Do you feel comfortable handling questions farmers pose about the many details of agritourism? Do you have a file cabinet of applicable hand outs and reliable resources to draw upon? If so, then you’re set. If not, take a moment to refresh your skills.
Ag Agents Jenny Carleo and Michelle Infante-Casella talk us through FAQs to address questions you are likely to have and point out information that you will need to have on hand to answer questions frequently asked by growers adding agritourism to their enterprise.
Q: Is agritourism something Ag agents should be familiar with? Is it just a fad or can it truly improve farm sustainability?
Carleo: Agritourism is a way to maintain our agricultural heritage, continue traditional agricultural practices, and directly increase on-farm revenues. It is our job as agricultural educators to provide information necessary to keep our farms viable and sustainable. They can’t be sustainable if they don’t reinvent their marketing tactics as the market demands. There is increasing consumer demand for direct retail sales of farm products. Additionally, consumers are becoming increasingly interested in where their food comes from, how it is produced, and of course, who their farmers are.
Infante-Casella: The “buy local” and “staycation” trends can be a prosperous opportunity to gather local dollars from customers looking for nearby entertainment destinations. Families with school-aged children are looking for alternatives for birthday parties, youth group activities, and day trip outings. Farm visits can make wonderful experiences for children and some farms cater to that clientele. Ag educators need to be familiar with agritourism in a detailed way – both in breadth and depth. The ability to guide those new to farming in terms of what’s feasible in New Jersey as well as advise those experienced farmers in terms of new regulations they will need to be aware of, is a must. For example, children on farms need special supervision and additional safety measures. Providing resources such as Agritourism Health and Safety Guidelines for Children, can help improve farm sustainability by decreasing risk profile.
Q: How can I learn more about training farmers for what they need to know about an agritourism operation in New Jersey? Are other states developing agritourism materials for their farmers such as Ag Management Practices (AMP) or guidelines that could be adapted for New Jersey use?
Carleo: There are initiatives all over the country and world focusing on agritourism. The NJAES Agritourism Team has been formed to serve as a resource, connecting you with Ag Educators who have a special interest and expertise in agritourism. Like Michelle has said, the breadth and depth of agritourism topics you need to know are substantial. Every municipality in New Jersey has different policy and regulations impacting agritourism enterprises. Research your local, state, and federal regulations. Explore resources other state Extensions have developed for their farming community, such as
Virginia Cooperative Extension, and LSU Ag Research & Extension. Network with colleges, farmers, and officials in New Jersey and other states to build upon successful strategies they have developed.
Infante-Casella: Unique to New Jersey is our population density and, on the “plus side,” the great potential to market farm visits. We know that citizens of New Jersey value having farms in their state as shown by voters passing legislation to support farmland preservation. Ag Educators and Tourism Professionals from every county need to be involved in the shaping of agritourism guidelines in our state to maximize farm viability in this unique situation. Getting involved in the discussion will help you develop tools to help guide your farmers.
Q: What do you say to farmers to help them consider the different kinds of agritourism that might be right for their farm, family, and locale?
How do you emphasize just how different agritourism (a hospitality business) is from what they are used to doing as growers?
Carleo: I recommend the first thing to ask farmers who are interested in getting into agritourism is how they feel about visitors. Do they hesitate to have people on their farm, close to their farm house? Or do they welcome the public interested in learning more about agriculture and the farming lifestyle? If the second statement is closer to how they respond then proceed – otherwise, direct them toward another path, explaining that the definition of agritourism is inviting the public to the farm. If they are amenable to having visitors, explain that the first thing they need to consider is how they can make the farm not just suitable to neighbors & visitors, but also welcoming and enjoyable. Bring up the topic of having adequate liability insurance up front. Go over the Rutgers NJAES fact sheet FS1131 “Is an Agritourism Venture Right for Your Farm,” with them.
