Agritourism is a fast-growing diversification strategy for small and mid-size farms in California, but most agricultural professionals are unfamiliar with the possibilities and challenges of agritourism development. To help develop supportive networks, we organized five regional workshops, with 355 total participants, featuring presentations by agritourism operators, marketing professionals, agricultural advisors and county planning staff. We facilitated brainstorming and networking among agritourism industry partners from multiple counties in each region. All workshop participants received regular newsletters and social media communication. Evaluations and follow-up surveys show increased knowledge, new enterprise development, new regional and statewide collaborations and changes to county zoning ordinances.
- Increased knowledge by 300 regional professionals of agritourism operation activities, development, marketing and challenges
Increased awareness by 300 regional professionals of regional agritourism organization development and best practices for organizational sustainability
Introduction to other regional professionals interested in agritourism development.
Ability by 100 workshop participants to participate in organizing introductory workshops for farmers and ranchers considering agritourism
Ability by 100 workshop participants to participate in regional agritourism organization development
Increased communication and networking among at least 20 workshop participants within each region for the purpose of agritourism development.
The establishment of 2 to 7 new agritourism operations in each region within 12 months.
Profitable participation in public sustainable agriculture education programs by 2 to 7 new agritourism operators in each region within 12 months.
The development of at least 2 new sustainable regional agritourism organizations nurtured or facilitated by workshop participants throughout California within 2 years.
A statewide coalition of agritourism professionals, operators, promoters, supporters, regulators and advisors.
- Encourage easing of permitting and regulatory barriers to new agritourism operations
Encourage business planning, risk management, hospitality skill development and effective marketing by farmers and ranchers diversifying with agritourism.
Due to consolidation throughout the supply chain, falling wholesale prices in the face of increased costs and lack of economies of scale, small and mid-scale farmers and ranchers increasingly need to turn to direct marketing and alternative enterprises to sustain their food and fiber producing operations. In California, the cancellation of state funding for Williamson Act contracts (that provided significant reductions in property taxes) in 2009 added urgency to the situation. Agritourism, defined as a commercial enterprise at a working farm, ranch or agricultural plant conducted for the enjoyment or education of visitors and that generates supplemental income for the owner, is a fast-growing diversification strategy for small and mid-size farms, according to USDA census data.
Most California families have no connection to farms or ranches and have little knowledge about sustainable agriculture. Demand by the public for local food and direct contact with farmers and ranchers is growing, and has been further stimulated by USDA’s recent “Know your farmer, Know your food” campaign. Agritourism operators can take advantage of this growing trend; however successful agritourism ventures require partnerships and different skills s than production agriculture, and entail new business planning and risk management strategies, challenges for which many producers have limited experience. This project provided training tools for professionals to teach these new skills to the producers who need them, and helped develop regional networks of operators and professionals to organize and promote agritourism.
California enjoys multiple county-wide and smaller community agritourism organizations, developed by various combinations of agritourism operators, tourism professionals, agricultural professionals and community development organizations. However, most agricultural professionals in the state have been unfamiliar with the possibilities and challenges of agritourism development. In addition, communication and collaboration among community-level and county-based agritourism organizations throughout the state has been rare. This project provided five regional workshops to increase the capacity of agricultural and associated professionals to assist, train and facilitate farmers and ranchers in developing and operating profitable agritourism businesses and sustainable regional agritourism organizations and to promote regional communication and collaboration.
California is a large state with 58 counties, making statewide travel costly. Although agritourism organizations or clusters promote themselves in about 20 different counties, no regional or statewide agritourism networks exist yetfor sharing of resources and mutual benefit. By organizing regional workshops involving participants form several neighboring counties, this project developed regional networks of agritourism operators and professionals within reasonable travel distance of each other. Through the use of newsletters, social media and other communication channels, we developed a statewide communication network for all Californians involved in agritourism.
California producers with agritourism operations were closely involved in determining the need for and the content of this project. A 2009 survey of California agritourism operators, conducted by the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Small Farm Program and UC Cooperative Extension (UCCE), showed that most agritourism operators considered their operations profitable. The survey also showed that most agritourism operators do not have business plans and that major challenges to agritourism operations are permits, regulations and risk management. The survey results guided the planning for this agritourism development project, showing the need for agritourism business development tools and training to assist operators in overcoming their challenges.
