On-Farm Sales and Tourism
On-Farm Sales & Agritourism
|Marlene Groves and husband, David, provide tours of their 2,000-acre Kiowa, Colo., buffalo ranch to promote a better understanding of agriculture, ecology and nutrition. – Photo courtesy Buffalo Groves|
Just like people enjoy watching milk bottling through the Burkharts’ observation window (see introduction), they seek opportunities to shop at farm stands and interact with farmers right where they live. In response, farmers are becoming more attuned to ways they might maximize their offerings. Some pick-your-own operations, for example, have expanded into wedding facilities, farm camps and gourmet specialty stores.
Earnie and Martha Bohner, who started with a pick-your-own operation with no buildings, electricity or running water in 1983, created a Missouri Ozarks destination that now attracts carload after carload of customers, especially in June, July and August, when nearby summer camps are in session.
They began with a long-term plan for Persimmon Hill Berry Farm based on family goals and values. Within 10 years of purchasing 80 acres, they were cultivating 3 acres of blueberries, 1 acre of blackberries, 2,000 hardwood logs for shiitake mushrooms and 120 apple trees. In addition to the products, they provide amenities: clean restrooms, a picnic table and shade trees – and tidy field edges.
We create a place where people can enjoy themselves,” Earnie Bohner says. “People don’t come all the way out here to get cheap food. They come because it’s fun and the berries are absolutely fresh. As much as we can, we give them contact with ‘the farmers.’ The more we can do that, the more people go away with that memory.”
An Indiana grower’s use of integrated pest management and shrewd marketing attracted a bevy of new customers to his crop farm. In 1992, Brian Churchill began using integrated pest management on some of Countryside Farm’s 100 acres of sweet corn, melons, tomatoes and other produce. In 1994, with a SARE producer grant, Churchill began scouting for pests, withholding routine spraying and building better habitat for beneficial insects. He cut insecticide costs drastically, then decided to use that as a marketing hook.
First, Churchill attracted the attention of local chefs with an “expo”. He also opened a thriving roadside stand, where the corn is the big seller.
“We drive the point home about using less chemicals all the time,” he said. “I have been growing sweet corn now for 16 years and the customers keep coming back and bringing friends with them. It’s been great.”
Once he perfected his system, he expanded into watermelons, pumpkins and squash and began inviting school children to visit to learn more about farming, judicious agri-chemical use and pollination. In 2005, 1,500 students visited the farm. “Our farm has grown a lot since the grant,” he says.
In the Pacific Northwest, Larry Thompson grows 43 fruit and vegetable crops on 140 acres in Boring, Ore. Once he decided to convert his parents’ farm from wholesale produce and flung open the farm gate to the suburban Portland community, his neighbors began coming and haven’t stopped.
Many call Thompson a pro at “relationship” marketing, forming bonds with customers who see a value in local produce raised with few chemicals. Each year, thousands of students – as well as other farmers and researchers – visit his farm to learn about his holistic pest management strategies and view his bounty of colorful crops.