Low-cost stays, photo ops can draw on-farm visits
HERSHEY, Pa. — During the 2023 Mid-Atlantic Fruit and Vegetable Convention, Claudia Schmidt, Penn State, and Claudia Gil Arroyo, Rutgers, presented several unique opportunities for agritourism.
Schmidt, assistant professor of marketing and local/regional food systems,, discussed “Let’s Try Something Else! Resources for Agritourism and Diversification.” She focused on the niche of low-cost and low-maintenance overnight farm stays.
In hosting visitors, farmers can earn extra income by providing hospitality services while still managing their core business activities.
Several farm stay options with listing services are available. She pointed to the Vermont Agritourism Collaborative’s comparison of ten listing sites that shares data on fee structure, requirements, farmer support plus site-specific information. Options range from campgrounds, tents, picnic areas, hiking trails, hookups for recreational vehicles, yurts and more.
Schmidt advised farm owners to consider issues before venturing into hospitality services. She suggested asking yourself numerous questions such as: degree of comfort with strangers on your property; local government zone restrictions or special permitting; ability to provide a safe environment for the visitors amongst the terrain and possible animals; available time to maintain the site and bookings; type and amount of engagement with your visitors; the market situation in your surrounding area in terms of competition and/or draws for visitors.
Factors such as scheduling, fees, taxes, insurance and promotion must also be researched and evaluated.
As noted, farm stay offerings can be quite simple and undemanding of resources.
Claudia Gil Arroyo, Rutgers agricultural and natural resource Extension agent in Cape May County, presented “Instagram Perfect,” suggesting numerous tips designed to differentiate your farm, and to capitalize on its uniqueness, and showcase “what your farm is about.”
She advised designating a “selfie spot.” Dedicate an area for visitors to encourage pictures that can be “Instagram-worthy.” Develop that area to establish its reputation as a great place to take pictures.
That identified spot will likely have the best views. Also, she suggests, “Display anything unique.”
Entrance signs should be particularly creative, she added. She demonstrated some with a maze of photos and props that include the farm’s most attractive or notable products. Unexpected arrangements, also, attract Instagram-like specimens.
Use size and color to your advantage. Piles of pumpkins, a wall of flowers with a multitude of colors, or a seasonal composition that focuses on an array of subjects that feature a single color call for attention.
Arroyo suggested ways to encourage visitors to take pictures, and, of course, share them with you, and ask them to tag you. Family shots typically prove popular. Use quotes in displays, or develop popular captions to enhance their visibility.
Farm size is not a deterrent according to Arroyo. A two-acre blueberry farm or a 10-acre field of sunflowers can both look “Instagram Perfect” with unique, unusual, or surprising choices.
Both Rutgers and Penn State have programs regarding the potential as well as the considerations of agritourism. An extensive opportunities study plus a webinar on agritourism safety and liability management are among Rutgers’ resources.
Schmidt referred participants to their site, aese.psu.edu/outreach/agritourism. It contains links to USDA’s “Ten Legal Issues for Farm Stay Operators,” and the “Guide for Developing a Farm Stay,” by the University of Vermont.
A webinar, “Offering Niche Farm Stays,” features panelists involved in farm stays. Harvest Hosts, Hipcamp and Howling Wolf Farm are among the ten listing services.
Harvest Hosts offers yearly subscriptions for access to their network of 240,000 recreational vehicles. For the farm stay hosts they require neither contracts, experience, nor investment, and they specify that the site “doesn’t have to be luxurious.” Requirements include the parking space, and a business license. They encourage hosts to have a website or Facebook page, and the ability to sell products or services, and awareness of their local guidelines.
Hipcamp reports that it is the leading provider of outdoor stays. They attract campers from Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States. The hosts set the price and keep 90 percent. They book sites ranging from tent and RV spots to rustic cabins, yurts, tent platforms and in-betweens. Hipcamp indicates that just a flat spot to park an RV can get a host started. They request host compliance with local laws, rapport with their neighbors, and setting clear expectations so guests can be safe and be cognizant of farm practices. Hipcamp provides numerous management services. Their campers enjoy being able to purchase the host’s products.
In the webinar, Jenn Colby, owner of Howling Wolf Farm, described her 88 acres in central Vermont as “steep, hilly and with thin soils.” Its low productivity, she notes, would not be profitable with most agriculture production. But it has an “incredible view,” she said. Plus, it is ten miles from the interstate system, and only one mile from Amtrak, which connects with the Eastern seaboard.
Her yurt, available through Airbnb, was rented 70 percent last year, she reported. It is off-grid; battery packs run it all year, but it has heat and her farm provides water.
“People come on Friday stressed, and it’s hard to describe how they become slower, happier and smiling,” she said. She added people love the adventure, and often desire greater connection to the land. Her sheep enjoy the hills, and she said of her guests, “Lots of people want to come back during lambing.”