Education & Outreach Initiatives
The project coordinator facilitated the organization of workshop planning teams in each of the five regions hosting workshops, involving UC Cooperative Extension Farm Advisors, tourism professionals, agritourism operators and other agricultural professionals in customizing each workshop timing, location, agenda and outreach to best serve the region’s agritourism development. We had originally planned to organize six regional workshops, but due to time and staff limitations were only able to organize five. However, the total number of participants at the five workshops was larger than anticipated.
The major activity of this project was the organization and presentation of five all-day workshops (one in each of five regions of the state) for agritourism operators and agricultural, tourism and related professionals interested in agritourism.
- The workshops covered the essential elements of assisting farmers and ranchers to establish, develop and market profitable agritourism businesses and sustainable regional agritourism organizations, using Agritourism and Nature Tourism in California and additional resources as curriculum materials.
Workshop presentations included:
Introduction to the possibilities for agritourism businesses
Introduction to tourists; who visits the region and what are they looking for?
Helping producers evaluate their resources and select appropriate businesses to try
Providing introduction to business planning and resources for agritourism business planning
Teaching risk management for agritourism
Permitting and regulations issues for agritourism
Marketing in the 21st Century for agritourism (effective websites, email marketing, mapping and social media)
Planning an introductory agritourism tourism workshop for producers
Strategies and best practices for regional agritourism organization development, sustainability and group marketing plans.
Workshop presenters were peers of the participants, with extensive experience in agritourism: UCCE farm advisors, USDA NRCS staff, agritourism operators, regional agritourism association leaders, tourism professionals, small business development trainers, and county planning and environmental health staff from multiple counties.
An hour of each workshop was set aside for small group (6 to 10 members each) discussion of individual experiences and plans related to agritourism, with experienced facilitators for each group. The groups brought peers from several counties together as the groups were organized by interest; planning and regulating, educating and advising, starting a new agritourism business, collaborative marketing, etc. This helped build regional professional networks.
Regional networking and skill-sharing were strengthened by four three-hour follow-up meetings with interested workshop participants 3 to 4 months after the workshop – one meeting in each of four workshop regions. The follow-up meetings gave the participants a chance to share experiences and discuss issues they are dealing with in working with current and potential agritourism operators and to tour an agritourism operation. Because these follow-up meetings were held in late spring and summer when producers were busy with farm duties, participation was limited in each case to the more immediate neighbors of the host farms. These smaller groupings allowed further interaction and local network development, as well as further professional development from presentations by risk management and community development professionals.
The UC ANR Small Farm Program publishes an email newsletter and hosts a listserv for agritourism operators and professionals for discussion and sharing about California agritourism. All workshop participants were signed up for the newsletter and encouraged to use the listserv. Participants also encouraged other farmers and ranchers involved in or considering agritourism to also sign up for both. The newsletter is well-read. The listserv does not get used very much. We established a Facebook page as an additional communication tool, and use of this page is growing.
The UC ANR Small Farm Program hosts an online statewide directory of agritourism operations and regional agritourism organizations at http://www.calagtour.org. Workshop participants were encouraged to share this resource with farmers and ranchers.
Project staff were available for individual consultation with workshop participants during the duration of the project.
The project coordinator conducted the project evaluation by attempting to contact each of the individual workshop participants by telephone and email from 8 to 12 months after they had attended one of the five regional workshops. She asked a series of questions to measure changes in various aspects of each participant’s involvement with agritourism, and then compiled the responses using SPSS data analysis software (see “Impacts Summary”).
