Increasing Farm Profitability through Agritourism Product Development and Marketing
To support farmers diversifying into agritourism, nineteen workshops were held in ten different states in the Northeast region (ME, MD, DE, VT, NH, NY, MA, CT, WV, RI) between January 2009 and March 2010. The total number of workshop participants was 763, including farmers, service providers and other attendees. An onsite evaluation yielded 143 completed questionnaires. According to evaluations immediately following workshops, 84 percent of farmers reported that they intended to implement improvements or new ventures based on information provided in the workshops. The workshops were followed by technical assistance for farmers.
An internet survey was conducted in 2010 with 71 farmers responding. Results indicated that 64 percent of farms had implemented improvements or new ventures. Examples of agritourism ventures included involvement in local schools, social media marketing, maple tours for the off-season, pairing and tasting events, and educational nature trails. To assess contributions to farm viability, we measured increases in profitability as well as increases in quality of life. Forty-two farmers reported a positive impact on profitability from information received through workshops and technical assistance. Thirty-six farmers reported increases in quality of life indicators as a result of changes made to their farm businesses. Without double counting, 50 farmers reported improved farm viability, defined as increased profitability and/or quality of life.
“By the end of the two year project, at least 70 farmers in the Northeast will have adopted new agritourism practices that contribute to farm viability.”
Defining farm viability as increased profitability and/or increased quality of life, 50 farmers have reported improved farm viability as a result of changes made based on workshops and/or technical assistance, with 42 reporting increased profitability and 36 reporting aggregate increases in quality of life indicators.
1. “Expand team of state coordinators to include at least one farmer and one service provider for each of the participating locations: Maine, Maryland/Delaware, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island/Massachusetts/Connecticut, Vermont and West Virginia (July – September 2008).” By September 2008, at least one farmer and one service provider from each of the participating locations in the Northeast region had committed to coordinate involvement in the project for their respective states. To facilitate communication, we have regular conference calls and occasional in-person meetings supplemented with email updates for those who can’t make the calls/meetings.
2. “Work with farmers and associations active in the area of agritourism (e.g., Rhode Island FarmWays, Vermont Farms! Association), service providers including Extension, and farm organizations to develop curriculum of core business skills training modules (September – December 2008).” By December 2008, collaborating farmers and service providers had developed a curriculum of core business skills and training modules. These have been adapted for use in different locations. State-specific materials have been developed in advance of each workshop. Materials are available on a sharepoint site.
3. “Develop benchmark and follow-up survey instruments for assessing outcomes (November – December 2008).” By December 2008, the benchmark survey instrument had been developed, reviewed by farmers and service providers, and pre-tested by farmers. A draft of the follow-up survey was developed in December 2008 and then refined and pre-tested before use in 2010.
4. “Conduct agritourism workshops and implement benchmark survey in conjunction with workshops (January – March 2009).” Workshops for farmers interested in agritourism took place between January 2009 and March 2010. The time period that the workshops took place was extended to accommodate different planning schedules for state coordinators. Most states had multiple workshops in different locations around the state in an effort to reach more farmers. In total, nineteen workshops were held in ten different states in the Northeast region (ME, MD, DE, VT, NH, NY, MA, CT, WV, RI). The total number of workshop participants was 763, including farmers, service providers and other attendees. We implemented the benchmark survey through a questionnaire handed out at the end of each workshop; however questionnaires were not collected from all workshops. We received 143 completed questionnaires from farmers, which is significantly lower than expected.
5. “Provide follow-up assistance for farmers wanting to make enterprise changes (January 2009 – March 2010).” We provided follow-up assistance for farmers though March 2010, along with additional workshops to reach more farmers.
6. “Conduct a second survey of agritourism business owners to measure outcomes one year after participating in workshops. Identify priority issues for the future (January – March 2010).” The low response rate from the first survey made it difficult to contact farmers for the follow-up surveys 12 months after the workshops were held. Internet notifications were sent out in January 2010 to workshop participants that had completed the first survey. Five follow-up reminders were e-mailed every two weeks after the initial mailing using Dillman’s Modified Tailored Design Method. We received 71 responses to the web survey and are continuing to follow up with farmers through telephone and in-person contacts.
