- Education and Training: decision support system, extension, farmer to farmer, mentoring, networking, participatory research, workshop
- Farm Business Management: whole farm planning, new enterprise development, budgets/cost and returns, e-commerce, feasibility study, risk management, value added, agritourism
- Sustainable Communities: new business opportunities, partnerships, urban/rural integration, social networks, sustainability measures
While the small family farm is hard-pressed to remain a sustainable model in the United States based solely on crop production, a variety of agritourism ventures are allowing many to increase their bottom lines while providing much needed education and entertainment to a rural-hungry urban population. Accommodations on farms, referred to as farm stays or agriturismo in Europe, New Zealand and Australia, have been an accepted form of profit center for a long time, so accepted that 24% of all small farms in the UK offer overnight lodging! In many of these countries the national tourism bureau has joined forces with the agricultural arm of the government to market and support this model. Individual states in the U.S. have recently begun to focus more attention on the preservation of their small farms, and thus their rural communities, as an asset to local food production and state tourism. Presently, the southern states (and Vermont) lead the United States in providing assistance to small farms interested in adding an agritourism component to their operations. In the west, California's UC-Davis' and the University of Washington's Extension services have begun providing farmers with information and legislation to assist in sustainable agritourism models. That said, there has been no attempt to unify farms interested in hosting farm stays into an association or website group that can benefit from the economies of scale for marketing and the shared knowledge and resources of those already involved in on-farm accommodations. This study proposes the construction of a farm stay website focused directly on the how-to's and the direct marketing of on-farm accommodations. There are two goals for this project website: 1) to produce a fully functioning, interactive, exciting site that will allow producers to be searchable by region, state, town, animals, crops, accommodation style, kid-friendly, hands-on, etc., and guests to find what they are looking for easily; 2) to include a producer login aspect of the website, not visible to the public, that will offer farm-to-farm forums, business planning objectives, resources by county and state; insurance, legal, and bookkeeping considerations; conference and expo notifications, farm mentors, and more. This study has the opportunity to involve, educate, and impact a large number of producers in a highly efficient and technical manner. (www.farmstay.co.uk - starting model) Outcomes of this study will be measurable within twelve months of the site going live, both in terms of number of bookings and the number of farms in the process of setting up their own operations. Producers participating in this study will be asked for feedback on a regular basis to improve the listings and information flow. Guests will be asked for feedback as well, similar to the eBay process of reviewing sellers. Changes will be suggested based on comments and learning will be constant. There are additional online tools to measure performance. Google Analytics will track traffic to the site and provide web developers with the tools necessary to optimize search and marketing opportunities. Use of this tool is also easily taught to producers to help in their decision-making. As an example of the economic impact this project could have for small farm producers in the Northwest and California, a search of the USDA 2007 Census identifies 213,742 farms in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, and California. Assuming only 1% of these farms considers and undertakes the addition of a farm stay to their operations, there could be 2,137 farms online within several years (3-5 realistically). At an average of $100/night for 60 nights/year (16% capacity), these farms will generate a total of $12.8 M in revenues per year, not counting the additional funds spent in farm "stores" and their local rural communities. This is a conservative estimate. It is expected, with an increase in farm stay accommodations, next steps will focus on formation of an association. It is recognized that there is a chicken and egg phenomena going on here. We need farm stays to form a group; we need a group to assist with the formation of farm stays. This will be a process reminiscent of the start of the Bed & Breakfast concept in the United States back in the 1960s. However, now there are fewer barriers to entry because the Internet affords a powerful and inexpensive opportunity to get the word out, to educate, to pull together a variety of stakeholders in one place, and to connect rural and urban America in a way that benefits all of us. With the reduced costs to make a place for ourselves online via websites, blogs, and other social media, opportunities, once only afforded to high-tech businesses, will now be used to assist farmers become, and remain, a sustainable and vibrant part of the American landscape. Note: attached Power Point was presented at Small Farms Conference in Corvallis, OR in February 2010. The Farm Stay US web pages, presented in the slides, were prototypes of how we conceive the site will lay out.
Project objectives from proposal:
1) To create a fully interactive website with two main goals in mind for the farmer/producer:
a. To provide a marketing tool for working farms offering farm stay accommodations. This single, searchable site will allow interested potential guests to locate farms by city, state, region, animals, housing type, food, child-friendly, adults only, etc. and will facilitate and increase bookings.
b. To create an educational/informational producer-login aspect of the site that will provide concrete tools to farms interested in pursuing or improving their farm stay model.
2) To create a website that will easily scale and offer benefits to producers and professionals nationwide
3)To provide a starting point for forming a Northwest Farm Stay Association that, similar to the website, will act as a scalable model for a national association.
1) Farm Stay website:
a. Up and running (Phase 1 & 2), listing existing farms already offering accommodations on their property (from camping to in-farm rooms). Searchable by region, state, activities, amenities, pricing, type of stay, etc. Each farm will have its own page with contact information and a link to their personal website, if they have one. Summer 2010.
b. Online tutorials and/or workbook offered through the website to assist farms with the steps necessary to add a farm stay to their product line (addressing zoning/land use. legal, insurance, marketing, hospitality, etc.). Fall-Winter 2010.
c. Additions to website (Phase 3): Farm-to-farm forum discussing challenges and solutions when adding a farm stay to the "product" mix; Mentor relationship set up by state; Agritourism resource information and contacts in the industry- a go-to list; Identification and promotion of local and regional farm conferences with breakout sessions specifically focused on farm stays and agritourism. Fall 2010.
d. Website impact measurements: a. farms already hosting farm guests (re: increased bookings, increased employment, economic impact); b. farms deciding after receiving information tutorials and/or attending workshops to establish on-farm lodging (#s, feedback); c. farms deciding not to establish on-farm lodging (#s, reasons). Survey evaluation summer 2011.
a. A list has already been compiled of existing farm stays in the Northwest and California. These places will be included on the farm stay website. Farms will be contacted to claim their location and correct/add any information they wish. Summer 2010.
b. Conferences, workshops, and farm expos will be identified to join or become a part of the trade show as a way of marketing the benefits (and challenges) of farm stays and website membership. We will ask to be a part of agritourism break-out sessions. If there aren’t any, we will ask to host one. Summer-fall 2010
c. We expect to participate in at least 5 of the above mentioned meetings (hopefully one each in OR, WA, ID, MT, CA). By Summer 2011.
d. Posters will be made and sent to county and state extension offices, state and federal departments of agriculture offices, farm bureaus, tourism offices, and local and state farm groups (i.e. Women in Agriculture, Cattlemen's Association, Oregon Growers Association, etc.) promoting the website and the benefits of the farm stay model and asking for interested farms to contact us. Summer-Fall 2010.
e. We will produce a brochure for farms, to be distributed at all of the above locations with information about the farm stay concept, a link to the website, contact information for further interest, and phone numbers. Fall 2010
f. Marketing materials (e.g. press releases) will be sent to the Capital Press;, a variety of agriculture-related magazines dealing with livestock, crops, and small farms; travel and tourism magazines; online travel sites, local newspapers, and emails to writers in the agriculture and tourism/hospitality industry. Ongoing 2010-2011.