- April 2011 Newsletter
- May 2011 Newsletter
- July 2011 Newsletter
- September 2011 Newsletter
- January 2012 Newsletter
- Workshop Evaluation Form
- Pre-workshop suggested reading list
- July 2010 Newsletter
- November 2010 Newsletter
- Follow-up evaluation survey
Outreach and Publications
- Poster presentation summarizing early results of project – presented at the UC Division or Agriculture and Natural Resources Strategic Initiative Conference October 2011
Email newsletters – see “Methods” section above
Handouts and presentations from the workshops are available online at: http://sfp.ucdavis.edu/events/11agritourism/
Handouts and presentations from the Statewide Agritourism Summit are available online at: http://sfp.ucdavis.edu/events/11agtoursummit/
Guides for agritourism development (in progress):
Working with your county to change agritourism permitting and regulations
Forming an effective and successful local or county agritourism association
Research article by project team leaders published in California Agriculture Journal, April 2011: “California agritourism operations and their economic potential are growing”
The second edition of “Agritourism and Nature Tourism in California”, by project team senior associates Ellie Rilla and Holly George, was published in 2011 by UC ANR Publications. This 150 page manual is written to help farmers and ranchers determine their tourism potential and walk through the steps of establishing an agritourism enterprise. The book includes easy-to-use worksheets and activities, including creating business and marketing plans. The book can be purchased from the University of California ANR Catalog: http://anrcatalog.ucdavis.edu/SmallFarms/3484.aspx
Presentation made by project coordinator Penny Leff at the Siskiyou Food Summit, July 2012
We held workshops in five different regions of the state, involving 355 participants.
The five regions were:
1.San Joaquin Valley and Foothills: Mariposa, Madera, Merced, Stanislaus, Fresno, Tuolumne, Tulare
Workshop held January 19, 2011 at the UCCE Merced County facility, Merced, CA
2. Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta: Yolo, Sacramento, San Joaquin, Contra Costa, Solano Counties
Workshop held February 2, 2011 at the Veterans Memorial Building, Rio Vista, CA
3.North Coast: Humboldt, Mendocino, Lake, Napa, Sonoma, Marin Counties
Workshop held February 16, 2011 at the Ukiah Valley Conference Center, Ukiah, CA
4.Northern Valley & Mountains: Butte, Tehama, Glenn, Colusa, Shasta, Trinity Counties
Workshop held February 23, 2011 at the Tehama County UCCE Wetter Hall in Red Bluff, CA
5.Central Coast: San Luis Obispo, Monterey, San Benito, Santa Cruz, San Mateo, Santa Clara Counties
Workshop held May 18, 2011 at the UCCE Monterey County facility, Salinas, CA
The 355 participants identified themselves as being in these categories:
69 Agritourism operators
106 Farmers or ranchers considering agritourism
49 Tourism professionals
65 Government staff or elected officials
68 Community or agricultural organization representatives
29 Economic development or community development professionals
47 Farm advisors or other agricultural professionals
(some participants indicated multiple affiliations)
completed by participants at each workshop measured these reported mean changes pre-workshop to post-workshop, on a scale of 1 to 5, where 1=no or very little knowledge and 5 = extremely knowledgeable:
Knowledge of agritourism…
…range of possible activities from 2.8 to 4.2
…business planning needs & resources from 2.3 to 3.9
…regulatory challenges & issues from 2.2 to 3.8
…risk management challenges from 2.0 to 3.4
…marketing opportunities from 2.5 to 4.2
…association challenges & issues from 2.2 to 3.9
The means of participants’ workshop ratings on a scale of 1 to 4 (1=poor, 4=excellent) were these:
workshops overall 3.7
operator panel 3.6
marketing panel 3.5
planner panel 3.4
websites & social media 3.5
small group discussions 3.4
- The workshops were held in the winter months when producers had time to attend. The exception to this was the Central Coast workshop, which had to be postponed due to scheduling conflicts and over-commitment by project staff – This workshop was the most poorly attended by farmers and ranchers of the five workshops.
The project team worked closely with a local planning team in each region, including local farmers & ranchers, selecting local successful agritourism operators and tourism professionals as speakers and promoting the workshops through local trusted collaborators.
Including county planners from several counties at each workshop allowed participants to understand the different approaches taken by the different counties in planning for and regulating agritourism, and gave the planners a chance to compare notes with each other about their process, zoning codes, and interpretation of state laws. Since the workshops, several counties’ planners have expressed intention to revise their zoning ordinances to be more encouraging to potential agritourism operators
The small group discussions were set up by topic, allowing participants to choose the group that most interested them. Each group reported back on their discussion to the larger group. The notes from these reports were sent to all workshop participants after the meeting as a summary of the discussions.
All workshop participants were asked if they were willing to share their contact information with the other participants at that workshop. Most agreed to this, and contact lists were sent to all participants after the workshop so that participants could communicate with each other directly.
