marketing and industry development manager with the Indiana State Department of Agriculture. She also writes an agricultural blog.

PHOTO: Photo provided by Thinkstock.