Farmers Tap Into Consumer Curiosity About Food

Maureen Ballatori is the Founder + CEO of 29 Design Studio Branding & Marketing, an agency specializing in food, beverage and agriculture.

There’s a classic farming joke that goes like this: Did you hear about the magic tractor? The magic tractor turned into a field of crops. For many Americans, particularly those living in urban environments, how food makes it into their homes, supermarkets and restaurants seems almost like magic. When that “magic” broke down during Covid amid food supply chain issues, consumers became even more curious about where food comes from and how to obtain locally sourced products.

One byproduct of this curiosity has been the growth of agritourism—where a farm, ranch or other agricultural business attracts visitors as a way of entertaining and educating consumers and generating additional income for the enterprise. According to Allied Market Research, the agritourism market was valued at $42 million in 2019 and is estimated to reach nearly $63 million by 2027, meaning a CAGR of 13.4% from 2021 to 2027.

Agritourism takes many forms—from seasonal activities like pumpkin-picking patches, hayrides and corn mazes to year-round dude ranches, demonstration farms and wineries. All are designed to increase farm income while combining key elements of the tourism and agriculture industries, engaging the public to visit agricultural operations and providing fun learning experiences for visitors.

Beyond its benefits to tourists and producers, agritourism also helps communities by increasing local tax bases, providing employment opportunities and preserving farmland to help rural communities maintain their unique character. Examples of areas that have significantly profited from agritourism include Asheville, North Carolina; The Finger Lakes, New York; Fresno County, California; and Willamette Valley, Oregon.

Diverse Agritourism Destinations

Big brands like Ben & Jerry’s use agritourism as a way of thanking their loyal customers and gaining new fans of their product. One of the most popular tourist destinations in Vermont, Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Factory Tour, showcases its main factory in Waterbury, Vermont. People can tour the small ice cream museum, get a cone at the scoop shop, see how their ice cream is made and even visit the “graveyard” of abandoned flavors. A true destination place, the grounds have an almost festival-like atmosphere with a promenade filled with Adirondack chairs and picnic tables.

Showcasing specialty crops is one way agritourism succeeds. For example, lavender lovers can visit Purple Haze Lavender Farms in Sequim, Washington, from May to September to see the beautiful fields, learn how to make herbal vinegar and even have a wedding. The farm hosts virtual farm tours and is an active participant in the town’s July Lavender Festival.

Polyface is a working family farm located in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley and is focused on environmentally friendly, nonindustrial farming practices. The farm has a strong educational component and welcomes hundreds of visitors weekly for self-guided and guided tours. One of their main attractions is monthly “lunatic tours,” where the farm owners hitch up hay wagons for 100 visitors and talk passionately about their techniques and philosophy. Polyface also actively promotes like-minded local accommodations, restaurants and attractions in the area.

One of our clients, Brewery Ardennes, a Belgian-inspired craft brewery and kitchen in Geneva, New York, nestled in the heart of the Finger Lakes, welcomes visitors to experience traditional beer making and farm-to-table dining on a historic farm. They are an integral part of the tourism ecosystem, sourcing locally and recommending other establishments to their guests.

A Recipe for Success

These successful examples of agritourism share strategies that are helpful to farms, ranches or other agricultural businesses that are looking to increase revenue by welcoming visitors. They have all created attractive travel destinations based on farm products and services, hospitality and the experiences provided. Like any business, a razor-sharp focus on marketing is required to attract and retain tourists and turn them into brand advocates.

Here are 10 ingredients that make for successful agritourism.

• Show passion for what you do, whether it is making ice cream and beer or raising specialty crops and using innovative farming techniques.

• Share a behind-the-scenes look at how your products are made.

• Educate consumers about the importance of what you do and the relevance to their lives.

• Make it fun with a variety of activities for individuals and families.

• Make it as inclusive as possible to allow for different ages and physical and mental disabilities.

• Make products and merchandise available for purchase at various price points.

• Consider how people will find you and make sure you have adequate signage.

• Have a strong marketing plan in place with branding that is consistent throughout the experience—from signage to merchandise and product levels. Often, it is useful to engage outside marketing experts.

• Make sure your staff is trained in customer service and is educated about the experience you are providing.

• Collaborate with other tourist destinations in your area to cross-sell and recommend.

In addition to online resources for individual states, there are several useful national organizations that can help with agritourism planning and implementation. Check out the Agricultural Resource Marketing Center, The National Agricultural Law Center and the National Agricultural Library.

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