Following the regional workshops, with assistance from a Western SARE PDP program grant for California, we organized a statewide agritourism summit which was attended by more than 120 agritourism leaders from throughout California. Many of the attendees were participants from the regional professional development workshops held earlier in the year. At the statewide summit, regional breakout groups met to discuss priorities for strengthening agritourism support in their regions. The consensus of 6 of the 7 regional groups was that a statewide organization of some kind would be useful for improved communication, collaboration, influence on legislation beneficial to the industry, and for sharing of resources and skills.
We contacted 318 workshop participants by phone and email within 8 to 12 months after they attended one of the five regional workshops to ask them about changes in their involvement in agritourism.
- 142 responded, for a response rate of 45 percent, with response rates for the individual workshops varying from 33 percent (Central Coast) to 58 percent (North Coast).
Of the respondents, about half (72) indicated that they were farmers or ranchers, while 70 indicated that they were not farmers or ranchers.
To learn about increased communication and networking among workshop participants, we asked, “How many people who you met at the workshop have you worked with, collaborated with or consulted with.” The most popular response in each region was “1 or 2” (55 participants or 39 percent of respondents). An additional 48 participants (34 percent of respondents) reported working with, collaborating with or consulting with 3 or more people who they met at the workshop, since the time of the workshop.
70 percent of respondents were aware of more agritourism operations in their county than before the workshop.
11 respondents (15 percent of producers responding) had invited visitors onto their farm or ranch for the first time for agritourism activities since the workshop, 16 respondents (22 percent of producers responding) had participated for the first time since the workshop in a regional open farm day, farm trails tour or other collaborative agritourism activity, and 38 respondents (53 percent of producers responding) had begun planning a new agritourism enterprise, activity or event or first-time participation in a regional group event. Many producer respondents responded that they had expanded their existing agritourism businesses or considered charging fees or otherwise making these activities more profitable.
The non-producer respondents rated their level of confidence in their own ability to provide useful guidance to agritourism operators or regional agritourism organizations on a scale from 1 to 5, with 1 equaling the lowest level and 5 equaling very confident. The mean of responses from non-producers to this question was 3.5.
87 percent of non-producer respondents (62 ) reported that they had helped promote agritourism operations or activities in their communities since the workshop.
30 percent of all respondents (41) reported participating in organizing educational activities for farmers or ranchers about agritourism since the workshop.
39 percent of all respondents (56) reported participating in a local or regional agritourism association since the workshop, and 9 percent (13) have been involved with starting new agritourism associations in their communities.
25 percent of all respondents (35) have been involved with planning or changing agritourism zoning ordinances, permitting regulations or administrative procedures since the workshop.
San Joaquin Valley & Foothills Region – The two-year-old Merced County agritourism association, Country Ventures, formed with assistance from the UC CE Merced County farm advisor, has created a farm trails map, but is still struggling with strict county permitting regulations. In Tuolumne County, the Farms of Tuolumne County agritourism group president reports that her group and others are working with the County Agricultural Commissioner to make the County General Plan more agritourism friendly. The Tuolumne County Visitors Bureau representative also resolved to work more closely with Farms of Tuolumne in promoting their farms to visitors. The Mariposa County Agricultural Commissioner said, “I’ve had conversations with several other county ag commissioners that are just now tasked with developing or improving agtourism ordinances in their respective counties.”
Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Region – Much collaboration activity is ongoing in this region: Solano County is working with Yolo County to sponsor a Yolo/Solano Joint Economic Summit – for AG. In Sacramento County, a group of farmers and vintners along the Sacramento River have formed the Sacramento River Delta Grown Agritourism Association, with initial sponsorship from the county Farm Bureau, and held their first group event several months after the workshop. They consulted in their organizational development with several other agritourism association leaders who they met at the workshop, and will hold their first “passport weekend” event this summer. Sacramento County Planning Department (one of the lead planners attended the workshop) organized community input and the creation of new winery, farm stand and farm stay ordinances that were adopted by the Board of Supervisors in December 2011, which eased the permitting process for agritourism operations. Neighboring Yolo County is in the process of revising their agritourism ordinances, and planners are looking at Sacramento County ordinances in their process. Farmers and ranchers in Yolo County, some of whom attended the workshop, are meeting to organize and promote their agritourism activities together and plan to work with the county on regulatory changes. A farmer from San Joaquin County reports, “I have since been appointed to the Visit Lodi CVB Destination Lodi Committee which is a brainstorming/networking group that meets monthly to explore ways to promote our local agritourism features to those outside our community.”
