Evaluating agritourism strategies for small scale sustainable agriculture operations

Project Overview

ONC18-051
Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2018: $29,620.00
Projected End Date: 12/01/2020
Grant Recipient: Michigan State University
Region: North Central
State: Michigan
Project Coordinator:
6166087436 Garrett Ziegler
Michigan State University Extension

Commodities

Not commodity specific

Practices

  • Education and Training: extension, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research, technical assistance
  • Farm Business Management: agritourism
  • Sustainable Communities: community development, local and regional food systems, new business opportunities, partnerships, public policy

    Abstract:

    Small scale farmers in west Michigan are experiencing ever growing competition for their customers dollars. In an effort to provide additional on-farm income and provide further community involvement, farms are increasingly turning to agritourism opportunities. These opportunities include hosting on-farm dinners featuring local chefs preparing farm-raised food, local music events, weddings, U-pick produce, and several additional strategies. This project will examine three existing small-scale agritourism efforts by farmers involved in the West Michigan Growers Group. This examination will provide valuable information to other West Michigan and NCR region farmers who are interested in best practices for on-farm events and agritourism as well as show the value that each different approach provides for the farmer. The farmers involved in this project are primarily small-scale, diversified vegetable producers with little agritourism experience. This will culminate with an on-farm demonstration event to be attended by both interested farmers and the local community. The project will also include a series of farm field trips to better understand existing models for small and large scale agritourism enterprises. This project will also examine the potential impact on generating and retaining customers through deeper connections with farms who are hosting events.

    Final Report Summary:

    This partnership grant was meant to address local farmer’s needs and understanding of best practices in small scale agritourism. We were also hoping to investigate the impact of agritourism activities on consumer’s connection with local farms by surveying agritourism participants. However,  like many things in life, especially now in the time of COVID, work on this grant did not proceed as planned in the initial proposal. This was due to a number of factors that included partner farms changing leadership, farm activities being cancelled due to local zoning ordinances and conflicts and overall grant coordination difficulties given the changing landscape of farm partner realities. By the time we reconvened and moved past many of these difficulties we were hit with impacts of COVID-19 Pandemic which kept us from performing the main outcome of this grant project which was a demonstration agritourism event planned in partnership with the participating partner farms. This event was planned to be an opportunity for other local farmers to learn the in’s and out’s of agritourism event planning and development as well as an opportunity to educate the public about the importance of local farms in the community and impact of local agritourism efforts for farm sustainability. Despite the above challenges there were still lessons learned from the grant process.

    As part of the grant partner farms developed descriptions of their current agritourism activities which were compiled into a best practices report for small-scale farmers looking to develop agritourism activities of their own. This document is in final development stages and will be added to the final report once final editing is complete. These best practices have evolved since the start of the project as farm partners have been through several transitions since the original grant was developed and submitted. These best practices are being combined into a small-scale agritourism users guide that will be completed during spring 2021 by PI Garrett Ziegler.

     

    Project objectives:

    • Research existing models of small-scale farm agritourism through regional “field trips”. – Unfortunately due to delays in project activities and COVID-19 impacts farm partners were not able to plan a field trip to visit regional agritourism operations.
    • Assess the potential ROI of different agritourism activities on small scale sustainable farms and develop case studies of each farm and strategy
    • Develop a “users guide” to implementing successful and relevant on-farm events and activities.
    • Hold a “demonstration” event for local farmers in the West Michigan region to give practical experience and training for agritourism activities. – This demonstration event was also postponed due to COVID-19 impacts and the inability to host large scale gatherings during 2020.
    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.