Infante-Casella: Suggest that they start small to test the waters, making sure agritourism is right for them. Once they get a feel for what is required as a tourist destination and are comfortable with managing the new venture, then plan and execute an expansion.
Q: Why is it important that farmers know the kinds of agritourism opportunities their farm neighbors are providing? How might they network with their neighbors and community? How do you gently warn them that their non-farm neighbors might not be that happy about increased traffic on their road?
Carleo: Alert them that while it might be tempting to do what their neighbors are doing, it’s best to find their own niche and dovetail that with what farm neighbors are doing. It is imperative that they maintain or develop good neighbor relations. If the neighbors consider the farm as part of their “own,” they are much less likely to complain about issues and opt to go directly to the farm operator with their concerns. Good neighbor relations are essential to any farm operation, particularly one active in agritourism. Go over issues presented in
Communicating with Non-Farmer Neighbors and provide the New Jersey Farmer to Farmer Advice brochure.
Infante-Casella: Ask how the farmer will approach neighbor relations. Some farmers provide nearby neighbors with a flyer about activities and welcome them to come visit on a discount or free rate. Others host “Neighbors Day” where only the local community comes for a festival to encourage them to ask questions about the farm and show how the farm is an asset to the community. Central to agritourism is building relationships – without them there is no enterprise.
Q: Are there specific issues farm families need to be aware of in their community? What risk management issues will they need to consider?
Carleo: Make sure that your farm families contact the various local municipal department personnel that oversee activities and codes applicable to their farm, and that they carry appropriate insurance for the farm. When expanding into agritourism, tell your farmers, Continue to do those things that keep you informed about farming issues:
- talk to your farm neighbors about how they are doing things;
- be a member of Farm Bureau – at each meeting issues that affect farming are presented;
- approach knowledgeable County Board of Ag members with your ideas;
- be aware of issues the NJ Department of Ag is working on.
Contact those departments in your municipality that will impact new activities such as the health department if you plan to make baked goods, the fire commissioner if you plan to have a corn maze, or, if you plan to involve animals in your agritourism operation, contact the USDA Certifier for Animal Welfare.
Being an active member of the agricultural community is an important way to learn what affects your business and avoid big problems down the line.
Infante-Casella: If possible, point out some of the municipal regulations that will affect their change in business and ask them to investigate this further since they are ultimately responsible for compliance. For example, most farms will need to consider the safety of ingress/egress for access onto the farm. Can the farm handle large crowds with parking and facilities needs.
We can’t emphasize enough the importance of communication with the farming community and support entities. To gain Right-to-Farm protections before complaints arise, obtain a site specific Ag Management Practices for the farm through the County Agricultural Development Board. Then follow up with a contact to the farm’s insurance company to see if they offer insurance for agritourism and what the requirements are if they do.
Q: What information can you gather that will help them with a business plan that encompasses risk management, hospitality training, & marketing? What specific topics are on the agenda for next week when they return?
Carleo: As an Ag Educator or Tourism Professional, it’s a good idea to collect both hard copy and web materials so they can be accessed quickly. This Agritourism website can serve as a “go to” resource for information covering a wide range of associated topics from whether agritourism is a right fit for a farmer, to risk management, to marketing, to pointers on training employees in the hospitality business. If you have resources you find helpful that are not currently in our Resources section, send them along to the NJAES Agritourism Team. Agritourism is an exciting development in agriculture and worth spending the time to become well versed.
Infante-Casella: Remember to stress first and foremost safety issues on the farm. The customer experience, which includes atmosphere and hospitality, is the next consideration of high priority. Once you and your farm family have covered these important issues, consider having the Rutgers NJAES Agritourism Team visit the farm. Having a “fresh” set of eyes look at the enterprise can further identify and address possible inherent risks. One final thought: Encourage your farm family to get involved with the crafting of NJ Ag Management Practices for Agritourism. Recommendations coming from those who must implement and live with Ag Management Practices are likely to be much more practical than “rules” forced upon farmers by those who do not farm.