North Coast Region – The workshop in the North Coast region was attended by a high percentage of farmers and ranchers who were considering or starting agritourism enterprises. 57 percent of the farmers or rancher participants who answered the follow-up questions reported that they have begun planning new agritourism activities. However, participation in agritourism associations and involvement in county planning activities was lowest in this region. One workshop participant reports, “I talked with our county planner at the workshop, to learn about expanding our tours and charging for them. The use permit required to do this seems very expensive and the temporary permit would only allow 3 or 4 events a year. County regulations are pretty strict. I’d like to be able to help create options on the farm for my kids, who are just finishing college.” The Lake County Economic Development Director attended the workshop and reports, “Lake County is currently updating its zoning ordinance, with a significant portion of the updates involving agri-tourism. Completion expected in December 2012.” Also in the North Coast Region, UC CE Sonoma County is collaborating with Sonoma County Farm Trails and the Sonoma County Tourism Bureau to present a series of meeting aimed at connecting farmers, ranchers and agritourism operators with tour organizers and other tourism professionals. In Mendocino County, the Visitor and Convention Bureau is coordinating a farm trails map for the county. Since the workshop, a marketing professional from a local farming family organized support for and produced a map of local cheese producers called the “Sonoma-Marin Cheese Trail” which successfully increased visitors to the participating local creameries, and helped develop a regional brand.
North Valley Region – Several counties in the region are considering adopting a version of the “Unique Agricultural Overlay” zoning ordinance presented by Butte County’s principal planner at the workshop. The Tehama County Farm Bureau representative who attended reports, “Farm Bureau has been discussing potential changes in county agritourism zoning – would like to bring in an ag overlay similar to Butte Co. In Tehama County I see great market potential in agritourism for our agricultural commodities.” Tehama County Farm Bureau has also started a farm trail group and a “Passport weekend” self-guided farm tour event, and has organized a local farmers “Market Place” at the Tehama County Fair. Butte, Shasta and Siskiyou Counties have included an emphasis on agritourism in their economic development planning, and each invited the UC ANR Small Farm Program to speak at economic development workshops about agritourism potential. In Yuba County, a group of foothill growers and agritourism operators have developed a local association, are working with their county economic development director to revise zoning ordinances, and are holding their first public group event this summer. Several Butte County agritourism operators report being able to expand their operations as a result of the easing of county permitting regulations. A forester from Siskiyou County reports, “I found the course very useful. I used the information in presenting a seminar on Diversifying Income Streams on Forestlands.” The Central Sacramento Valley RC & D Council is planning a new version of their regional farm trails map, as well as a series of agritourism workshops for producers in the region.
Central Coast – These coastal counties, with high agricultural land costs, strict environmental laws and high permitting cost for agritourism start-ups, have been particularly difficult regions for agritourism operations to get established and for agritourism associations to flourish. A Santa Barbara County planner attending the workshop reports, “It was a great workshop and I provided a summary to the planning staff at our staff meeting immediately following the workshop. I have since been assigned to the winery ordinance update project and may be working on processing olive oil (depends on budget).” An AmeriCorps volunteer who attended the workshop, working with the Yosemite/Sequoia Resource Conservation and Development Council based in Fresno County, subsequently organized an agritourism workshop and tour for farmers and ranchers considering agritourism that was attended by more than 50 San Joaquin Valley producers. Santa Clara and San Benito Counties are currently involved in revising their agritourism and winery zoning ordinances.
- Delta Region Workshop Small Group Discussion Notes
- Northern Valley & Mountains Region Workshop Small Group Discussion Notes
- Central Coast Region Workshop Small Group Discussion Notes
- San Joaquin Valley & Foothills Workshop Agenda
- Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Region Workshop Agenda
- North Coast Region Workshop Agenda
- Northern Valley & Mountains Region Workshop Agenda
- Central Coast Region Workshop Agenda
- San Joaquin Valley & Foothills Workshop Small Group Notes
- Agritourism Summit Small Group Discussion Notes
- Follow-up evaluation result graphs by region
- Developed statewide communication system and regional agritourism networks – As agritourism is becoming more popular as an economic diversification strategy for farmers and ranchers in California, it is hard to claim credit for this growth or for the development of successful businesses on individual farms and ranchers. This project has played a major role in establishing communication among the diverse professionals involved in California agritourism and in the development of regional networks connecting these professionals to each other and to agricultural producers who are starting or considering diversifying with agritourism activities.
