Agritourism provides hope for younger farmers

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By Cyndie Shearing
American Farm Bureau Federation,

Incorporating agritourism into a farm or ranch offers numerous benefits, but it’s best to start this new aspect of your business gradually. That’s according to a trio of young farmers and ranchers who recently addressed grassroots Farm Bureau members about their real-world experiences with agritourism.

Kathie Iverson of Western Legacy Farm and Ranch in Hurricane, Utah, offers a variety of activities for visitors to enjoy, including u-pick cherries, cattle drives, farm camp for kids, a corn maze, a pumpkin patch and a Sleepy Hollow Halloween fall event.

“We got into agritourism because we wanted to help consumers experience the magic of agriculture,” Iverson said.

A tiny, 1/8 acre, “kiddie” corn maze was one of the Iversons’ earliest forays into agritourism several years ago. Since then, Kathie and her husband Kelby have diversified their agritourism offerings, which is what eventually allowed them to realize their dream of being full-time farmers. Whatever you’re doing, “Start out small your first year and build on it,” Iverson advised. Doing your homework on how many people your agritourism venture may eventually draw is essential. “It’s all goes on numbers. You must have a good population base within an hour’s drive to be successful.”

Kaylee Heap of Heap’s Giant Pumpkin Farm in Minooka, Illinois, credits ease of access for visitors – they’re an hour’s drive south of Chicago and close to two major highways – for much of the business’s growth and her husband Kevin being able to come back to the farm full-time. Although pumpkin picking is a staple, the Heaps also offer a corn maze, soybean maze, the opportunity to “meet” farm animals, hayrides and other attractions.

Changing the way they do business was essential for the Heaps earlier this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and required social distancing measures. One example that worked out better than anticipated was the implementation of timed ticketing with pre-sale online admission to the farm.

Requiring visitors to purchase tickets online “gives you an idea in advance about interest in the various activities and events you’re offering,” Heap said.

U-pick apples, wine tasting, sunflower photos, a farm animal petting zoo, a jumping pillow and a 5-mile outdoor trail are among the agritourism offerings at Robinette’s Apple Haus & Winery in Grand Rapids, Michigan. This diversification is key, according to Allan Robinette.

Robinette has found that “Offering so many different things to do is what draws customers. Agritourism has provided a way for us to survive as a small farm.”

Iverson, Heap and Robinette addressed grassroots Farm Bureau members during a Young Farmers & Ranchers CONNECT event hosted by the AFBF YF&R Committee earlier this month.