7. “Analyze results of second survey and compare with results of first survey to measure outcomes. Write and distribute outreach publications and refereed journal articles. Develop strategy to continue to provide support and networking opportunities for farmers engaged in agritourism in the Northeast region (April – June 2010).” We began analysis of results in April 2010 but quickly realized that we needed to increase our response rate. With spring, summer and fall being a busy time for farmers, we requested and received a no-cost extension through March 30, 2011. This extension will give us a chance to contact farmers during the slower winter months. To share project materials, we are working on an outreach publication of the best materials from the workshops. To share findings from the evaluation process, we are working on a journal article about measuring quality of life to be submitted to the Journal of Extension, and we are planning a presentation on the same topic at the National Association of Community Development Professionals and National Extension Tourism Conference to be held March 7-11, 2011 in South Carolina. To develop a strategy for supporting agritourism throughout the Northeast region, we will present lessons learned from our project and facilitate a roundtable discussion on Agritourism in the Northeast at the Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development’s Conference on What Works! The Future of Entrepreneurship & Community Development in the Northeast to be held March 30-April 1, 2011 in Philadelphia.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
We have developed a curriculum of core business skills training modules that has been adapted for use in different states. Materials are available on a project sharepoint site and will be compiled into an outreach publication.
Based on evaluations immediately following the workshops, 97 percent of participants reported increased knowledge of income-generating opportunities for agritourism businesses and 90 percent reported that the workshop had given them the knowledge needed to implement these opportunities in their own agritourism business. Over 90 percent of workshop participants reported that they planned to thoroughly assess their business to determine where improvements or new ventures are needed during the next year, and 84 percent reported that they intended to implement improvements or new ventures based on information provided in the workshop.
We conducted an internet survey one year after the workshops and heard from 71 farmers. Results indicated that 81 percent of farmers had assessed their business to determine where improvements or new ventures were needed and 64 percent had implemented improvements or new ventures. Two-thirds of respondents (42/65) reported a positive impact on profitability from information received through workshops and technical assistance.
To assess changes in quality of life, the survey included a series of questions about “changes in personal time” and “changes in personal satisfaction.” Changes in personal time included the variables of “changes in the amount of time I spend with my family (during both work and freetime)” and “changes in the amount of free time I have.” The factor mean was -0.08, a neutral value that indicates that the average respondent had neither increases nor decreases in their amount of family time or free time. “Changes in personal satisfaction” included the variables “changes in the amount of personal satisfaction I receive from my business,” “changes in my enjoyment in sharing farm life and/or heritage with visitors,” “changes in my satisfaction with preserving the agricultural landscapes of my farm,” “changes in the wages I receive from my business,” and “changes in my enjoyment with meeting new people through my business.” The factor mean was 0.64, a positive value that indicates that the average respondent had an increase in the personal satisfaction they received from their business. Two-thirds of respondents reported increased enjoyment in sharing farm life and/or heritage with visitors, and 71 percent reported increased enjoyment with meeting new people through their business. Overall, thirty-six farmers reported aggregate increases in quality of life indicators as a result of changes made to their farm business based on the workshops and technical assistance.
Without double counting, 50 farmers reported improved farm viability, defined as increased profitability and/or quality of life. We are continuing to contact farmers in an effort to reach our performance target of 70 farmers.
Examples of agritourism ventures include farm stays, involvement in local schools, social media marketing, hosting fundraising events for non-profits, on-line newsletters to keep customers up-to-date on farm activities and varieties at their peak, educational nature trails, maple tours for the off-season, farm education retreats, pairing and tasting events, monthly dinners on the farm with a local chef, educational programs for children, and farm infrastructure improvements including roads, buildings, parking lots, farm stores and restrooms.
An additional outcome of the project is that collaborators have strengthened their relationships and shared best practices and barriers related to agritourism throughout the Northeast region. As a direct result of the SARE project, collaborators in NH and VT received two grants from the Northeast Center for Risk Management Education to support risk management related to agritourism.
Research Assistant Profes
Plymouth State University
MSC 68, 17 High Street
Plymouth, NH 03264
Office Phone: 6035353274
West Virginia Department of Agriculture-Oak Hill
226 Maple Avenue
Oak Hill, WV 25901
Office Phone: 3044699738
Tourism Economic Development
University of Maine Cooperative Extension
138 Pleasant Street, Suite 1
Farmington, ME 04938
Office Phone: 2077784650
SUNY College of Environmental Science & Forestry
320 Bray Hall
Syracuse, NY 13210
Office Phone: 3154706561