Raised awareness of agritourism with county staff – The project has raised the awareness among county planners, environmental health officers and economic development professionals throughout the state of agritourism economic and community development potential and the challenges faced by agritourism operators. Many of these professionals have since initiated discussions with each other about the issues and have begun the process of revising county ordinances. Several workshop participants have organized public forums and conferences that include discussion of agritourism development. A statewide “Cottage Food” law is pending legislation.
Encouraged and supported the growth of county-wide and community agritourism associations – By inviting successful local and county agritourism association leaders to talk about their work and their organizations to other professionals in their regions, we helped to develop the personal connections that allowed newer groups of producers and professionals to grow successful organizations in their communities. With our email newsletters, we shared the activities and contact information of these new groups. We also provided individual consultation to several newly-formed local agritourism associations, assisting them with their organizational development.
Increased the awareness and involvement by tourism professionals in agritourism promotion – Since these workshops, several county tourism offices have produced farm trail maps. Other tourism professionals have been involved in organizing farm tours and in meeting with agritourism operators at community events to plan collaboration.
- Statewide agritourism association and/or workgroup – The project team has begun the preliminary work needed for the formation of a statewide organization. We have almost completed drafting a white paper stating common challenges faced by California agritourism operators, the potential role of a statewide agritourism association in helping ease some of these challenges, and the process for starting such an organization. We have compiled a list of industry and government leaders to invite to a planning committee for a statewide agritourism association, and have discussed organizing a second state-wide agritourism summit. However, due to other commitments and lack of funding we have not been able to move forward with this process. If the funding and staff time can be arranged, the development of a statewide agritourism association would be a major contribution building on the work of this project.
Completed guides for local agritourism organizational development and for working with county staff and officials to modify agritourism zoning ordinances – We have begun writing two guides that will be contributions to the development of agritourism in California. The first of these compiles the knowledge of existing local and county-wide agritourism associations into a guide for newer groups who are organizing associations. It provides tips and recommendations for organizational formation and for creating farm trail maps, collaborative public events, group websites, and other forms of regional agritourism support and marketing. The second guide is called “Changing the Rules”. It offers guidance and recommendations for farmers and ranchers and other agritourism professionals on working with county staff and officials to modify agritourism zoning ordinances and regulations.
- More regional forums – The development of useful support networks for an emerging industry that has so many manifestations is a long process and is hard to measure. Our expectations for the number of professionals who would organize agritourism workshops for farmers and ranchers within a few months of attending one of this project’s workshops were unrealistic. However, our workshops crossed county boundaries and helped county-based farm advisors, agritourism associations, tourism professionals and county staff to develop regional connections and to learn from each other. Future regional forums would allow continued sharing of challenges and successes among groups within each region.
Establishment of a clearinghouse of California agritourism regulatory information – We have begun to compile on our website, http://sfp.ucdavis.edu/agritourism/planners/, some of the more agritourism-friendly zoning ordinances and county planning documents. This is just the beginning. A more complete listing of county codes and ordinances would be useful for planners and community groups in each county as they look for models for revising their own ordinances. If this clearinghouse is kept up to date, it will be a great compliment to the guide for local groups to working with their county to change the rules.
The creation of a speakers’ bureau – Each local agritourism group still has to struggle with their own group formation, event planning and marketing, often without experience in these tasks. A speakers’ bureau of those experienced with the various aspects of regional agritourism development could provide access to needed expertise.
An agritourism economic impact study – In order to build community and county support for the development of agritourism, the economic benefit of agritourism to the community must be demonstrated. The last study of California agritourism surveyed 2008 activities, but did not measure or estimate the full impact of these activities on rural economies. As agritourism includes many different types of enterprises and is defined differently in different states, a multi-state agritourism impact study, conducted by economists and using similar definitions, would provide useful information for communities and regions’ economic development decisions.